That Waist, Though

Captain's Blog - Stardate 60415.4

I'm having difficulty writing this blog in a way that is cohesive and clear. This is probably because the issue of the proper role of princesses in parenting, my desired topic, intersects with several other adjacent issues. I will try to be concise.

There is an argument out there that Disney princesses (and Barbie, etc.) are reinforcing an archaic gender role that is limiting to developing girls and implies that they must focus on looking pretty and deferring to men. 

First, let me make that argument. Let's look at Snow White. She spent much of her story unconscious until a man arrives to "give her life." She is literally dead without a man. Add to that a princess image with a very skinny waist and dainty dresses and you have the recipe for teaching a little girl all about being a good wife, eventual mother, and that you have succeeded once you get that ring on your finger and achieved your "happily ever after."

Okay. Maybe you're right. What a terrible message for today's girl. Or...

Snow White tells the story of a powerful woman, the Queen, who becomes so obsessed with her looks, she goes insane and tries to kill her stepdaughter. The message could be that being too concerned with your looks keeps you from seeing yourself and others for who they are on the inside.

So, who determines which interpretation sticks with the child watching the film? My money is on the parents. And yes, I freely admit I am not a parent. However, I know many and watch them with their kids. And at the end of the day, the lessons the kids learn from the media they watch come from their parents and their schooling, and not the media itself.

There I go straying from the topic again. Gender roles are a hot topic in parenting as it relates to issues of future independence, equality, and expectation. On one hand, many parents are concerned that encouraging interest in the princesses limits a girl's potential. By the same token, there are parents who are concerned that if a boy is interested in princesses, he is compromising his development into a strong man.

Since we've already established that I am not a parent, let me use an example from my own childhood. There were two cartoons I loved to watch. He-Man and She-Ra. They are brother and sister and the story is essentially the same. They are royalty. They are warriors. They fight for good and defend the innocent.

Their toys, however, were constructed differently. The He-Man "boy" toys were muscly and made of solid plastic. The women in that line had short hair that was also solid plastic. The She-Ra "girl" toys all had frilly and removable pieces of their outfits and hair you could brush and style. The men came with weapons. The women additionally came with hair brushes.

Okay. That seems clearly biased by gender.

Except that I played with both. My parents saw, first and foremost, that I liked the storytelling and wanted to use my imagination to play with all of these characters. I not only had them fight evil, but I also styled their hair.

I was given the chance to enjoy both and was not limited. Yes, you can argue that She-Ra is much more empowered than, say, Snow White. 

Look...there is nothing wrong with princesses. There is nothing wrong with exposing children to "traditional"gender roles. It is the parent that teaches the child to either be limited by these roles or to challenge them. What if your daughter wants to be a princess? What if your son does? If you do not want your child to be limited by the ideals you see in this art form, then you're in luck! You are the one who can help them interpret the work to fit your world view.

But I think I've finally figured out what my argument really is. There are so many people who write articles and dissertations railing against these poor Disney women who just want to make movies and sell toys. And yes, it is important to continue to have these discussions. As a society we are on the cusp of major changes in attitudes in gender, sexuality, race, and identity as a whole. But perhaps when we take such hard lined stances against these characters we give away too much of our own power. Maybe instead of expecting Disney or Mattel to take responsibility for parenting the next generation, we can collectively agree to take it upon ourselves to impart our desired message and leave Snow White alone.

Hailing frequencies closed.