This whole feminism thing…
So, I’ve been doing a fair bit of thinking, both in conjunction with my last post and in general.
As the mother of a little girl, I am inundated with advice on how to raise her as a “feminist,” and frankly, most of it sucks. See, I’m a gal who likes to split the difference. I have really long hair, easily own my weight in jewelry, cannot easily give you the number of shoes I own, the folks at my local Bath & Body Works know me by name, as do the good people at Starbucks, one of my favorite outings is to the mall, I love to cook, and I like to show off my cleavage. I also drive a pick-up truck, drink beer, drink whiskey, know an awful lot about both of those alcohols, love hockey, swear a lot, hate make-up, hate the color pink, dislike the princess thing (except Belle, Belle rocks), prefer the company of males (in general), prefer to give and get directions via actual directions (North, South, East, West), and romantic comedies and romance novels make me physically ill.
Before B was born, I was pretty clear I didn’t want to wrap her in pink frilly girliness. Her room is a lovely shade of green and her decorations all gender-neutral (foxes! and owls!) and I tried to keep her toys as non-gender-specific as possible. And this was all well and good for the first year or so of her life. Sure, we had some ruffly dresses and some lace. I got her one of those awesome four-foot-long Victorian-style baptismal gowns. And she was always perfectly matched and accessorized (I’m a clothing designer, I can’t help it!!). But overall, I tried to keep it simple. There were no princesses in the house, she never watched TV, I read her all sorts of books that were gender-neutral as well as “for boys” and “for girls,” and she didn’t have any other little girls around to be influenced by.
So, at two years and three months old, let me tell you what B is like. Purple is her favorite color, hot pink coming a close second. Her favorite animals are owls (and luckily they usually come in purple) and horses. She knows the name of every single Disney princess and My Little Pony. Rapunzel is her favorite princess, strictly because she wears a purple dress. She wants to be a ballerina and wears her tutu daily (if she can get away with it). She also loves trucks, construction sites, hockey, and Mr. Rogers. Her Easter basket assortment consisted of the truck-themed basket and the ballerina-themed basket with some princesses in for good measure. And she does love her some trucks, but princesses, ponies, and ballerinas are really her thing. And although I never exposed her to it, all it took was one book about Disney princesses and she was hooked. She wanted to know everything about all of them. It piqued her interest unlike anything else I have ever seen so far with her.
In short, it makes her happy. Really, really happy. So, she has a couple of DVDs, some dress-up clothes, a few more books, a couple of puzzles, and a slew of coloring books- all Disney princess themed. We take field trips to Target to wander up and down the wretchedly pink aisles of girl toys fawning over the barbies and princesses and ponies (and also the Legos and Imaginext playsets because WOW those rock!), she gets to “take a lap” around the Disney store when we’re at that mall.
Part of me cringes every time she squeals with delight over Rapunzel or Cinderella. But part of me looks at her and sees how happy it makes her. Nothing delights her like princesses and ponies. Her eyes light up at the very mention of either word. And she has started telling everyone that she is, herself, a princess. (Note: we made sure never to use that as an endearment around her but she picked it up anyway.)
The whole princess thing grates on me, cloying and uber-feminized as it is. But she’s a girly-girl. (She’s also tough as nails, fearless, and a total trooper and has excellent manners.) I try to incorporate real princess stuff into her life- caring for others and charity, manners and being kind to those around her, responsibility and education. We tell her princesses are smart, and that princesses grow up to be queens someday and will have to rule the kingdom. We try and remind her that princesses don’t throw tantrums and are always careful with their things. That being a princess is so much more than pretty dresses and dancing at the ball. Because this pink thing can totally bite me. I want her to be happy, but I need her to stay grounded as well.
So here’s my issue. After reading countless articles and blog posts about how detrimental “princess culture” is to little girls, we cannot deny the appeal. And what is feminism but giving women the choice to be whatever they want to be? I mean wasn’t that the whole point? Should we hate on little girls because they love pink princesses? I mean I look at B and I cannot take that from her. I cannot steal her joy in the name of feminism, yet it feels like so many people who “know better” are asking me to do just that. If she wants to be a girly-girl, then that’s what she will be. I expose her to as many different types of people, experiences, and media as I can. But she always comes back to the princesses. And I hate that she’s being judged for that. And that I am, too.
I think maybe if I was pushing her into it at the exclusion of all else, never telling her what kind of beyond-the-pink potential little girls can have, that might be different. But I’m not, she has Legos and a wooden construction set and just had her daddy read her a book about trucks last night before bed. She can navigate us home from the zoo. She knows her alphabet and she can count. She looks up and sees the moon and can tell me what phase it’s in and points out the stars. She’s a smart cookie who is two years ahead in her communication and understanding skills. Yet, at first glance, she’s just another adorable little girl in a pink tutu who knows the name of all the Disney princesses.
This is what SHE wants. This is what SHE has chosen. As a feminist mom, how can I tell her that her choices aren’t valid, just because they are stereotypical? And the only answer that I can come up with is that I can’t.
This whole feminism thing, it totally comes in pink, I’m telling you.