Much has been written in recent years on the effect of the princess culture on young girls. Will this affect how they see themselves as they grow into womanhood? Do they expect to be saved by a Prince Charming in order to survive in the world? What kind of mother/feminist am I if I hold her hand and enter a Disney Store? I always assumed moms fell on one side of the moat or the other, regardless of whether it was brought up in playgroup conversation.
There's nothing like a little personal experience to knock you upside the head with a bejeweled, plastic tiara.
This year, my 4 ½-year-old daughter Zoe wanted to be a princess for Halloween. Nothing wrong with that ... or is there? Empowering blog after empowering blog rolled through my head as I asked myself if I needed a stance on the matter. I suddenly found myself mildy defensive in playground conversations when other parents asked about her costume. It's just holiday dress up; what was my problem?
We had passed on the toddler tutu phenomenon. "American Girl," to us, is simply a song by Tom Petty. Certainly, pink is a part of Zoe's wardrobe, but I wouldn't say her closet was punctuated by it (PINK!). Nail polish has been a one-time thing -- so far. She did have a Tinkerbell cake at her 4th birthday party. Perhaps fairies are the princess gateway drug? But for whom? Right or wrong, I knew I had the larger hand in these gender role choices thus far. Still, I was surprised by my messy-haired, jeans and t-shirt-wearing girl's adamant costume pick.
Not a doctor (C'mon, Doc McStuffins?) Not a clown, firewoman or superhero? Not Michelle Obama (I seriously suggested)? Here we were at the feminism crossroads I had hoped to avoid by way of a neutral highway. We were faced with choice, and I chose to make it hers. Princess it shall be. But I couldn't go down the road without a conversation.
"So... Zoe... why do you want to be a princess?"
She drank her juicebox intently. "Let me think," she pondered. I was happy she wanted to go deeper on this one. Then, her eyes lit up.
"Mama, princesses get to do whatever they want to do, whenever they want to do it."
I don't know what gave her this idea. (Pippa? Have you already gotten your hands on my child?)
I explained to Miss Royalty-in-Training that there are rules in THIS kingdom and that princesses have VIP responsibilities -- making sure the horse is fed, caring for those in need, helping her family with daily castle chores and learning new things every day to help make the kingdom a better land.
"Princesses go to school?" she asked, eyes widened. Indeed.
Sure, responsibility and do-goodery aren't the things we celebrate most in our modern day storybooks and tabloid-fueled Lands of Make Believe. But my daughter didn't need to know 2012 specifics. Zoe needed some guidance for her own made-up land. People who give back ... help others ... make the world a better place for you and me ... We are the world! That's who we celebrate in our kingdom, I wanted her to know.
It quickly became clear to me that I was not a mom on one side of the moat, tisk-tisking the other side for their tiaras, tutus, rainbows and unicorns.There was a lesson here for both of us, a corner to turn together, with an outcome much bigger than a frilly pink and purple dress. I was sitting on the bridge between castle and reality, with likely many mothers next to me, wondering how we offer our girls deeper meaning without completely spoiling the magic. It's a shaky bridge, but even the Land of Make Believe can benefit from a reality check.
"So you're sure then about being a princess?"
"Yes, mama! But why do they call where we live a KINGdom? If we're all working, why isn't it everybody's land?"
OMG, she floored me. A princess of the people.
"EVERYBODYdom!" I shouted with glee. She giggled and spilled her juice on the floor.
And so it shall be.
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