I just turned 55. I have two beautiful children and had two verbally abusive marriages. It has been a painful and hard journey since my last divorce 5 years ago. I have taken classes, been part of support groups, and read everything I could find. I have leaned on friends for support and stood up again with their encouragement. Like most growth and healing it has been one step at a time so sometimes I don’t see how far I have come.
This weekend I got to see it in a one-hour movie.
My granddaughter was staying at my house for a sleepover on Saturday. She is a wonderful, spunky 3- year old and we had a day of crafts, pillow fights and playing animal charades. She walked my dog along the city streets of Manhattan and rode two buses on our adventure to the book store where she chose a container of slime for her $5 treat.
It was her first sleepover and she knew we were supposed to stay up all night eating popcorn so I picked up some movies at the library to help us do that.
What Peter Pan Taught Me About Misogyny
She had seen the play of Peter Pan and really liked it so I picked it up along with Snow White and The Little Mermaid. My granddaughter wanted to watch Peter Pan first so we settled down with a bowl of popcorn as the movie opened on the house of the Darlings and we see Mrs. Darling getting ready to go to a party and hear Mr. Darling complaining to her that he couldn’t find his gold cufflinks and would not go to the party without them.
He then barges into the kid’s room demanding the cufflinks and searching all over until he eventually trips over the dog, Nana. Mr. Darling then banishes Nana from the house and tells Wendy she could no longer sleep in the nursey and tell the boys stories about Peter Pan. He leaves the room carrying Nana while the children cry and Mrs. Darling, in a role I have played many times, tells the kids it will be OK, don’t be too hard on your dad, he really does love you.
Mom and wife, the peacekeeper, the one who cleans up the mess and then tells people it is OK. And it got worse from there. If mom was a lion keeper, Wendy, Tinkerbell, and Tiger Lily were adoring fans of a peacock.
I am pretty sure I saw this movie myself as a child and probably again as a young adult with my daughter. I don’t remember getting upset watching it. Yes, I have grown! I am happy that this time I was upset by both how the women were treated and how they responded. We were not 10 min into the film before Peter Pan showed up to retrieve his lost shadow. Wendy had saved it for him and kneels down to sew it back on his feet.
As she is excitedly telling him how she found his shadow and saved it he interrupts her to say, “Girls talk too much,” Her response is to get quiet and look down demurely. He then says, “Well get on with it.”
As the movie progresses, we meet the other female characters. Tinkerbell, a magical pixie whose fairy dust allows them to fly becomes the jealous female when Peter ignores her. Tiger Lily is the loyal woman willing to die to protect him. The dreamy-eyed mermaids are his adoring fans who still want to hear his stories of conquest even if they have heard them all before.
During all of this Peter does not notice the woman’s sacrifices, he just expects them.
Finally, Wendy says she has had enough and wants to go home. As she prepares to leave, she gets kidnapped by Caption Hook. She refuses to become a pirate and is forced to walk the plank. Right before her body hits the water, Peter (with the help of Tinkerbell) saves her. Everyone cheers for the hero.
What Peter Pan Taught Me About My Own Growth as a Woman
It was so clear to me while I watched this movie, I had been all of these women at times. There is a book that was written years ago called The Peter Pan Syndrome: Men Who Never Grow Up. It showed how there are many men in our society who stay children. After watching the movie and recognizing myself in the female characters, I see the same thing can be true of women.
I put up with this disrespect and even made up excuses for it. In a way, I was also being a child. I was not being responsible for taking care of myself.
Now I know it feels good to grow up and take responsibility for how I allow myself to be treated. I have spent years trying to smooth over and excuse aggressive behavior, I have let myself be ignored and used, and when I have tried to stand up for myself, I have let myself be told to be a good sport. After years of this unhappiness, I can see I was playing the supporting actress in a childish drama. I wanted to believe in his magic and I had to grow up to see it was make-believe.
My granddaughter loved the movie and wanted to watch it again. Maybe, she was just thinking how much fun it would be to fly. Part of me wanted to say yes, after all, it is just a movie but then I remembered how the women in the movie didn’t just put up with a narcissistic boy/man, they admired him and catered to him. As I watch Disney’s Peter Pan at 55, I now see how I can no longer just shrug it off as a movie.
The disrespect for the woman characters and the way they tolerated it stood out so clearly to me now that I can no longer say, “Oh well, it’s OK.” It isn’t Ok. It isn’t just a movie. It is how strong woman like Wendy and even magical woman like Tinkerbell agree to play this role in their real lives. I am happy to grow up and recognize abuse for what it is and respond in a way where I responsibly take care of myself. For me and my granddaughter, I had to say no.
It turns out we didn’t watch the other movies either. When the popcorn was gone my granddaughter wanted to play animal charades again. She went first and made binoculars with her hands to show she was a creature with great vision. Then she spread her arms and flew around the room. ‘Owl,” I guessed.
She smiled, “Owlette,” she corrected. Of course, her favorite superhero from PJ Masks. How fun to see when we insist on new roles, the world can change too! Growing up is not the end of magic. It is the beginning of personal power. And that is real magic!