Like many little girls, my daughter went through a Princess phase. I never had a problem with it. Frankly, I’m thrilled my youngest child has somehow managed to pick up a knack for those feminine graces which I incontrovertibly lack. She was Belle from “Beauty and the Beast” a couple of years running for both Purim and Halloween. That lasted up until she watched “Fiddler on the Roof” and, 15 minutes before the start of Halloween 2012, decided she now wanted to be one of Tevya’s daughters, instead.
I was OK with that, too, even when she stressed that she wanted to be “the daughter that got married and had a baby,” not the one “who read too many books.”
This Purim, my first-grader has a new passion.
She even put together her own Lieutenant Uhura costume! (Those are my boots she’s wearing, so while the ensemble is fine for around the house, I’m afraid more prosaic sneakers are going to have to stand in for the Purim parade at school and synagogue.)
In theory, I should be thrilled. Not only are my husband and I both “Star Trek” fans (as is my mother-in-law), but “Star Trek” is supposedly everything we should be encouraging America’s girls to be interested in (well, according to GoldieBlox anyway). It’s science! It’s technology! Women in the military! Diversity! Courage! Where no man–no one, I should say–has gone before!
None of that Princess stuff, with its presumably wrong message! (Let the record show that I, personally, see nothing wrong with girls wanting to grow up to get married. And have babies. And rule foreign countries with an iron fist.)
My husband and I introduced all three of our kids to “Star Trek” earlier this year. Like I said, we’re both lifelong fans. But that doesn’t mean we fail to see some of the problems inherent to the series. (A Master’s in Media Analysis has made me incapable of failing to see the various problems in any children’s–or adult–programming. Even when I want to.)
Sure, “Star Trek” has women scientists and soldiers and explorers. In go-go boots and mini-skirts. (I’d also carp about the heavy eye make-up, but the men wear just as much as the women, so I’m going to give it a pass.)
Sure, they give lip-service to diversity, with Lieutenant Uhura, Mr. Sulu and occasional guest stars. But, the Enterprise–and most of the ships in the fleet–do seem to be run by white men. White, human men, in point of fact. White, human men who get to have all the Away Team fun, while Uhura mostly opens hailing frequencies (something actress Nichelle Nichols wasn’t ecstatic about). And falls down a lot. (Yes, “Voyager” had a woman captain. She fell down a lot, too. And yes, Sisko ran “Deep Space Nine.” But, as my husband observes, Sisko didn’t start the series as a captain. And he ended it as just another Black man who abandoned his family. Yes, this is what passes for fun conversation at our house.)
Then there were the issues my kids, themselves, noticed.
My 14-year-old asked, “So they live in a military dictatorship where you either serve the federation, or else?”
My 10-year-old wanted to know, “How come whenever they land on a planet where people are happy and at peace, Kirk doesn’t approve and wants to blow them up?”
As a result, I wasn’t sure if, despite the repeated protestations of equality (gender and otherwise), “Star Trek” was any better of a role model for my Jewish, African-American daughter than your average Disney Princesses (who also come in many colors and insist they portray girls as being smart and adventurous).
But then, my sensible 7-year-old informed me, “Do you know who my favorite ‘Star Trek’ character is, Mommy?”
“Mr. Spock. Do you want to know why?”
“Because he’s smart and logical.”
“And because he’s half and half, Mommy. Half-Vulcan and half-human. He’s the only one who’s just like me.”
I never looked at it that way. Is Mr. Spock the first bi-racial (bi-species) character my daughter has ever encountered on television? The first one who is “just like her?”
I’ve been so busy trying to show her positive female role models (Princesses or not), and positive Jewish role models (all of Tevya’s girls!) and positive Black role models (Uhura is a woman and she’s Black and she’s on a starship!), I’d forgotten that my own daughter isn’t just one of those things. She’s all of them.
Not exactly like Mr. Spock. But, good enough for her.
In that case, full speed ahead….