Thursday, August 5, 2010

On Princesses and Other Dubious Role Models

There's new study out that says that we're pretty much set in our personalities from first grade onwards. Now, I took sociology, and I kind of decided that at best it's a pseudoscience, but I think there might be some truth to this. Ever hang out with bunch of first graders? You can just tell which ones are going to be the jocks and the class clowns and the queen bees and the quiet kids hunched over their Gameboys in the corner of the cafeteria. Which is pretty depressing, honestly.

But if this is true, maybe we should be paying more attention to the books and movies we put in front of kids, especially girls. Because I know a lot of six-year-olds who don't just like to pretend they're princesses...they know they're princesses. Which is adorable when you're six, but not so much when you're twenty-two and running around buying Coach bags with daddy's credit card.

I loved playing dress-up as a kid, but whenever it was possible I made whoever I was playing with be the princesses while I was the queen. Specifically, I liked to pretend that I was Mary Tudor, otherwise known as "Bloody Mary." I knew my history because I was an accelerated reader, which was a nice way of saying I was an asshole. I would make somebody else be Elizabeth I, and lock her up and threaten to behead her. We always got bored with the game before it was time for me to marry Phillip of Spain or die a slow, nasty death. I think I identified a lot with Mary though, because she was an oldest daughter. Because even if your dad isn't Henry VIII, if you're the oldest daughter you're going to get shafted in some respects. I could empathize with that.

So really, why can't little girls have movies about Cleopatra, or Catherine the Great? (besides the fact that they were, um, sluts. And murderers.) Those bitches were awesome. What about Sacajewea? (I was actually Sacajewea for Halloween, with a baby doll strapped to my back. Twice. That's how cool I was.) What about Eleanor of Aquitaine? She rode from France to Jerusalem with her ladies-in-waiting, smack into the middle of the Crusades. Maybe this is just me, but having wild death-defying adventures in the desert just sounds like more fun than cooking and cleaning for a bunch of midgets.

I wasn't a total freak of a little kid--my favorite movie was The Little Mermaid, possibly the least feminist of all the Disney movies, which is saying something. (She gives up her voice to get a man? Come on.) I'm not trying to go all humorless porn-burning feminist on Disney princesses, but I think little girls have the same craving for adventure and monsters and dangerous stuff as little boys do--we just condition it out of them with a steady diet of wasp-waisted white women who get dressed by flocks of birds in the morning and then sit around waiting to be rescued. And you know, maybe teaching little girls passivity and entitlement isn't such a great idea. I think we can all agree that a gazillion Katherine Heigl clones is not what the world needs right now.

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