As I type this, a Disney princess balloon is floating over my head. An Ariel costume lies on the coffee table. On the bathroom counter sits an Ariel toothbrush (which turns on when you press a raised bump on her chest). And in the closet is a box of Disney princess stuff that I plan to use to adorn her birthday cake this Saturday. I bought all this stuff, and no one was pointing a gun at my head. What the fuck?
I seem to remember writing on this website, not that long ago, "I draw the line at buying Disney princess crap." Well, apparently my line was drawn in the sand. I can't even pinpoint a moment when I said, OK, I've changed my mind about the princesses. I just started thinking about what Mia would like for her fourth birthday, which was yesterday, and I imagined the look of joy on her face when she saw the princess crap, and I went and bought it. Or maybe I imagined the look of disappointment when she saw that there was no princess crap, and that was my motivating factor. Because, for months and months, she has been asking for a princess birthday party and talking about her princess cake and telling my mother specifically that she wants a Tinkerbell toy. (Is it possible that the new Disney fairy crap is even worse than the princess crap? Yes, I think it is.) So I think that having her birthday with no Ariel or Belle or Tinkerbell would have been a flat-out declaration that, no, dreams do not come true. Not even when you're four, and all it takes to make your dream come true is $50 worth of crap from Target. Suck that, kid.
I've tried to explain to Mia once or twice why princesses are not all that great. "They don't really do much," I said. "They don't work or do things to help the world. They just sit around and wait for a man to marry them." Mia didn't seem to have any understanding of why this was a bad thing. And then, seeing that I seemed set against princesses, she suggested that she could change her career aspiration to fairy. Sigh. This exchange made me see that even I was not sure exactly what is bad about the princesses. I just know that all of us Whole Foods-shopping types sneer at them, and think that of course our children will be more original or authentic than to walk around with a buxom mermaid painted on her shirt.
But what really is wrong with the princesses? They all seem like good people, polite and devoted to their fathers, interested in reading and exploring the world, ready for adventure, loving and able to sustain close friendships. No, they never have any mothers, and no one knows why, but we can't blame them for that, can we? Really, the idea of transforming from a mermaid to a human, and all that's entailed, is fascinating--and I think it has taken Mia's imagination in new directions. Some of the movies suck, but some of them are actually good films. Beauty and the Beast? A wonderful musical. Is it just that they're so ubiquitous? Is it that they're so homogenous? So skinny and busty and typical of our impossible standard of beauty? Is it that they reinforce stereotypical gender roles? Yes, they do all those things, but so do lots and lots of other children's toys and television shows and, really, everything in our culture.
Part of me hates what has become of Mia. Obsessed with pink and dresses and sparkly shoes and princesses. I feel like a failure for somehow letting it seep in, for giving in to it and, now, for encouraging it. I mean, there must be a way to keep it out. Look at Juniper. She is reprimanding other kids for their love of princesses. Surely, she didn't get an Ariel costume for her birthday. I wonder if I am helping Mia close her mind to all the different ways to be a woman in this world, encouraging her to believe that its all about beauty and glitz, planting the seeds of impossible dreams of a happily ever after kind of life. The other part thinks, for christ's sake, she is four. She's into princesses, and it makes her happy to have shiny pink things, ans what is the big fucking deal. A zillion kids go through this stage, and you don't see all the 20-year-olds walking around in pink sequined gowns. This will pass, and to resist it will only give it more power.
I've written all this and I'm no closer to a conclusion than I was before. All I know is that Mia was pretty damned happy when she put on that Ariel costume, and I think she would run away from home if the cake at her party this weekend arrived princess-free. So I guess I've made my choice without making one at all.