Our 4-year-old daughter, Ravi, has fallen in love with princesses. We don’t have a TV at home though Ravi manages to maneuver an iPhone better than her parents. Screen time is a special treat and it’s usually “Sesame Street,” never a fairy tale story. And yet, she can hum “Let it Go,” proudly and on key, making me wonder as to the scope and reach of the Disney empire.
Me? I love the Disney trauma. Bambi’s mother’s death, Belle’s kidnapping, Ariel’s single father, Simba’s dad’s murder, Aladdin’s orphan lifestyle; sure, it’s a bit dark for kids, but why not introduce our children to the ways of the world early (and with the aid of catchy songs)?
My partner, Yael, feels differently. The magical princess body type with a large head, tiny waist, and unrealistic body proportions, along with the narrative of waiting for a hero—how can she, as a feminist, get on board with such stereotypes?
She has a point, even if she hasn’t seen “Frozen.”
Coupled with Ravi’s newfound obsession with royalty is an ongoing fear of insects. To be fair, this phobia has gotten better over her few years, but it still persists. Dr. Internet says our toddler’s imagination is rampant; these little intruders aren’t as tiny compared to her as they seem to us, rather, they are foreign creatures entering her universe. The extremism Ravi encounters and feels is profound. So we try not to minimize her fears; we attempt to validate them without blowing them out of proportion.
But what about the Barbie princess she plays with at her friend’s home and wants for herself? Is there a middle ground where we can honor her wants in the same way we acknowledge her fears even though we don’t “respect” them? Is it a bit premature to talk about “respecting” your 4-year-old’s choices? How do we witness her individuality blossoming while also wanting to desperately shape her surroundings?
“What would you like for your birthday?” we asked her on the eve of her 4th birthday.
“A princess,” she asserted.
“A strong princess?” her grandmother prodded. “With a college degree pursuing a professional career?”
“A pink princess,” Ravi retorted with a straight face.
I love this exchange.
I want my children to love all colors of the rainbow, princes and princesses, soccer and basketball. Personally, I don’t feel an automatic dissonance between pink princesses and women pursuing professional careers. Does my gender color my understanding of this social dynamic? Perhaps, but at my core, I want Ravi to be able to be whoever she wants to be. I know my partner does as well. Does welcoming Barbie into our home subtly condone or even perpetuate an unrealistic and damaging body type among young women?
On our walk home from the park recently, we passed people canvasing for Hillary Clinton’s campaign.
“Has a woman ever been president of the United States before?” Yael asked Ravi.
“Yes,” she replied confidently.
Her reply made me smile even as it stung. Of course a woman has been president before; what kind of question is that, Tati? Women can be whatever they want to be: presidents, princesses, pink and more. As Yael and I continue conversations over what type of décor to provide for her and her brother’s room, we’ll try to follow Ravi’s speed and go with the flow. And who knows, maybe it will be Ravi’s generation where we will see a Disney film about a young princess who married her prince or princess while pursuing a PhD in women and gender studies.