From It's Time to Empower Our Girls
by Thom Hartmann


 A short time after that, I was reading the story of Cinderella to my own daughter. About halfway through the book, I suddenly realized what I was "teaching" her with this story. The "good girl," Cinderella, was also the one in the story who was beautiful. The "bad girls" - Cinderella's stepsisters - were physically unattractive. But one level deeper, the story became really bizarre. Cinderella was compliant and uncomplaining, and spent much of her mental life in a fantasy world, while the ugly stepsisters were young women who had a goal and a mission and were trying to reach it. In other words, assertive women were ugly, and compliant women were attractive. Assertive women lived in the real world of power and competence, but eventually would lose out; pretty, compliant women lived in a world of fantasy, but if they kept doing what they were told, even if told so by a fantasy fairy godmother, then everything would work out. 

And the prize in this competitive psychodrama? A man. And not just a normal man, but a man who was so self-absorbed that he spent an hour or more dancing with Cinderella but afterwards couldn't remember what she looked like and could only identify her by her shoe size! 

I remember walking into the living room and saying to my wife, "I think I've just participated in a cultural brainwashing experiment," as I described my observations about the story I'd just read to our daughter.

In our culture, boys are encouraged to act out their need for aliveness - to build, conquer, destroy, change, form and reform everything from the physical to the social to the religious. Thus, those boys with an intensely strong need to know their own aliveness are the most visible - they're constantly self-stimulating through interactions with the world around them. When they have functional ways to do this they're called gifted or bright or accomplished; when they find dysfunctional ways to meet their need for aliveness, they're called hyperactive (or worse). 

As you can see from the story of Cinderella (and others, like Snow White, etc.), girls in our culture are given a very different story about how they should meet their need for knowing their own aliveness. From a very young age, they're told to sit down, shut up, not interrupt, and be a lady.


.So while boys can satisfy their need for the experience of aliveness by physical activity, girls are slapped down (more often metaphorically than literally, but the effect is the same) when they try to get their need for aliveness met by physical activity or manipulation of the physical world around them. So, in the face of the Cinderella story, and the millions of other messages that girls in our culture get about how they must be passive and quiet in order to be "feminine," they learn another way - an internal way - to "know they're alive": they escape into fantasy. So while our boys are getting their arousal from doing things externally, our girls are getting their need for aliveness met by creating and stepping into worlds of fantasy and imagination. And when the teacher calls on them, they seem to be off in space.

It's not that the girls aren't stimulated - they're fully engaged in the fantasy that's often visualized right in front of them. It's not that they don't interrupt like the hyperactive boys - but instead of interrupting others, they're interrupting themselves, with raging internal monologues that are so often interrupted in their own minds so badly and so frequently that they can't remember what they were thinking just five minutes before.