Princesses get a bad rap. I have been a huge fan of Barbara Ehrenreich for years but I think her recent post about princesses misses the point. I was raised in the 1970s by a child psychologist feminist mother and a child psychiatrist father. We were PC before there was a term for it. Our bookshelves were stuffed with Our Bodies Ourselves, My Secret Garden and Marlo Thomas's, Free to Be You and Me.
When it came time to raise my own little girl I made sure to expose her to sports, cars and soccer balls. She could've cared less.
As I write in my new book, Bedtime Stories:
"Three-year-old Ava was passionate about cooking, baking, her nails, edible makeup and anything having to do with princesses.
"I was terrified she was going to grow up to become a Republican."
Like Ms. Ehrenreich and all good PC parents at first I was terrified. Where had I gone wrong? Why is my little angel (princess?) so obsessed with cuddling her dolly, tea parties and wiping off the dining room table? I knew it was best to let her make her own toy choices but it was hard. It was as if she had been possessed by the Beaver's mom or Donna Reed. Or maybe she was in long-term training to grow up to become a scullery maid.
Three years later her little brother came along and for a while he delighted in playing dolls with her. Now, however, he is six and has dedicated himself to becoming a ninja.
The more you watch your kids the more you realize that some key gender specifics are as hardwired as hunger and thirst. Most, but not all little girls go through a pink, princessy phase. Most, but not all little boys go through a phase where everything needs to be whacked and/or destroyed.
The good news is that these phases are absolutely normal and, like all phases, they pass. Ava's now nine and pink has been replaced by purple. For years she had been pestering me to allow her to get her ears pierced but only yesterday she told me that she now thinks it's kinda gross.
Furthermore, Disney did not invent these archetypes and certainly the earlier ones like Cinderella I have steered my daughter away from. As a divorced dad raising two kids the last thing I want to do is engrain in them the notion of an evil stepmother.
Newer Disney characters like Pochahontas and Mulan have been vast improvements. And in 2009 I'm hoping to love The Frog Princesses, Disney's first animated feature staring an African-American princess.
Which brings me to Enchanted. What a wonderful film. Look, I'm on strike and Disney and the rest are evil, greedy corporate behemoths.
Still, Enchanted is wonderful.
It attacks the stereotype of the passive princess waiting for the kiss from the valiant prince head on and with breathtaking cleverness. I was thrilled to watch it with my little girl.
We both got the joke and laughed our butts off.