Mom & Pop Culture: The Princess Paradox
It should be noted that in my household, we're perfectly at ease with our son (almost five) enjoying things that might be considered "girly." He sports long hair, painted nails, and enjoys playing dress up.
I find his playing outside the stereotypical gender box to be perfectly normal and healthy for his age, and of course (confession time), the feminist in me loves that he's already bucking the status quo with little reserve at such a young age.
But then a pang of hypocrisy hits, and I'm still not sure how to deal with it. This hypocrisy is dressed in tulle and satin, has perfectly coiffed hair, and is sometimes accompanied by a pair of glass slippers. You see, I have found myself in the midst of what I like to call the Princess Paradox.
Personally, I've never been a princess girl. Growing up, I found myself looking upon princesses in a more and more critical light. When I was pregnant, I knew that I didn't want the sexist, overly marketed world of Disney princesses to infiltrate my life and send a myriad of poor messages to my potential daughter. (See my last post for more on what I dislike about princesses.)
It's hard to overlook all of the negative aspects that pop up along the princess path, and I knew that I would be very particular regarding exposure and access to princesses if I had a girl. Never in a million years did it cross my mind that I would be trying to navigate the same murky waters, only with my son.
It's a strange line to balance. I want my son to feel comfortable playing outside stereotypical gender boxes, but at the same time, if I had a girl, I would be putting my foot down on all the princess stuff. So, why am I more lenient with my son donning a princess dress and watching Cinderella?
My son, clutching his prized copy of Cinderella.
Perhaps it's because it's not his reality... that because he's not a girl he won't succumb to the pressure of what these movies subversively sell? (i.e., overt femininity, helplessness, submissiveness, marriage = happily ever after, etc...).
Yet, what does that teach him about girls in general? Despite his affinity for spinning skirts and princesses, I know I can work harder to find better examples than Snow White or Sleeping Beauty. (Although, to be fair and accurate, the only Disney princess movie he's actually watched so far has been Cinderella).
We've read other princess books that are much less about pushing harmful stereotypes and more about painting the girl as the hero, and he does like those. But there is still this other worldly pull that he succumbs to with Cinderella. I wonder (hope) that this will be a short lived phase, and really...will watching Cinderella once or twice or ten times really be that damaging?
Maybe my not-so-subtle commentary as we watch Cinderella will settle in. (It's not my fault that my inner snark comes out when watching these sorts of movies.) Maybe he'll watch these movies and get it. Maybe he'll realize that actual girls are smarter, cooler, stronger, and better than all of that. Maybe he'll truly understand that these are just silly movies with shaky messages.
Or...maybe he'll continue to pepper me with questions about Cinderella and lament how he wasn't able to visit her in his castle that one time we went to Disney World because she was "busy" (I rue the day he realizes my little parenting white lie...).
Either way, I need to come to terms with this whole Princess Paradox—finding a way to allow my son the enjoyment of visiting this fairy tale world without getting fully sucked inside.
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