I'm the first time mom of an 8 month old and I've made a decision; I just don’t want her to love Disney princesses. Don’t get me wrong. I was a HUGE Cinderella fan as a child. Something about the idea that your dreams could come true if you wished hard enough, that if you were a good person, good things would happen to you, drew me in. For a good year, I watched that movie every single day when I got home from school with a bag of nachos and some heated Cheez Wiz. (Listen, my diet is not the issue here.) It was the first “I’m enjoying myself by myself” ritual I can remember and one that resides happily in my heart.
But Cinderella was a weakling. She couldn’t get herself out of a bad situation, could not rise above the poverty line without magic and a man to save her.
And let’s not stop there. Ariel gives up her actual identity just to be with a man who does not even recognize her. I mean, with the whole scene of her singing and looking at him longingly with her impossibly big eyes as he lays there, you would think her face would be burned into his consciousness.
Snow White takes it upon herself to clean the dwarfs’ house before she’s even met them, because that’s just what women do. Sleeping Beauty can’t possibly wake herself up. Little Red Riding Hood is a stupid girl who cannot look out for herself or foresee any danger in her future. She’s can’t even tell that her grandmother is not her grandmother but an actual wolf, a disgusting, feral wolf who probably smells like wolf and can’t even bake a good pie. These women are not strong. Their stories do not present a world in which my daughter will be able to see herself taking care of herself, being strong and independent, being her without a him, without magic, without the mercy of a huntsman who, of course, is the only one who can spare her life.
So, how do I teach her about the lessons that matter from those stories - mercy, love, belief in the good of the world - without her subconsciously grasping onto the absolute weakness and inability to be self-sufficient that many of these princesses represent? After all, it’s not all bullshit. Just the parts about what women do.