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Teachable Moments

This week, I chaperoned my 2nd graders’ field trip to see the African Folk Tale, Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters. In case you aren’t familiar with the story, it is about two beautiful sisters, one who is mean spirited and one who is kind. The kind sister has a garden that she tends to and in the garden she finds a snake, which she befriends and loves; she does not want to leave her home and is happy where she is with what she has. The mean spirited sister wants to be Queen and dreams of living in a big castle with servants.

Low and behold, the King of the Land requests all of the beautiful women to the castle so that he may pick a bride. The mean spirited sister left before sunrise on the long journey to the castle and encountered three ‘tests’ of kindness, all of which she failed. The next morning, the kind sister sets out on the same journey and of course passes all three tests. I’m certain that you know where this story is headed and yes, the kind sister gets to marry the King. It turns out that the King transformed himself into the three ‘tests’ to see how each of the sisters would respond and chose the kind and beautiful girl. The King had also transformed himself into the snake that the kind sister befriended in the garden.

The folktale was written to teach about kindness and compassion, and it most certainly highlights these admirable traits in the characters. When these folktales and other fairy tales were written, it was a different climate and we weren’t talking about equal rights, consent and healthy relationships. This story is really no different than Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty or Snow White. They all have underlying themes of kindness and compassion, but also underlying themes of male dominance, lack of consent and unhealthy relationships. These stories are a part of our culture and they aren’t going away.

I am not suggesting a ban on them. I AM suggesting, and encouraging, a conversation with the kiddos after they watch it. Kian and I had a long conversation after the play about how the kind daughter did not want to go to see the King, and therefore, she did not give consent. We also talked about how the sisters had to ‘prove their worthiness’ to the King, but the King did not have to ‘prove his worthiness’ to the sisters. A big part of the story was about how the King only wanted to meet all of the beautiful girls and excluded the girls who were not physically attractive. This part of the play went on for sometime and all I could think about were the little 2nd grade girls who are already basing their self worth on their looks and how much this reinforced it, so we talked about that too.

You can’t escape fairy tales and folktales. They are a part of our history and of our culture. They most certainly can be enjoyed, but it is also a good opportunity to talk with your child about them. It helps to keep the dialogue of consent and healthy relationships as a normal part of daily conversation.