Tuesday, August 2, 2011
The Disney Princess phenomenon has been well-bashed, by Peggy Orenstein among others. Thankfully, I never had a Princess-loving daughter. She had a small moment. One time, when she was about five, she was invited to a birthday party at which girls had to dress up in princess costumes and have make-up put on them. Worse, they then had to humiliate the birthday girl's dad, who had to sit in a chair and have the girls all dress him up in princess garb, for reasons unclear to me then or now. I was appalled. We had been listening to Free to Be You and Me in the long car ride to the party. This was a key record for me when I was a kid -- my fourth grade teacher, Ms. Sullivan, a hippie with Ali McGraw hair, would play it every day and we'd run around the classroom and dance. I got the DVD years later and both my kids liked it a lot. So, after listening to "Parents Are People" and "William's Doll," and other songs aimed at breaking down gender stereotypes, there we were at a princess party, with my daughter, wearing eye make up and a gown and glitter on her face. She loved it. But she never got full-blown princess fever and she never went for dolls. And over time she became super cynical about both dolls and princesses. She and I shared a feminist disgust at the after-school Princess class organized at her K-8 school, which consisted of little girls and the grown teacher wearing tiaras and gowns, with parents PAYING for this. So, when we went on a Disney cruise recently, it was she, more than me, who was appalled. Because every time, and I mean every time, she entered a dining room, or a theater, or when she re-entered the boat after an excursion, or when she arrived at a hotel, or got on or off a shuttle bus, someone who worked on the cruise would greet her, saying "Welcome home, Princess." (When I was her age, my family went to London and my pixie haircut and brown velvet pantsuit led the entire staff of the hotel to greet me as The Little Master, so perhaps hotels are geared to humiliate ten year olds). For me, it was the "home" that galled -- as if Disney were some ur-home for all of us, our collective womb (and maybe it is). But she really hated being called Princess. It was both the offense of being assumed to want to be a princess, and the constant need to define kids by gender that irked her. And what about the boys? The Disney folks had no idea what to call them. Prince doesn't have the cache of Princess. Pirates seem to be now the gender equivalent but you can't really hail boys with "Welcome home, Pirate (murderer, rapist, thief)." Maybe they could just call them Mickey and Minnie? Or maybe they could just say "hello."