This post was originally published on the old site in February 2015. I’ve left it pretty much the same.
This is what happens when two impossible ideals of femininity collide. I’m not talking about body image here. It is true that Mennonite women, like other human women, don’t look like Disney princesses. But that’s not my focus here. I am talking about Disney princesses as role models of gender for our daughters. Mind, I know some of you out there are saying that no Mennonite can be a princess because we are inherently and theologically suspicious of the state and a princess is part of the ruling powers that oppress. That is a valid point and I advise any parent of an aspiring princess to remind their offspring that there are theological as well as practical reasons to pursue non-royal career options. You might whip up a pretty little mocktail for them before you crush their dreams.
Before I proceed to decimate the Disney and/or Mennonite ideals of womanhood, I will give them this much. One thing that Mennonite girls can admire in the Disney princess is her ability to hold a tune. Were she ever called upon to sing in a choir, I’m pretty sure any one of those princesses could keep her part in four part choral music and lead or finish a canon with aplomb. Not that they sing in choirs in the movies but all that solo work is bound to have given them a few transferable singing skills.
Mennonites have long had their own ideas of proper girlhood and womanhood, and we can’t measure the Disney ideals against the Mennonite ones without exploring the Menno ones first. Today’s ideals of proper womanhood are a bit different from those of a generation ago (which actually were probably different from a generation before that) and, of course, they vary from one branch of the Church to another. I thought of doing the post as “Which Disney Princess belongs in which branch of the Mennonite Church” but there aren’t enough Disney princesses. Also, I actually think that the basic values and ideals of womanhood are common across the different branches of the Church, though the way we live them out varies. I’ve made a little list here of seven traits that I have noticed as being key in the makeup of the very model of the modern female Mennonite. Some of these draw on wider societal gender norms, some draw on theology and might apply to men as well as women, some overlap with each other. This list is not in ranked order and I might have missed some things. Na ja. Live with it.
Even though Mennonite women in the west (like other women here) don’t do as much housework as we did a generation ago, we still pride ourselves in clean houses and cooking and baking things from scratch. This is harder now that many of us have full-time paid employment and it might be more true to say that we now mostly feel guilty about not keeping the house continuously immaculate and/or baking and cooking as much as we “should.” But just because few of us live up to the ideal doesn’t mean it isn’t real.
A good Mennonite seeks always to serve others. This is true for men as well as for women, but maybe just a bit more for women. One serves Christ by serving others and personal satisfaction comes from the knowledge of having served well. This might be played out only in her own relationships or it might move the good Mennonite woman to activism, missions or charity work.
Self-Effacing and Restrained
In all things, there should be a true spirit of self-sacrifice. There’s a long history of the Mennonite Church silencing women’s voices and some branches of the Church continue this tradition up to the present. Even those communities that now welcome women in leadership do expect us to be respectful (yes, yes, I know – men should be respectful too). Feisty and spunky behaviour might be permitted at the Dutch Blitz table but they’re hardly ideals to aspire for. Women can do theological disputation in some Churches now but wild women laughing makes us pretty uncomfortable (admittedly, so would wild male laughter).
This is key. A good Mennonite woman needs to recognize the importance of community bonds and do everything she can to strengthen them. And by community, we don’t mean the worldly society at large. We mean the Church and/or the neighbourhood. This is played out differently in different contexts but part of the justification for Domestic Excellence is to facilitate hospitality for building community. A good Mennonite woman invites people into her house. A lot.
Mennonites are historically pacifist and few current Mennonite churches have strayed from this doctrine. Not only should a good Mennonite woman avoid war, she should also be a force for peacemaking within her own family and community. This means also that women in positions of leadership should be more conciliatory and collaborative than decisive, declarative or argumentative.
Mennonite women are known as a hard working lot. Recent generations might permit a bit more leisure than in the past but faith is meant to be put into action and you can’t be acting on it if you’re lying on the couch with a cocktail in your hand watching a string of Disney movies one after another. Not that anyone would do that.
To measure how our Disney princesses stack up to these ideals, I graded each of them on a scale of 0-5 in each of Mennonite Ideal Womanhood traits, added them up, played with the numbers to my satisfaction and came up with a pseudo-scientific definitive answer. Here are our contestants starting with those who were summarily eliminated from the running:
Shun-worthy Disney Princesses
Very few Mennonite Churches still practice shunning but if any of these princesses crossed our threshold, we might just consider bringing it back: Jasmine. Not only is she immodestly dressed throughout, she is a spunky girl who seeks her own happiness and has always had servants cook and clean for her. Enough said. Mulan. Taking her father’s place in the army might be seen as self-sacrificial and community-minded but it appears more self-indulgent in the movie, and, well, going to war really put her beyond the pale. Ariel. Giving up her own voice is laudatory and she does give up her immodest dress for more modest attire as the story progresses. Still, she’s really not community minded at all, isn’t particularly hard working, and never intended to give up her voice for more than three days.
Disney Princesses who could maybe learn the error of their ways
Aurora, Belle and Rapunzel each show a bit of potential but fall far short of the Mennonite ideals. Aurora scores high for domesticity, modesty and industry but we just don’t see her community spirit. Admittedly, she was hidden away in the forest and/or asleep a lot of the time. Maybe if she was brought into a good Mennonite community, these other traits would flourish. Belle, on the other hand, completely rejects her community, preferring to live in isolation with her books and her beastly prince. Worst of all, she lets the enchanted servants in the castle prepare her a feast and doesn’t even help with the dishes. She does, admittedly, have something a sacrificial spirit, as is shown in her care for her father and, later, the beast. Rapunzel knows her chores, is hard working and even brokered a peace once (though only to save herself). She is, however, not service oriented, selfless or interested in community. But I guess that can happen if you’re trapped in a tower most of your life. Anna (from Frozen) also falls within this category. She seems to sacrifice herself for her sister and she dresses modestly for the most part but her domestic skills are not at all evident, she’s flighty rather than industrious and really doesn’t show any serious community mindedness. These poor girls need help.
Disney Princesses we’d welcome but never really understand
Cinderella has exemplary domestic skills and is very hard working. She’s also pretty selfless in her willingness to serve her sisters. I do think she could have worked harder at conflict resolution among them. She’s in a position to facilitate peace but she doesn’t take it. But what we really don’t understand is how easily she gave in to the temptation of living a life of ostentation and wealth rather than embracing her humble status and seeking to work within the community of her stepfamily. Merida scored quite well on a number of fronts despite her headstrong attitude. She dressed modestly, worked to broker a peace between two nations and came to understand duty. That she destroyed a tapestry (imagine if it had been a quilt!) is, however, more appalling than we can fully fathom. Pocahontas is another peacemaker princess. She seems to really care about her community and offers service in bits of advice. If only she were more hard working, wore less revealing buckskin, and cooked and cleaned a bit, we could appreciate her better. Is this racism? Probably, yes.
Disney Princesses to whom we would hand over the Church’s security codes
Most people talk about Frozen as being about sisterhood but I see it as a film about a young woman who runs away from her communal responsibilities and discovers her own immense power. So far, so bad. But, don’t worry. She is forced back and learns to tame her power and harness it for the greater social good. True, making an ice rink is not as impressive as building castles and creatures but it’s important for female power to be nonthreatening. Though she has no domestic skills to speak of, she dresses modestly and is pretty reserved in temperament. I’d put her in charge of the Women’s Mission Association any day. Snow White also has much to recommend her. She is cheerful in her domesticity, is hard working, modestly dressed and hospitable to a fault (even inviting her enemy into her house). If only she had a full community to serve, not just seven dwarves. She doesn’t seem savvy enough for Church board positions but we’d all love to have her in charge of the potlucks. But the prize for most Mennonite of us all would have to go to Tiana. Sure, she has a dream of commercial success but that is tied to the lesson she (and we) learned from her father in the opening sequence of the film that “good food has a way of bringing together people from all walks of life.” She forgets that part and I would have preferred she remember this communal lesson so that she assured her restaurant was accessible to the poor as well as the wealthy but I’m fairly confident she was on her way to getting there. She dresses modestly (even wearing an apron when cooking as a frog), is exceptionally hard working and fairly service oriented. She doesn’t even dance! Moreover, she is the only Disney Princess to be unconnected to state power even after marrying her prince. My only puzzle is why she’d marry such a daumelskopp. But then good Mennonite women marry daumelskopps all the time. That’s hardly a criterion. She could be Church treasurer, Board Chair or really any of the leadership positions available. The fact that she’s African-American and the Mennonite Church isn’t known to be all that welcoming of racial minorities? Yeah. Kinda makes you think.
The Mennonite Princess
Ready for a drink? Here’s a pretty yet humble hard-working girly cocktail who is ready to offer herself up to serve the community and make peace among nations. Ok, I’m not quite sure how this drink can accomplish all that, but neither am I sure how a woman can live up to either the Disney or the Mennonite ideals. Let’s just enjoy the illusion for a moment.
- 1 cup frozen strawberries
- 1 oz chambord or other raspberry liqueur
- 1 oz peach schnapps
- 1/2 oz cassis or another fruit liqueur
- 1 oz grenadine
- 2 oz white rum
- 1/2 cup milk
- a dallop of sweetened whipped cream
- candy sprinkles
- maraschino cherry
First, find the fanciest glass in your collection and rim it with the candy sprinkles by brushing the rim with a syrup and then affixing sprinkles. Toss the berries, the liqueurs, grenadine and rum into your blender and hit puree. Add milk and blend. Pour into the pretty glass and add your garnish.
*artwork by Bridget Klassen-Brule. See more of her work here.