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May 2 2011

Princesses Can Save the World, Too

By at 2:49 pm

During a big, extended family Thanksgiving dinner, someone noticed how quiet the kids had gotten. My kid, specifically. When I found her, my 2-year-old daughter, Devi, was standing agape in front of a television where her cousin had decided to put on a DVD of Disney’s Cinderella. I’m sure I was asked if she could watch it, but looking at her–so completely mesmerized by the spectacle of singing mice with speech impediments, helping Cinderelly get ready for the Ball–something switched in me.

That was it, I decided: there shall be no Disney princesses. Not yet, anyway. The “old” Disney princesses– the aforementioned Cinderella, Snow White, Sleeping Beauty–are caricatures predicated on an old-fashioned belief that if a woman is beautiful and wholesome enough, she will be rescued (saved from a life of being single, forever) by a handsome prince (because who wants an ugly one?), even revived from near-death. Life skills requiring logic, intelligence, savvy, and just good ol’ common sense are of little importance; just be pretty and be able to sing your sweet little tush off. And be able to communicate with small, cute animals.

By Februrary, Devi was asking for a princess dress, with two stipulations: it had to be blue, and it had to look just like Cinderella’s. So off I went to Target, found precisely what she wanted, and brought it home for her.  When she saw it, she wanted no part of it, so I happily obliged her and put it away.

Once in a while, she asks to see the dress, but will only put it on if she can strip down to her diaper first. I have since hemmed the dress to fit her, since all that remained at Target were the Cinderella dresses in 3T, which would be too long for her. Not that I know how to hem. Gus the mouse would be ashamed of me.

With the promise of spring came the official announcement that Prince William had proposed to Kate Middleton, and she (of course) accepted. (Can you imagine the shit storm she would have gotten from her parents if she hadn’t?)

I remember exactly where I was in 1981 when I watched Prince Charles and Lady Di wed (in Crystal Beach, Canada); I remember exactly where I was when I found out that Charles was cheating on her (college), and where I was when I found out that Diana was dead (walking with a roommate in Waltham, Mass., where we saw the headlines in The Boston Globe outside a coffee shop). I’m not British, but I have some interest in Royal lineage and history–you have to admit, some of those Kings were wildly promiscuous, impulsive, powerful… a little like watching old episodes of Dallas. So why do I care at all about William’s and Kate’s royal nuptials?

I didn’t find my prince-of-a-guy until I was 32. (He likes to say, but you found me, baby!) Not late, but I was no spring chicken, and had happily traveled the world, established a career in teaching (in two states), and had long established financial independence. Until we found each other, though, I was convinced that I’d dated every man between Boston and Rochester, and I was prepared to find a sperm donor and make a life on a single mothers’ commune in Brooklyn. The traditional happy ending didn’t have to apply to me, ’cause sistahs are doin’ it for themselves, and that was fine by me. Read the rest of this entry →

Apr 28 2011

Don’t Let Your Daughters Watch The Royal Wedding

By at 9:47 am

The official photo of Prince William and Kate Middleton.

In all likelihood, I’ll be up early Friday, watching the royal wedding from my East Coast US residence with my daughter. That’s largely because my daughter’s manners, after 30 weeks of residence in my uterus, are still somewhat unpolished. So she hasn’t been born yet, and the odds are that she’ll have kicked me awake well in time for the sounding of the bells at Westminster Abbey.  In the event that I had an already-born daughter, however, I’d strongly prefer that she sleep in this Friday morning.

Is it really so important to get our bleary-eyed little American girls out of bed to show them that princesses are “real” and that “fairy tales can come true”? Not only would I say “no,” but I’ll go even further and say that it’s actually kind of creepy. Disney’s Princess industry is a golem of a marketing tool, aptly skewered by Peggy Orenstein‘s Cinderella Ate My Daughter, as well as others.  Yes, girls can be heroines too. Hooray. But Mulan – kick-butt Chinese warrior – is surely preferable to Cinderella – the girl who can’t find her way out of her own problems without a fairy-godmother bestowed dress, pair of shoes, and prince.  It’s important to note that Kate Middleton, whom I’m sure is a perfectly nice person, is going to have the world’s attention on Friday not because she’s cured cancer, but rather, because she’s done the best job of “marrying up” of anyone on the entire planet. And I’m sure she’ll look stunningly beautiful doing it.

So when you wake your daughter up early to watch the wedding, you’ve got to ask yourself: what are you celebrating, and what are you teaching your daughter to celebrate? Because it seems an awful lot like you are celebrating social stratification, and endorsing the belief that marriage is a best-bet ticket into a better life. As someone whose first marriage ticket was for a flight of fancy that was rerouted into tremendous turbulence, I’d have to say no to espousing that particular belief. No offense to Prince William, or my new husband, for that matter, but there is no Prince Charming. There’s no one guy who is going to be the magic bullet of your life, righting all wrongs and making everything beautiful and perfect and okay. And nurturing that fantasy is a one-way ticket to heartbreak and perpetual feelings of inadequacy. That’s not what I would want for my daughter.

The irony of celebrating a royal marriage as the height of fulfilled bliss is especially sharp in light of this particular young prince’s mother, Princess Diana, whose thousand magazine covers paved the way to her early death in a Paris underground tunnel in 1997. She died due to a car collision with fervent paparazzi in pursuit of her – paparazzi made fervent due to our collective, overly-prurient interest.  The lesson is almost too pointed to bear. Surely Friday will carry with it ample fawning reference to the beautiful dead princess, neglecting to mention that, at the end of the day, it was us who killed her.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m going to watch the royal wedding. I’m going to watch it because I do things I shouldn’t do all the time, like skipping out on going to the gym and eating too much ice cream instead. Yes, these things reap tremendous cognitive dissonance. But while I’m making snarky comments, I’m also going to take the time to think about why I’m watching and why we care so much, when we probably, if rationality were to come to the table, shouldn’t. So until your little princess can understand what irony means, I’d suggest that she take the morning off.

Feb 28 2011

Sigh. It’s True. Mommy Wants to be a Princess

By at 12:09 pm

Kate Middleton will soon become a princess when she marries Prince William.

The other day at dinner my not yet 2 ½-year-old daughter, Frieda,  happily announced that she and her 8-month-old sister, Rosie, “are princesses.”

And so it begins.

Being the over-educated, Subaru-driving, Whole-Foods-shopping Mama that I am, I was horrified.  What does this mean?   Who could she possibly have learned this from?  I immediately placed the blame on Theresa, that feisty 4-year-old who should have gone on to preschool last year, but is still spending her days loitering at daycare, corrupting my daughters.  But I put on my game face, and decided not to make an issue of it.  By the time I refocused my attention to the girls, they had moved on.  I was relieved.

I’m trying hard not to worry about the princessification of my daughters.  At least not yet.  At this point, Frieda doesn’t really know what a princess is; in her mind, the concept of “princess” is vaguely related to pink, fancy, and shiny, and therefore it is desirable.

The truth is that Frieda isn’t the only one with princesses on her mind these days.  I must confess that ever since the engagement of Prince William and Kate Middleton was announced, my interest in the royal family has been piqued.  And even though I wasn’t so into the princess thing when I was younger (He-Man and She-Ra were more my style), I’ve got a new perspective on it these days.

Yes, you got it right.  I want to be a princess. Read the rest of this entry →

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