My daughter loves princesses, the more pink and glittery the better. She wants to be one; hell, so do I. You get to be rich, live in a castle, have everyone tell you how amazing and beautiful you are without actually having to do anything. Who wouldn’t like that?
She has a collection of Disney Princess dolls and reenacts movies, as well as making her own “princess in distress” stories. So I was playing one of the endless princess doll games, and we have this conversation:
Me: I don’t want to play ‘the princess gets captured and needs the prince to save her.’ Let’s make a new story.
M: Why don’t you like rescue missions?
Me: Well…(here I hesitate. Is she old enough for me to explain this?) I don’t like them because it means that the princess is helpless and stupid and needs a boy to fix everything, which isn’t true. Couldn’t she save herself? Or could one of her friends do it?
(There’s only so much “damsel in distress” I can put up with before I snap.)
Here I can see M hesitate, and on her face, I can see it: Because that’s the way it’s supposed to go. Can’t you just go with it? Eventually, she says, “Because…girls aren’t brave, and boys are.”
Oh no you didn’t.
Me: That’s not true, right? Remember Mulan, or Merida?
And from here, we launch into a long conversation about the “brave” aspects of girls. I bring up all the strong females I can think up from stories. I bring up non-fiction examples and read to her about Ruby Bridges and Rosa Parks. We talk about the brave things she does, how she can hold reptiles and look for bugs, how she can go up to any child on the playground and make friends without fear, how she went to school for the first time without fear.
M: But…I’m afraid to be alone, and of the dark.
Me: Is that it?
M: Yeah…I guess. That’s not so bad. Although if the prince showed up naked, I’d tell him to go home.
I love how her brain works. But I worry, too. I don’t know what to tell her. After all, if she wants to be a girly-girl and love pink sparkles, who am I to stand in her way? Maybe that’s who she is. But I also want her to know that she doesn’t have to be, despite what Disney and the rest of society would have her believe. She loves blocks and building things. She loves collecting rocks and looking at bugs with a magnifying glass. She loves science, math and art. She’s smart, sweet and absolutely hilarious. I want her to keep that.
I want to tell her, too, about the times I was brave. Holding a man while he lay dying in my lap. Hiding from a armed robber. Packing a bag and moving to Asia, hoping that my job was real. Calling the police to protect abused children, knowing I’d stand eye-to-eye with their tormenters, knowing they could hurt me. Letting a little girl, one of the people I love most in the world, go out into it and make her own mistakes. She’s too little for all of that, but someday.
I hope she finds a path in life that makes her happy, and if she does it wearing a pink tutu and glittery crown, more power to her. I just hope she maintains the strength to do it without expecting The Prince to do it for her.
As a postscript, we played dolls again today. M pointed to Cinderella and Aurora and said, “She’s a doctor and she’s a zoo keeper. The prince was mean so they put him in jail, and now they’re going to go have ice cream and go to Water World.”
There’s hope after all.