Girl Meets Boys - Schneewittchen und die sieben Zwerge
“Who’s been eating from my plate?” ask the seven dwarves, when they return to their little house and find that everything is completely different than normal. But what has happened? What kind of orderliness can frighten the dwarves by its unexpectedness?
In the opening credits to the Walt Disney version of Snow White, parents are asked to watch the film with their children if possible – after all, it teaches “important moral values.” There is nothing new about this, in fact, it is the general task of fairytales in the first place. But even with Walt Disney, it is no longer clear what morals are at play: the dwarves’ house has not been tidied up at all, the table has not been set nor the beds made awaiting the return of those who dwell there; everything is dusty and a complete mess. Even before meeting the dwarves, Snow White tidies up the house because she thinks there must be children living there who no longer have a mother. And the dwarves are terribly frightened when they see their house suddenly tidy, and ask: “who has cleaned my cup?” Their amazement grows when they discover that it is not a monster, but “a woman.”
Snow White, on the other hand, scarcely awake, pulls the blankets up over her – by no means naked – breasts and cries: “You’re not children, you’re men!” In this moment of confrontation, there is an encoding of gender relationships. Walt Disney is not the only one to take the opportunity of giving his own particular moral views in this regard. In one Polish picture book, when Królewna Sniezga asks if she can stay with the dwarves, she receives a housekeeping contract as an answer: “yes, if you do the cleaning for us.” And in a Turkish version, the dwarves beg Pamuk Prences to take care of them – which means that they want her to be ready to keep them company as well as do the housework.
In other versions, she has to become a nursemaid or allows herself to be protected. Sometimes, her childlike innocence, or her sheer beauty suffices as “payment” for being allowed to remain in the dwarves’ house. Although the story of Snow White and its most important elements are familiar all over the world – from “Mirror, Mirror, on the Wall,” the evil Queen and the glass coffin, to the inevitable Prince – the tale thus contains a turning point that allows different versions, but can always be used for putting across various gender constructions.
Here, it is not a matter of providing a new interpretation of this fairy tale. Instead, this project, carried out as part of the Werkleitz Biennial, will, like the other versions, recount the moment in which Snow White encounters the seven dwarves a particular meaning. In this moment, something is created that is omnipresent and familiar, yet barely seen: gender is constructed. The neuter Snow White becomes a woman, and the sexually undefined dwarves suddenly become boys or men. When the dwarves are spoken to as such, they suddenly display all the behaviour patterns that patriarchal societies ascribe to males: they want to be protectors, they want the power to forbid, they want to have fun, they also want tenderness, eroticism and sex, and they want to be looked after, all while continuing with their work in the mines.
At the same time, they always have to compare the way they see their own chivalry, industriousness, mutual caring and erotic potential with the ideal of manliness as represented by the Prince, generating a complex muddle of both Homoerotic and homophobic relationships amongst themselves. In this way, it is possible to observe doing gender, the production of gender roles in the practice of social relationships: what happens when “girl meets boys”?
Moreover, it allows one to examine the theory of doing sex, the production of sex or the constitution of the two groups man and woman at the moment they come into contact with one another: How occurs when “girl-meeting creates boys” (and vice versa)? The rest of the fairytale with its hate, passion, tolerance and love remains at the fringe, but cannot be ignored. The story is too well known for that; its overtones are present in every excerpt in the same way a film is present in our minds when we see a still taken from it. However, the project will not concentrate solely on the phenomenon of the gender boundary, but also look at possible plot options using further cinematic versions based on the Snow White theme.
Should Snow White marry a dwarf instead, spurn ing the boring Prince (Snow White with Sigourney Weaver)? Should she found a “School for Servants” with the Prince, in which people are turned into dwarves (Institut Benjamenta after Robert Walser)? Should she escape the choice between poison or matrimony by entering the glass coffin on her own free will (Madonna in Evita)? And the dwarves: Should they attempt a rebellion (Spur der Steine)? Should they make a profession of their protector role (The Magnificent Seven)? Or is the only way of escape from patriarchal communities of “men and women” a joint dwarf rebellion (Auch Zwerge haben mal klein angefangen by Werner Herzog)?
Performative lecture by Sebastian Schädler (D), 2002.