Paper Bag Courage

I’ve been thinking a lot about strong women lately.  Particularly about how women become strong.  I’m not talking about physical strength, but inner strength that allows women to be the hero of their own story.

Becoming a strong woman is a process that can begin at any time and be on-going.  I think it is an important step if we can show our daughters at an early age that they too can become heroes of their own story.  In my search I came up with a few books that might shed some light on the subject.  But where to begin?  Oddly enough I chose a children’s story called The Paper Bag Princess by Robert Munsch to illustrate my point.  It goes something like this:

Once upon a time, there was a very brave princess named Elizabeth, who had no-one to help her save Prince Ronald from the clutches of the fire-breathing dragon.  She uses her wits to fool the dragon into showing off his fearful prowess, leaving him exhausted.  Elizabeth is then free to rescue her prince.  But instead of recognizing her formidable courage, the prince complains about her looks.  For you see, the only thing she could find to wear after the dragon torched her kingdom was a paper bag.  She quite wisely decided not to marry the bum.

I think that the torching of Elizabeth’s dress symbolizes the shedding of the outer refinements expected of the feminine in our society.  By donning the paper bag, she in effect, wears a different part of her persona – that of a resourceful young woman who is capable of taking on a dragon and saving a prince.

It’s interesting to consider that while Elizabeth seems to accept her position as a princess and all that entails: beautiful clothes, a home, and protection. It takes a crisis to call forth her other faculties.  This suggests to me that we, as a society accept the subliminal message that girls are to be coddled and protected by the male of the species.

While my own daughter was growing up I had dreams of her getting a university education.  I knew that if she did, she’d have choices.  Not just a choice of career, but also it would enable her to live independently of a man.  Not that I have anything against men, I just don’t want her to be stuck in a bad relationship because she believes she can’t take care of herself.  Today, my daughter lives and works in Toronto, and questions whether she wants marriage and kids because of societal expectations, or because that’s something she really wants for herself.

While they were growing up we tried to teach our children how to make their own decisions.  After discussing options, the final choice was often theirs. I think that in this way we have taught our daughter to be confident in her choices.  And at the same time, if something isn’t working, it’s OK to change it.

Young women today are lucky that they have more choices.  But I still think there is more to be done.  I think about high school girls being pressured into doing something they don’t want to do because they are afraid to say “No.”  I think about women at Dalhousie University who were targeted through hate mail from the men in their dentistry class.  In the workforce women still have to deal with improper advances from male co-workers.   And what about the murder or Aboriginal women that goes unsolved?  Or the women who are raped all over the world because men know they can get away with it?  Where does it end?

I think we need we teach our daughters that they have hidden depths of strength that have not been tapped.  Our society is fundamentally patriarchal.  Yes, things are changing, but there is still a lot of work to do.  Not only do we need to teach young girls and women that they are strong, we also need to teach the male of the species to respect a woman’s voice, as well as recognize that women are strong in ways that men you can’t always see.

Princess Elizabeth utilized inner courage, and her intellect to save Prince Ronald.  I think it was his loss that he didn’t appreciate her inner strength. Perhaps he was even intimidated by it.  In the same way it is society’s loss that, the world as a whole, cannot seem to recognize a woman’s worth.

Categories: Women's Lives

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