The Fight to Rise Above a Patriarchal Society

NOTE:  This post contains spoilers for Maleficent.  I talk about it in the bottom half of the post.  If you don’t want me to kill the movie for you, don’t go past the border.  

I remember growing up.  It’s forever on my mind since I’m constantly looking back and examining every aspect.  Then I turn to my present life and the knowledge I’ve retained between now and childhood.  

Star-Trek-Voyager-4-icon (1)Although, I tend not to think of changing the past too much and the consequences of such preposterous activities.  As Katherine Janeway says in Star Trek: Voyager, “Temporal Mechanics gives me a headache.” 

The world seems like a crazy, unforgiving place.  In several ways, it still is, yet I find that it’s slowly changing in a good way.

As they say, nothing is worth having if it was easy to attain.  There’s truth in that.  

If things were easy, if we didn’t have to fight for them, then we take them for granted.  Yet another reason it’s so important to learn from history.

I’ve stated many times that I was raised by a single mother.  In some cases, the stereotype of single motherhood is alive and well in our society.

Ever heard of Trigger Warnings?  It’s like the note I put at the head of this post, a warning that the content of discourse will be offensive to some people or ruin their movie viewing enjoyment.  That includes anything from race to violence…to movies.  

In graduate school, I discovered that I had a trigger.  Although, it was perfectly acceptable to leave the classroom if someone was disturbed by the topic of conversation.  I chose not to leave.  

The topic was single motherhood.  I heard all manner of comments:  

  1. Single mothers are selfishly not involved in their problem children’s lives because they don’t attend parent teacher meetings.  (Single mothers may seem like they’re “not involved” because the people who judge a single mother doesn’t have all the facts.  That single mother being judged harshly could be looking for work, working multiple jobs, or working and attempting to get an education.  They are taking care of their children by keeping a roof over their heads and food in their bellies.  Unfortunately, they can’t put food on the table and have a discussion with a teacher about their children at the same time.  The teacher that said this in front of me had a bad experience with one mother.  That doesn’t mean that all single mothers are the same.  Mine definitely wasn’t.)
  2. I don’t know how a child of single parents can live through life without the siblings that I grew up with.  (Siblings are overrated.  If people grew up with them and couldn’t imagine a childhood without them, that’s great.  If a kid has wished for siblings yet their parents decided against another child or can’t have another child, I hope that kid finds fulfillment in another capacity.  As a child with no siblings, I may have wished for them at some point.  Then I knocked sense into my brain when I witnessed the way my cousins teated their siblings.  Talk about a nightmare!  I may have mentioned this before, I don’t like sharing the remote.  It’s the same reason for why I’m single and have no strong desire to date.)
  3. A mother needs the father to help raise the child even though he’s abusive.  (Abusive men don’t help “take care” of children.  They’re more likely to assault and traumatize them.)

The list goes on.  The reasons listed above were mentioned in the graduate class.  Yes, they triggered me.  Their stereotypical responses were so far away from reality that I wanted to scream sense into their pea brains.  

That’s not what happened, I sat there and kept listening.  Then they listed the prosaic stereotypes regarding children raised by single mothers.  Sure, there are some basis of fact in these stereotypes.  Yet, people are completely focused on the negative, they don’t realize the positive.  Nor do they ask what they or society can do to help.  They would rather sit in judgement because they feel so superior.

Why didn’t I storm out of that classroom?  Why did I stay and sit through the torturous unsuspecting judgement of my classmates?  If I had left, I wouldn’t have presented them with an example of the successes of a single mother:  Me.

At the root of all these stereotypes and denunciations of single mothers and the children of single mothers, lies the real problem. These stereotypes were perpetrated and circulated by a patriarchal society, a society that believes that women absolutely can’t make it in life without the help of men.

I know this now and I used to wish I could go back in time and tell all those children who bullied me for not having a father to shove it.  

Perhaps doing that would have made me a bully, stooping to their level.  I would have been more of a problem child than just academically.

Yet, being a victim to bullies wasn’t a better alternative.  I fully admit that I was lucky.  My life is a testament to the axiom, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”  It wasn’t that I was a victim.  Instead, I’m a survivor.

I hope my survival is a personal hell to those who still believe that my existence on this earth was trivial because I grew up without a father.  This might sound heartless, yet I cannot forgive those who are heartlessly close-minded.  

The bullies who regret their action, that would apologize if we met again, I would willingly forgive.

In some religious cannons, forgiveness is strength.  I can see the truth and the fallacy in that statement.  It’s an unexpected gray topic, which should not be surprising since life is complicated.

During my second year of graduate school, I regularly saw a counselor to help with my lack of assertiveness.  She once asked me if I forgive the sperm donor who contributed to my gene pool.  I couldn’t answer her.  

I can’t imagine forgiving anyone who has harmed my mother and I in the atrocious way he has.  Yet, I don’t know if I would hate him if I saw him again.  My nature is a little too forgiving, which is seen as strength.  In order to forgive the sperm donor, I would need the epic strength of a hero.  The type of strength Maleficent showed.

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In Disney’s Maleficent movie, the question of forgiveness is addressed along with a stunning example of the power of women.

Lately, Disney’s been questioning the undisputed role of villain and woman in their movies.  In it’s earlier works, the villain was a bad person, they were born that way, there obviously isn’t a good bone in their body, and they need to die…badly.

The women are whimsical Princesses prancing around waiting to be swept away or saved by a Prince.  They are automatons lacking in personality, malleable to any male with money.

If there’s a strong woman character in a Disney movie, they were evil stepmothers sometimes ugly or matured who envied the idiot Princess.  

Yet, in movies like Maleficent and Frozen, the villains have a new level.  I’m reluctant to even call them villains.  

In Frozen, Elsa isn’t a villain.  Calling her that is laughable.  She’s a misunderstood girl who loves her sister and her family so much that she’s willing to hide her powers.  

Everyone gets the metaphor in Elsa’s actions.  Right?  Her parents want her to hide her powers so she isn’t labeled a witch (because, of course, witches are bad…whatever).

Historically, women were forced to hide their individual personalities and had to pretend to be malleable dolls.   

This was done so that the family could sell her to the highest bidder.  Her life is miserable while the family makes out like bandits.  Likely forgetting all about their poor daughter.  Why does the daughter do her parents’ bidding in the first place?  Because she loves the undeserving jerks.

The Prince wining and dining Elsa’s sister, Anna, is the real villain.  Sure, he’s very two dimensionally charming.  That’s because in most Disney movies, the viewer never has a chance to dig deeper.  Perhaps all those princes weren’t hiding a sinister underbelly that appears only after the Happily Ever After.

Then there’s Maleficent Disney’s quintessential villain, the worst of the worst.  Thinking about villainy brings up the iconic, mustache twirling male villain and right on his heels is Maleficent. 

In the traditional Sleeping Beauty cartoon, Maleficent is an evil fairy that didn’t receive an invitation to the King’s grand party celebrating the birth of his daughter.  (Seriously, what King would celebrate the birth of a daughter?  In a patriarchal society, sons are desired over daughters).

Maleficent thanks the King for his forgetfulness by cursing his daughter.  Apparently, Maleficent is very earnest about partying.

At the end of the movie, Maleficent bites the dust in dragon form and…well you know what happens to Aurora and the Prince.

Fast forward to the 21st Century and the Maleficent movie.    Disney provides character depth in the form of a backstory and fixes that original crappy ending.

With it’s rape imagery and powerful message for young women, it’s a complete one-eighty from Sleeping Beauty.

Maleficent isn’t a shallow party girl who didn’t receive an invitation.  She’s a wronged fairy who had her wings chopped off (rape) by the King.  Later, Aurora discovers that her dad is a psychopath who spends his downtime talking to disembodied wings in a trophy case.

Prince Phillip isn’t an impulsive young dude who instantly falls in “true love” with Aurora’s trophy wife beauty.  (When the fairies were gifting that poor baby, they were giving her traits of the perfect trophy wife).

In fact, when forced to kiss her, Prince Phillip says, “But we just met!”  It’s Maleficent who wakes Aurora from her cursed slumber with a motherly kiss.  No_PrinceSince it was Maleficent who actually raised Aurora and not the three bumbling fairies.

Furthermore, Aurora returns the favor and saves Maleficent by restoring her wings.  No Princes need apply.  The women got it covered.  

What makes Maleficent a truly strong heroine isn’t physical.  She displays strength of character in showing the King mercy.  

In a fight scene where Maleficent was fighting to protect herself, she had the chance to kill the King.  Instead, she attempts to walk away.  Yet, in another display of villainy, the King tries one last time to kill Maleficent when her back is turned.  Thus plunging to his demise.

This movie doesn’t end with with a wedding or a kiss between a Prince and a Princess.  It ends with the crowing of Aurora as Queen of the magical and human kingdoms, a single woman rising to power.

Maleficent’s walking away from the King instead of killing him is a sign of forgiveness.  She’s strong enough to let him live and throw away her anger to live her life.  I’ll never view villains, especially female villains, the same way again.

They could be misunderstood Heroes. 

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