Irish doctor with too many thoughts, too little time and a blog that's supposed to check in on reality.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Not Santa's Little Princess

If my mother wrote this article on Christmas Eve, I'd have low hopes for getting what I want for Christmas. Peggy Ornstein wrote this fantastically feminist piece for the New York Times on Christmas Eve. And by fantastically, I mean fantasy. It's such shrill scaremongering that it's quite hilarious. Apparently Disney's fastest growing franchise is "Princess", a generic pink royal character that every girl wants to be. Or at least, play dress up to look like one. And Peggy's outraged."More to the point, when my own girl makes her daily beeline for the dress-up corner of her preschool classroom — something I’m convinced she does largely to torture me — I worry about what playing Little Mermaid is teaching her. I’ve spent much of my career writing about experiences that undermine girls’ well-being, warning parents that a preoccupation with body and beauty (encouraged by films, TV, magazines and, yes, toys) is perilous to their daughters’ mental and physical health. Am I now supposed to shrug and forget all that? If trafficking in stereotypes doesn’t matter at 3, when does it matter? At 6? Eight? Thirteen? On the other hand, maybe I’m still surfing a washed-out second wave of feminism in a third-wave world. Maybe princesses are in fact a sign of progress, an indication that girls can embrace their predilection for pink without compromising strength or ambition; that, at long last, they can “have it all.” Or maybe it is even less complex than that: to mangle Freud, maybe a princess is sometimes just a princess. And, as my daughter wants to know, what’s wrong with that? "
I particularly like the my-3-year-old-as-intentional-princess/patriachary-annoyance theme. Well, Peggy's very quick to sweep all the perceived ills of modern girls to the feet of the Princess and lay the blame right at her twinkle toes -There are no studies proving that playing princess directly damages girls’ self-esteem or dampens other aspirations. On the other hand, there is evidence that young women who hold the most conventionally feminine beliefs — who avoid conflict and think they should be perpetually nice and pretty — are more likely to be depressed than others and less likely to use contraception. What’s more, the 23 percent decline in girls’ participation in sports and other vigorous activity between middle and high school has been linked to their sense that athletics is unfeminine. And in a survey released last October by Girls Inc., school-age girls overwhelmingly reported a paralyzing pressure to be “perfect”: not only to get straight A’s and be the student-body president, editor of the newspaper and captain of the swim team but also to be “kind and caring,” “please everyone, be very thin and dress right.” Give those girls a pumpkin and a glass slipper and they’d be in business.
Of course, there are no studies declaring princess=bad. Common sense (if we’re allowed to use such a commodity when discussing princesses), would dictate that the very women who have realised the feminist dream of independence played with dolls. And didn’t need feminist reconditioning to forget the experience. Foisting feminist interpretations every game played by preschoolers and the colours of their dress up is madness – can you imagine a pink Batman to remove the violent, masculine tones of the current black?

Peggy shares her great fear, a rather rare fear among parents, I would imagine - that by denying the princess, you'll run the risk of messing up their "gender constancy"  - What if, instead of realizing: Aha! Cinderella is a symbol of the patriarchal oppression of all women, another example of corporate mind control and power-to-the-people! my 3-year-old was thinking, Mommy doesn’t want me to be a girl?.....By not buying the Princess Pull-Ups, I may be inadvertently communicating that being female (to the extent that my daughter is able to understand it) is a bad thing.
Of course, no article about children's toys would be complete without celebrating the toy-serial-killer that lurks in every princess -  There is spice along with that sugar after all, though why this was news is beyond me: anyone who ever played with the doll knows there’s nothing more satisfying than hacking off all her hair and holding her underwater in the bathtub.

Then there's a rather long section about superhero princesses who have "grit and grace" and princess that resuscitated the fantasy of romance that that era of feminism threatened, the privileges that traditional femininity conferred on women despite its costs — doors magically opened, dinner checks picked up, Manolo Blahniks. Frippery. Fun. Why should we give up the perks of our sex until we’re sure of what we’ll get in exchange? Why should we give them up at all? Or maybe it’s deeper than that: the freedoms feminism bestowed came with an undercurrent of fear among women themselves — flowing through “Ally McBeal,” “Bridget Jones’s Diary,” “Sex and the City” — of losing male love, of never marrying, of not having children, of being deprived of something that felt essentially and exclusively female.

Peggy, selflessly on our behalf, braves the world of children's toys - from the innocent pink of princess to the hot, sexy pink of the porn star slut waiting to burst forth your average 8 year old.  She faces the dilemma – early sexualistion of children or the early patriarchal pink brainwashing? I would choose the innocent pink, but then again, unlike the children featured in the article, I didn’t get to go on trips to toystores or demand every toy I saw on TV. My mother, in her wisdom, exerted full control over what toys got brought into our house. Such a discipline almost seems too simple a solution to the quandary Peggy’s warring feminist notions poses.

But Peggy's story has a happy ending - no doubt, through Peggy's careful questioning and constant feminist scrutiny, her daughter wants to be a fireman. Is this the moral of this (long) story? If you're a good enough feminist mother, ever on the watch out the devious anti-feminist Disney consumerist moves, you can let your little princess wear pink and she'll turn out alright? Alright is defined by Peggy as " I still hope she’ll find her Prince Charming and have babies, just as I have. I don’t want her to be a fish without a bicycle; I want her to be a fish with another fish. Preferably, one who loves and respects her and also does the dishes and half the child care."

Is Peggy making the point that the alternative is the truly frightening vista? That the pink princess marks the decline of womanhood as we know it - the next generation of women will be pink wearing, alternately obese and anorexic, non-softball playing, depressed, pregnant “little women at home"? Men will take over the world again and professional feminists like Peggy will be able pinpoint Matteo and Disney as the great architects in the mass exodus of the most well-educated and long-living female generation back to their cage at the kitchen sink? Rest assured though, we'll have always have women like Peggy, author of the forthcoming book "Waiting for Daisy: A Tale of Two Continents, Three Religions, Five Infertility Doctors, An Oscar, An Atomic Bomb, A Romantic Night and One Woman’s Quest to Become a Mother", to point out the traps and the obvious (non-research based) "atomic bombs" placed in the princess's path to becoming a fireman.



Blogger Sarah said...

"Men will take over the world again". Does this mean that you think women are in charge now?

January 01, 2007 7:28 p.m.  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

lol. Love read'n you Auds.

February 10, 2007 10:08 a.m.  
Anonymous Chef Gulzar said...


nice blog to read..... thanks for sharing this. keep writing!

James Parker….
Chef Gulzar masala TV

August 16, 2010 7:52 a.m.  

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home