Snow White: The Stereotypical Housewife
A Feminist Analysis
If you want your daughter to learn that her primary goals in life are to be beautiful, subservient to men, and naive, then Snow White is the perfect bedtime story. Snow White is viewed as an object by every man in the story, initially spared as thing of beauty rather than a human being and later given away as if she were a possession. She is fooled by the most transparent of traps because she likes pretty things. For a culture so fixated on the empowerment of women, its surprising that people still tell this story to their children or allow them watch the movie.
Not only did her beauty save her life on more than one occasion-it was her only defining characteristic. In the beginning, the Queen orders the huntsman to kill Snow White, and “because she was so beautiful [he] had pity on her” (Grimm and Grimm). He allows Snow White to run away not because she was the princess, not because she was innocent, or because she was a child-but because she was beautiful. While seeming to be an act of compassion, his clemency is in actuality a means of ceding responsibility for her death, assuming she will die in the wild. He feels “as if a stone had been rolled from his heart, since it was no longer needful for him to kill her” (Grimm and Grimm). His guilt was for witnessing the destruction of something beautiful, not for murdering an innocent child.
The huntsman is not the only man who objectifies Snow White; the dwarves are guilty as well. After she ate the poisoned apple and died, she “still looked as if she were living, and had her pretty red cheeks,” (Grimm and Grimm) so the dwarves decided not to bury her. Instead, they “had a transparent coffin of glass made, so she could be seen from all sides…and one of them always stayed by it and watched it” (Grimm and Grimm). They turned her into a work of art, a monument for everyone to see. They treasured her dead body as an art collector would prize an original painting by Monet or Van Gogh. When the prince sees Snow White, he immediately has to possess her. He offers the dwarves “whatever they want” (Grimm and Grimm) for her coffin, and when they refuse to part with it he begs for her as a gift, saying he “will honor and prize her as [his] dearest possession” (Grimm and Grimm). Once again Snow White is an object, a treasured work of art, a prized possession that the prince absolutely must own. And when she wakes up, he professes he “loves her more than everything in the world” (Grimm and Grimm) and orders her to go with him to his palace and become his wife. His love is entirely superficial-he has never spoken to her in his life, he never asked the dwarves if she was kind or loving or intelligent. He doesn’t love her, he loves her image. She is the most beautiful thing he has ever seen, so he wants her, and calls lust love.
Not once in the entire story is anything mentioned about Snow White’s character, good or bad: she could be as evil as her step-mother or as compassionate as Mother Theresa. In this story, her character doesn’t matter, because she is only a pretty toy to be possessed by men. We do know, however, that she is incredibly naïve. As Nicola Scholes states in her article “From Snow White to Snow Night: Subverting the Grimmest of them All,” the story “rewards girls who are beautiful, yet who are not preoccupied with their beauty” (Scholes 5). Snow White is completely oblivious to her own desirability, and therefore is swept off her feet by a handsome prince. On the other hand, “beautiful girls who are aware of their beauty… must be punished” (Scholes 5). Awareness of beauty is evil, and the Queen is punished for her vanity (because self-awareness necessitates vanity) by a painful death. When the Queen found out Snow White was still alive, she conspired to kill her three times. Each time, Snow White was fooled by her own intentional ignorance and juvenile curiosity. Disguised as an old woman, the queen offers Snow White “stay-laces of all colors…woven of bright silk,” (Grimm and Grimm) and she immediately believes the old woman “worthy” of her trust. Her behavior is reminiscent of a child reaching for a hot pan on a stove. However, this child does not learn from her mistakes and adamantly ignores the advice of the dwarves; each day before they leave they caution her to “let no one come in when we are not with you,” (Grimm and Grimm) yet she lets the Queen in three times, leading to her demise. The story values this ignorance enough to suggest that Snow White’s naïveté is what leads to her “Happily Ever After.” If she had not been dense enough to fall for the Queen’s trickery and die, the prince would never have seen her. She would have lived with the dwarves the rest of her life, forever a stereotypical housewife.
In fact, housekeeping skill is the only characteristic we know Snow White possesses besides beauty. When the dwarves found her in their house, they say that she “can stay with [them] and will want for nothing” (Grimm and Grimm) if she would “clean the house, cook, make the beds, wash, sew, and knit and keep everything nice and clean” (Grimm and Grimm). Before she showed up, they were perfectly capable of cooking and cleaning themselves; when Snow White first found their house, it “was neater and cleaner than can be told” (Grimm and Grimm). But the requirement that she perform these chores as payment for living with them demonstrates the men’s view that cooking and cleaning are a woman’s duties, and she must perform them to earn her keep.
Snow White, in both literary and animated media, is a story that has inhibited the progress of women’s rights by extolling the virtue of youthful beauty and subservience for centuries. It claims that a woman’s place is in the home as a trophy and a maid. The story is shallow, unoriginal, and offensive. Happily Ever After? Ignorance is bliss.
Grimm, Jacob and Wilhelm. “Snow White.” 4 February 2009.
Scholes, Nicola. “From Snow White to Snow Night: Subverting the Grimmest of them
All.” Les Bonnes Fees. June 2008. <http://www.les-bonnes-fees.com/Snow_