Thursday, January 27, 2011

Princesses revisited, again, and yet again

Obviously visiting the heart of princessdom (All employees! call all the little girls Princess) presented an interesting issue for me. I am feeling ever more strongly that this is just a pipeline for all the things I've always had a hard time with about how our culture deals with girls. I heard the author of Cinderella Ate My Daughter on the radio this morning and I could have written that book.

My approach with Dylan is a mishmash of casual indifference, letting her have small victories (if she sensed how much I cared about this she would hone in like some kind of...honing thing), substituting better things to think about, and refusing on bigger stuff (many of the girls at Disney World wander around in princess dresses and it was not happening).

This is so difficult to address because any given piece of it seems (and IS) relatively innocuous and there is SO MUCH PRESSURE from peers, from teachers, from tv, movies, and family to participate. In fact I think she ONLY cares about some of this stuff to impress her friends and otherwise is sort of indifferent. But in total it is completely unacceptable. Someone brought up how sometimes the movie characters are okay role models (especially with American Girl dolls also), but they both make shopping and consumption inseparable from being a girl and having interesting experiences (and PINK! but I'm considering that more of a symptom than anything else. I've had a hard time figuring out how to reasonably say she can't pick things in the color she wants). Those princesses are skinny and gorgeous and often not wearing a lot of clothing. It pushes girls to daydream about their weddings and their boyfriends and there may not be anything so terrible about that per se, but little boys sure aren't encouraged to daydream about those things--they're supposed to be off having adventures (full disclosure: we sing "A doll, a doll, Ollie wants a doll" with some frequency since he's rather attached to Dylan's baby dolls).

I heard the author of a new book about The Feminine Mystique on Fresh Air last night, and she summed up how these issues look for young women today: 1) teenagers and college girls are encouraged to achieve as much as they can in sports and academics, but they are expected to be hot while they do it, and 2) mothers of young children are being fed these expectations that that are able to and responsible for making every moment of their children's lives a teachable, meaningful experience, while also having interesting successful careers. It reminds me so much of all those really smart girls at Princeton who dressed up and drank heavily 2-3 nights a week and spent tons of time and money trying to be really hot all the time and then called it a choice.

Dylan asked me yesterday if we could toilet train Ollie soon so he could get Iron Man and Spiderman underwear. I said NO and later, but that I could look for some for her (she's in a class with a herd of five-year-old boys at the moment) and she was sort of shyly excited. You know I don't love VIOLENT SWAGGERING role models or wanting to be like all the other kids all the time either but I guess anything that's not pink feels like a victory. I just want her to be able to do her own thing, you know?

I never thought I'd be a Won't somebody think of the children? kind of parent, but there you have it.


Unkie Herb said...

Dylan told me that her favorite finger is her PINK-y.

I realize that I write this at the risk of being punched in the nether region the next time we see each other.

Aaron said...

Next time I see you I'll show you my favorite finger.

The Zalmans said...

Don't underestimate the child's ability to see through this stuff. They may have to try it on and process it, ( and make you suffer for a while) but I think they come out to appreciate your values.

Annie ~ إني said...

This is what my manifesta/womynafesto is going to address, just you wait. Call me a prude, but in France and Morocco it was actually refreshing to see modesty as a value because it totally takes off the pressure to be Barbie.