Wednesday, June 3, 2009
The Princess And The Peeved
So far this week, I’ve read two essays about America’s princess problem. They aren’t the first I’ve read on the subject, but this piece at The Root is the only one I’ve seen from an African-American perspective. Disney is debuting its first black princess, Tiana, via “The Princess and the Frog” later this year.
Like any good feminist raising a daughter, I’ve noticed that the princess culture, popularized by Disney, is absolutely everywhere — and it’s annoying. A few weeks ago, I took C. to a full-on princess birthday party and nearly went blind from the room full of sequins, sparkles and bright pink flotsam and jetsam. Nails were painted and dusted with glitter. Feather boas and satin slippers were donned. PrincessMania ’09 wouldn’t have been my choice for a party theme, but C. and the rest of the guests had fun.
Of course, I’d love for film studios to make more animated features about spirited girls who don’t wear ball gowns. It was a little depressing to see intrepid tomboy Dora the Explorer get the princess treatment a few years ago. And yet, I can’t work up a lot of outrage over the unveiling of the unveiling of another princess movie. As I’ve said previously, it’s a big deal for black girls to see themselves in the Disney tiara for once. Adults can have valid debates about vapid, man-dependent representations of women, but from where I’m sitting, black females haven’t exactly had the luxury of being stereotyped as fair damsels in distress (See: “Snow White”).
Besides, if you’re a 5-year-old girl, chances are that you like slightly tacky things that sparkle. This is the age when kids are acutely aware of gender differences, and some of them embrace the most obvious symbols of those differences — like princesses — with a vengeance. It would be nice if popular culture would help us out, but it’s up to parents to teach our children to get past that — and that it’s more important to be competent, confident and kind-hearted than to look like Sleeping Beauty (or Zac Efron). I’m much more worried about the bullshit yet to come, like when she turns 10 and hears her friends talking about going on diets and wearing whatever junior trollop gear the stores are peddling.
I’d prefer it if my daughter didn’t like pink quite so much, but that’s more my problem than hers. She loves her some Cinderella and Belle, sure, but she also swims and does gymnastics. She digs Wonder Woman and Supergirl — her costumes of choice the past two Halloweens — and she is far more self-assured than I was at twice her age. I seriously doubt she’s growing up with the idea that sitting around looking pretty adds up to a meaningful life.
My daughter has plenty of time to learn that being a princess is a fantasy that has little to do with being a woman. For now, I'm OK with her enjoying the sparkle.