by Nicole Loughan
The anti-princess brigade is out in full force. Recently, a school advertising to girls to be their own knight in shining armor received rave reviews from feminists and won a lot of shares on social media. The ads featured glass slippers with lines like, “you are not a princess.” I don’t mind the take care of yourself attitude or the push for girls to get an education, but I feel like the sweet, gentile lady like princess is getting a bum rap. I will admit I may be more sensitive to the issue than others because I have a daughter who is more into flower power than girl power. I enrolled her in a t-ball program and she spent all eight weekends sitting in the grass picking flowers and staring at trees. She had no interest in throwing the ball or catching it. She really hated the attention of being up to bat. She would much rather swim or wear a dress to a tea party than do anything with a ball. Recently, she brought home a class project where she was asked to list what she was thankful for and one of her items was “her beautiful dresses.”
At first I tried to keep her away from the whole princess scene. I felt that it was too commercial and stereotyped women. My husband and I said we would let her personality guide her choices in life not commercialism. We went the first couple of years without buying anything with a princess or watching the movies. As predicted her choices went to gender neutral items, she was really into elephants for a year then spent a long time obsessed with anything about fish. We parlayed that into swimming activities, which she loved.
Then one day we were told she needed a sleeping bag, we took her to the store and asked her what she wanted, she quickly responded “a princess bag.” My husband and I both looked at each other wondering who had ever mentioned princesses. Neither of us had, but the princess thing just finds them. And as we had agreed let her personality dictate how we treat her we let her get the princess bag. It did not take long for her to start noticing the movies as we skipped quickly through Netflix. She also saw them in stores and started asking about them.
We agreed to watch one together and went with “Brave.” We all really enjoyed it. The leading lady Merida was no sissy princess. She didn’t even fall for any of the young lords thrown in her path. She was a bow and arrow wielding tough girl who fought for herself. The story was a major departure from the usual Disney storyline where a motherless maiden is rescued by a prince. In “Brave” the mother daughter relationship was central to the plot and both women were strong. Merida was our gateway princess, because after that we started trying them all.
Next up was Tangled which we also enjoyed. It was not long before we were watching “The Little Mermaid,” “Cinderella” and “Snow White” You name it we watched it.
While the other princesses aren’t as kick-butt as Merida they did all have prize worthy attributes. In the opening sequence of “Cinderalla” the narrator tells us that though Cinderella has been mistreated she has “remained ever gentle and kind.” Gentleness and kindness is such an under appreciated value today. It’s associated with weakness, not standing up for yourself or even introversion. My daughter is more of a Cinderella than a Merida. She is not a fighter. When kids steal her toys she runs away from them and hides until they leave, then returns for her stolen loot. She never pushes of confronts and when people do get confrontational she runs.
On the flip side she loves to see people hug and be kind. Whenever my husband and I hug she runs to get her camera and says she wants a picture of it. Her personality is a type that’s slowly dying out in our extrovert prizing society. I have learned to value the princesses for the traits that she shares with them. She likes to read like Belle, she likes to swim like Ariel and I love that she is sweet and kind like Snow White and Cinderella. There is cringe worthy moments in the older movies, which I will address with her when she is older, such as the line in Cinderella where the mice sing, “leave the sewing to the women,” and with Snow White where she keeps house for seven men and sings about winning over a prince with her charms. These moments are not enough for me to hop on the anti-princess bandwagon. I feel like these older movies are one of the few places where she can find a female figure who is quiet and even, gasp, demure.
Why defend princesses at all? Well I have noticed that my daughter’s princess loving ways elicits some eye rolls and even a parent or two has mentioned that they don’t let their children watch “those movies.” I feel like I have to stand up for my daughter and her appreciation of flowers, beautiful dresses and princesses. She is allowed to like these things and doesn’t deserve a stigma for enjoying peace and kindness. Not all girls are wired to be a Merida, some were born a Cinderella. And through the eye rolls the Cinderella’s of the world will not defend themselves. Luckily, this little princess has a Merida for a mom who will defend her and her princesses.