I am so impressed. Where I thought this book would be some long-winded but ultimately useless rant – based upon the author’s interviews – it actually turned out to be just the right mix of rant and expert opinion in science, history, psychology, gender studies and probably more that I am already forgetting.
She was human and she convinced me. Last night my family and I watched the new Disney movie Tangled, while tonight I spent the night off work devouring the book that makes me want to ban that movie from my home. It’s a short and easy read that had me furiously taking notes and thinking hard about what to say and do and live and teach and breathe with my own daughter.
Can you say that about a work of non-fiction?
Do you even care what conclusion she comes to, which camp she sides with?
Lay your concerns to rest. She does not in the end embrace the “explosion of pink froth.” (I love that quote, but she does slather it on the cover. What’s up with that Peggy?!)
The princess phenomenon began as a marketing campaign – as I am discovering many long-held and so-called “traditions” did – but the current incarnation from Disney is not the first time it has happened. Did you know that the baby doll was invented to encourage post-Industrial Revolution women to have more children? Without the family farm demanding more hands be born to run it, families were growing smaller. The economy suffered and maternal instincts massaged by a toy. It worked. Did you know that Shirley Temple had her face plastered on any product that could carry it?
I’ve felt uncomfortable with the princesses for some time. Around the time that I realized, walking around Toys R Us, with my children putting together their Christmas wishes and realizing that there was nothing BUT objectification for sale in the girls’ department. And it was wrapped in pink. Peggy shares the same frustration in this book. Aisle after aisle is focused on either teaching a girl how to keep a home or herself pleasing. It might be one thing if the purpose of having an appealing home was because you as a woman liked it that way or curling your hair was your favourite style. But Western society is coming out of misogyny at an earthworm’s pace – I was one of the naive ones who thought this whole issue over and done with in my mother’s time – and the whole point of being female is still to please men. I wish so much that that was not true. But as I read and was reminded of how shallow the news reports got over Hillary and Palin during the 2008 Presidential elections, well… there is still so necessary growth needed.
Yes, I have given my daughter Barbies and an Easy Bake Oven, for I do not count fashion and home skills as negative values in and of themselves. They can be meaningful expressions of individuality, and kitchenry is at least a necessityof life and at best a link that unites generations and provides for a healthy lifestyle and long life. I object however when toy companies value nothing else about my daughter and her interests.
The only way I managed out of that maze was the lucky stroke of genetic lottery that gave me a daughter who adores reading and a son, born a year after her, that loves superheroes. From library bookshelves I can introduce her to all manner of subject. Imaginative fantasy, historical fiction, girls going to a horse academy, graphic novels, we read it all. And a Wonder Woman figurine stands proudly on her bookshelf. As a child she twirled in cotton dresses of gathered skirts and big pockets that I made her then ran outside to climb into the apple tree. Yes, still in the dresses.
Sometimes I wish I’d been a more consistent role model for her, but then I remind myself that if I’m a hodge-podge of traditional and modern values that are my own by choice, then that is indeed the example she needs. Whether she makes the same choices is irrelevant. Knowing that doing so is her prerogative and hers alone is the key.
Peggy opened my eyes with some new thoughts. Will the emphasis on pink separate the genders, making it more difficult for this generation, and future if we continue in this vein, to connect intimately with the opposite sex? Will healthy relationships be possible in an us-versus-them atmosphere? Thinking of all that Pepto-Bismol pink, my own thought followed: I wonder what fashion will be like in twenty years when this contingent of princesses is grown up? What will it be like to walk into a department store? Yuck.
One researcher at the University of Arizona goes one step further calling all this pink a public health issue. Because if men and women understand each other less and less, should we be at all surprised if the incidence of divorce, domestic and date violence, not to mention sexual harassment, rise? This is not a small issue.
And at the end of it all, in a book dipped in too much pink, she talks about teaching girls to be critical, skeptical, aware of their own needs, desires, feelings and how important it is to be able to share those not hide them in relationships. I’m glad she shared the line from her psychologist that fat is not a feeling. Never thought of that one, but wow do I feel it sometimes.
I thought it a neat coincidence that she references the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire that I’d never heard of until last week when Terri posted some amazing shots of an art display in memory of the women who died tragically.
She talks about shopping and how the princess culture presents with innocence while sliding you narcissism and vapid materialism under the table. And how moms and daughters connect intimately only over shopping. A favourite memory of mine, Mom and I on all day excursions to the nearest mall hunting for the deal of the day. I like when my daughter shops with me, but so far she doesn’t like it very much. Maybe that’s a good thing, and yes I will definitely start encouraging more of the other activities we enjoy together – walking, biking, exercising, sewing, baking, trips to the library.
She goes over the real story of Rapunzel as one of the least offensive fairy tales because Rapunzel and the prince save each other, because Rapunzel is beloved before he ever saw her face. I’d almost forgotten about that version. Which is silly of me as I read that one in Golden Book form to the kids over and over again. How I wish I’d kept it!
I’ve written all this and still feel as if I’ve said so little. I’m imagining future conversations with my children while I type. I’m imagining how we need to talk about Tangled.
This image of Rapunzel undergoing treatment for cancer speaks so loudly to me. It is from Vancouver photographer Dina Goldstein’s Fallen Princess Collection. Visit her to see all of the princesses – finally – face to face with real life.