A comparison of Gender Treatment in Mirror, Mirror and Snow White and the Huntsman
In both the recent retellings of the Snow White tale, the heroines get a bit of a boost of feminine empowerment. However, one does it beautifully, while the other seems to do so with a bit of an edge to it—as if they aren’t just content to make Snow stronger, but they have to make men weaker as well. As we live in such a feminist age, I think it’s important to note the differences in the two movies…and the consequences.
In my review of Mirror, Mirror, I pointed out that Snow wants to make a change to the basic story. She says, “I read so many stories where the prince saves the princess. I think it’s time for a new ending,” but the dwarf cautions her, “No, no Snow! It’s tried and true story telling.” Snow does get her new ending—she saves herself—but at what cost?
It’s great that she is empowered. It’s great that she learns to fight. It’s fantastic that she is determined to fight against evil herself, rather than simply be content to let someone else do it for her. I’m all for Snow White (and any woman) doing all she can to right wrongs and fight against evil. In fact, both the recent versions of Snow White make this change, and it’s a good one.
Here is where they differ—it’s how and why they make the change. In Mirror, Mirror, Snow makes a change because she’s tired of the tried and true story endings. She isn’t content to let a man do the rescuing. She doesn’t want to need a man. In Mirror, Mirror, Snow wants to fight in the place of a man.
That may not seem so odious to you, but let’s compare it to Snow White and the Huntsman. In this version, Snow White never seems to take issue with or react to how things have been done. She doesn’t take offense to men rescuing women, in fact—she is quite quick to let others help, and even has a knack for asking and inspiring them to do so when they are reluctant. However, she also doesn’t wait for a man to do it. This Snow White is fighting an evil so great she hasn’t the time to worry about who defeats it—it will take all of them—and she is passionate enough to fight alone if she must, but humble enough to take all the help she can get.
One reviewer put it this way:
She inspires, nurtures and heals. Instead of feeling threatened by the beauty around her she revels in it. She brings out the best in others….Though she is aided by men she is certainly not defined by them or helpless without them. She is also aided by other women for that matter. She knows who she is and struggles to realize her potential as best she can, just like everyone does whether male or female. Her self-realization does not come at the cost of anyone else’s, in fact, as she becomes freer so do all those who surround her. She does not need someone else to feel smaller for her to feel better. It’s a wonderful message.
It seems to me that there is a touch of arrogance in Mirror, Mirror’s Snow White, whereas the Huntsman’s Snow White is pure humility. Both are confident and empowered, but one is fighting for her rights, the other is fighting for the rights of others. One hopes others will rise up and join her in the cause, the other hopes she can do it herself.
Again, you may not see this as any big deal—but I think it becomes a bigger deal when you see its effect on others. In Mirror, Mirror, Prince Charming is buffoonish. He tries to help Snow, but seems rather inept. He keeps finding himself in awkward situations: upside down with his pants removed (it’s Ok…he was wearing long johns), beaten by dwarves, acting like a dog because he drank the Queen’s “puppy love” potion (it was supposed to be love potion)…to name a few. In my review, I questioned,
[Granted] it was a little funny, but don’t miss the fact that the writers made Prince Charming a dog. Was it just to be funny, or did it have a subtle dig attached to it? Perhaps more important than whether or not the writers intended a negative effect, the question remains, could there be a negative effect? Does the portrayal of Prince Charming in this movie suggest or even reinforce negative ideas about men? Does it suggest that Prince Charming can’t be counted on? Does it possibly suggest that men are jokes or even dogs? Does it suggest that they are weaker than women?
In Mirror, Mirror, Prince Charming wants to “be the man,” he wants to be Snow’s rescuer and champion, but he never really is. It was subtle, but I got the slight impression that Snow was more of a challenge to him than an inspiration. He tried to keep up with her, but he had little to offer her.
In a stark contrast, you have the strong, capable Huntsman. There was nothing buffoonish or cartoonish about him. It’s not that he was perfect. He was much a man, a human man, with flaws and wounds. In fact, he was so much less than he should have been when first we meet him, drunk and brawling with everyone. He was strong, but he was wounded. He is reluctant to help Snow at first, then he is afraid…but Snow is the kind of woman that inspires others to be more than they are—to be what they can and should be. He begins to be worthy of her, not because she criticizes him but because she inspires him. He says to Snow of his late wife, “I wasn’t worth saving, that’s for sure, but she did so anyway. Then I became myself again [after she died]—a self I never cared for anyway—until you came my way.” This is Snow White’s real strength (in this version anyway)—her ability to inspire others to greatness.
The Huntsman leaves his drunkenness to offer all of his strength, his sober strength, to protect Snow White and fight alongside her against the Queen’s evil. The dwarves leave their thieving and regain their nobility and their honor as they too fight alongside Snow. The renegades band together and find the courage to join the fight as well. Everyone Snow White encounters becomes a better version of themselves because of her influence. This to me is the true beauty of womanhood, its ability to inspire others through truth, beauty and gentleness. Anyone can be great in and of themselves, but it’s another thing entirely to be able to bring out the greatness in others. Just as anyone can fight a battle by themselves, but few can inspire the masses to join the cause.
In Mirror, Mirror, it seems to me that men were generally emasculated, but in the Huntsman, they were honored—not glorified, but honored. I think this largely had to do with the subtle differences in Snow White. In fact, it seems to me that the attitudes of Snow White in Mirror Mirror are actually more closely “mirrored” by Ravenna in the Huntsman than they are by the Huntman’s Snow White. That may seem harsh, to compare the darling, little, Lily Collins’ Snow to the evil, man-hating Ravenna—but I think it’s important to see that Ravenna is just the full fledged result of the little seeds of the attitude towards men in Mirror, Mirror. Snow wasn’t yet bitter as Ravenna was, but both desired to do things by themselves; both saw no need for man’s true assistance, only man’s servitude. Snow was yet young—but with her desire for independence from man already in place, all she needed was a good disappointment and/or wounding from a man and she would be a bitter Ravenna in the making. Can’t you see it?
You know the interesting thing—the strongest of the three women, Ravenna, the Mirror, Mirror Snow and the Huntsman Snow White, is the one who honored men and relied on men the most—Snow White from the Huntsman. She is by far the strongest, most powerfully portrayed of the women.
In my review of Mirror, Mirror, I wrote, “I think the story would have been so much better and more powerful if the story tellers had chosen to edify both sexes. What if Prince Charming hadn’t been such a cartoon? What if he had been the one to encourage and empower Snow? What if it hadn’t been about who rescued whom, but about how they partnered together to rescue the Kingdom from captivity?” I should have also questioned, “What if she had been the kind to use her strength, purity and beauty to inspire him to be something more than he was?” I feel like we have the answer to those questions in The Huntsman.
“I do think girls ultimately want to believe in, be fought for, and be rescued by a real Prince Charming but I also think that they want to be part of the adventure of bringing freedom to the kingdom. The problem comes when, instead of embracing both ideals, we drop one to grasp the other.” In our quest for feminine empowerment, let us not mistake where the real power of femininity comes from. We are not stronger for taking the fight or the victory away from a man. We are strongest when we inspire others to engage in the battles that are worth fighting, and help them become all they are meant to be, as we do so ourselves.
I’m for strong women, but I’m also for strong men. I think man and woman alike should be all that God created them to be, which means they should fully develop and use their strengths to the glory of God. But please don’t miss the fact that even Jesus chose to lay aside his strength and power at times so that he might better serve others. We should fully develop our strength, and we should have the wisdom to know when to use it, and when to set it aside in humble submission to each other.
Read about the striking similarity between the stories of Snow White and the Huntsman and Jesus.