Driving a Point Home: Meadow Soprano Vs. the Snow Queen
Growing up, I often heard jokes about lady drivers; probably everybody in our culture does. Although I have two sisters (now eight years old and sixteen). I never thought much about them until I heard someone making fun of a woman driver in front of my little sister when she was fourteen. I knew she was just a year away from driver’s ed classes and two years away from legal driving age. I wondered if these kinds of jokes would affect her self-image and maybe make her less confident in her own abilities.
Could these kinds of jokes even cause accidents? I wondered. Wouldn’t a nervous driver be more likely to be distracted and maybe not respond as well to challenging conditions? And how could you not be nervous if you’d heard time and time again that your whole gender had a reputation as less-than-competent operators of motor vehicles? Maybe none of these things would hurt my sister’s feelings or future abilities; still, I just wished she didn’t have to hear these jokes, just in case. It became a bit of an issue for me. I bugged my family and friends not to make these jokes. People thought I was a bit of a wet blanket, but they did tone it down around me and I hope that thought twice before making those jokes in front of Donna even if I wasn’t there.
I couldn’t do anything about what Donna heard on television, though. The more I started listening for these kinds of messages, the more I seemed to hear on the shows we watched at night. It’s no surprise to see this on sit-coms, but even shows that seem to be a bit more sophisticated often convey the same damaging image, if more subtly. I was recently watching an old episode of The Sopranos, the men all seemed to be competent drivers, even under duress, but the one time we see a woman drive, it is young Meadow Soprano, stealing her boyfriend’s car keys on a tipsy whim and then driving it right into a ditch. (“Save Us All.”) She then throws herself sobbing into Jackie Junior’s arms. Jackie and his friends, however, seem to arrive at and escape even their most ill-conceived, crank-induced heists without accident. I came to believe then–and still hold–that television exerted a negative force on the self-esteem of girls.
Since I couldn’t prevent woman driver jokes, I had to think about how I could counteract them. One weekend I was had to baby sit and I was reading to my littlest sister, Donna, the fairy tales she liked so much. I was reading her “The Snow Queen” (Anderson 46-50). In the story, a boy named Kay gets into the Snow Queen’s sleigh. She’s not a very nice person, and the boy is somewhat lost before he even meets her. It’s a crazy ride and things go from bad to worse after that. But you know what? No one makes fun of the Snow Queen’s driving ability. She is the strong and kind of scary person in the story, and in her sleigh she is in control. When I was reading the story aloud to Donna I wasn’t worried about her growing up to think she was too stupid to be a good driver. We were both just hoping that Kay would escape the Snow Queen’s clutches. I realized then that some myths and fairy tales might be important and worth thinking about.