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Monday, February 19, 2007

The Lives of Princesses

Did you know that there is a princess fad on? I was totally unaware until a fellow parent pointed me in the direction of this New York Times magazine article from December entitled What's Wrong with Cinderella?.

Diana may be dead and Masako disgraced, but here in America, we are in the midst of a royal moment. To call princesses a “trend” among girls is like calling Harry Potter a book. Sales at Disney Consumer Products, which started the craze six years ago by packaging nine of its female characters under one royal rubric, have shot up to $3 billion, globally, this year, from $300 million in 2001. There are now more than 25,000 Disney Princess items. “Princess,” as some Disney execs call it, is not only the fastest-growing brand the company has ever created; they say it is on its way to becoming the largest girls’ franchise on the planet.

In the article, author Peggy Ornstein discusses how this princess fad is actually confusing for our generation that grew up when the feminist movement was still going strong and little girls were given Our Bodies, Ourselves, not princess paraphenalia.

As a feminist mother — not to mention a nostalgic product of the Grranimals era — I have been taken by surprise by the princess craze and the girlie-girl culture that has risen around it. What happened to William wanting a doll and not dressing your cat in an apron? Whither Marlo Thomas? I watch my fellow mothers, women who once swore they’d never be dependent on a man, smile indulgently at daughters who warble “So This Is Love” or insist on being called Snow White. I wonder if they’d concede so readily to sons who begged for combat fatigues and mock AK-47s.

Like the author, I too watched "William wants a doll" when I was a kid, and I have sort of this idea in my head that too much Barbie is a bad idea for little girls. The idea is that those girls that get too much Barbie as little girls grow up to be obsessed with body image as teenagers and graduate to abusive relationships or anorexia or just being ho-bags in general.

But just try explaining that to my daughter as she puts on her crown and heads for the mirror:

Maybe it was the dentist’s Betty Boop inflection that got to me, but when she pointed to the exam chair and said, “Would you like to sit in my special princess throne so I can sparkle your teeth?” I lost it.

“Oh, for God’s sake,” I snapped. “Do you have a princess drill, too?”

She stared at me as if I were an evil stepmother.

“Come on!” I continued, my voice rising. “It’s 2006, not 1950. This is Berkeley, Calif. Does every little girl really have to be a princess?”

My daughter, who was reaching for a Cinderella sticker, looked back and forth between us. “Why are you so mad, Mama?” she asked. “What’s wrong with princesses?”

Who can argue with that?


Being surrounded by this little princess all the time and accompanying princesses like cousin Simona, I have learned that I shouldn't fear "the princess" too much because deep down, little girls are beasties. Slate writer Michael Lewis asks questions about raising his daughter's properly in his recent article, "Have I Screwed Up My Daughters Forever."

Just four weeks after the birth of my son, both of my daughters are living, in effect, outside the law. They act as if they have nothing to lose, and, materially speaking, they don't. They've behaved so badly, for so long, that everything that might be taken away from them has been taken away: TV, candy, desserts, play dates, special dinners, special breakfasts, special outings with parents. They are like a pair of convicts in a Soviet gulag with nothing more than they need to survive—and still they continue to subvert the authorities. Oddly, their teachers all say that at school they remain little angels.

How true. I have seen Marta participate at lasteaed where she is polite as can be, but then at home, she turns into tough-girl Marta who hits her father and throws hysterical fits if she doesn't get something at a specific moment. I have a hard time taking "princess tantrums" seriously, and perhaps ignore them at my own peril. But do you really want to wade in when the legs and arms are flying?

I coat the first bite in whipped cream, swipe it once through the molasses, and, slowly, raise the fork to my mouth. Then I see Dixie's face. Her lower lip trembles and tears stream down her sweet little face. It's an involuntary response to a horrible realization: Daddy doesn't care. He's going to inhale his yummy dessert even though he knows Dixie can't have any. It takes a few seconds for the sobbing to kick in, as she runs from the room.

Sometimes Marta is just plain *dumb*. She argues with me over things that just cannot be argued. Take fire. I have told her it is very hot, but she has insisted on several occasions that it is very cold. Then there are the things she doesn't understand are prohibited, like pushing the washing machine buttons. What satisfaction does she get from that? I don't know, but she enjoys it.

Plus, she really isn't afraid of heights. She's constantly climbing, and fiercely independent. Today I was informed that I was not allowed to put her boots on. She could do it herself, so she said, until the point I actually put them on her.

Last night she took yogurt from the refridgerator while I was using this very laptop. She then proceded to dump the contents of the yogurt all over the floor. Did you know that cleaning up yogurt and cleaning up paint are very similar activities? I did not know this until last night.

This is my life, the life of a father trying to negotiate between a strong-willed child, Disney, other little princesses, yogurt, and fire.

That's not that there aren't enough tender moments to make up for this whirlwind. Every day when I pick Marta up from school she runs - runs - across the room and jumps into my arms like I was Michael Landon and life was Little House on the Prairie. She wraps her arms around me and is so happy that I am there. Words cannot describe - sniff - these fatherly moments. And I am glad that there are the beastie moments in between these moments though, so that I can relish the Little House on the Prairie moments more.

Speaking of beasties, the other night Marta and I got into a little back and forth after I called her a "beastie girl."

"I'm not a beastie girl!" she insisted. "You're a beastie boy!"


Blogger Martasmimi said...

Truly a "Royal" Masterpiece....
Last summer was the first time I encountred a "Barbie" with Marta.
We were at an Antique Market
and a vendor had a box of naked Barbies...
"I want these "girls" Mimi" she said.
I too grew up in the genderless 60's where boys didn't get guns and girls didn't get Barbies...
I was hoping that we might escape
without the "girls" but we went to the car with three of them.
I caved, and that was the beginning of my journey into the Kingdom.
I have purchased items that I vowed I would never buy for any female child. Play shoes with purple feathers, crowns, play jewelry and almost every Princess DVD ever made.
The look on my Little Princess's face when she opens one of these gifts more then makes up for the
all the vows I made as a woman
of the 60's
Here's to Princess Power!!! go little girls......

2:58 PM  
Blogger Renee said...

Justin! I just realized you have a blog here... and pictures of MArta! I thought you were intentionally not sending pictures. now I've got 'em all... yay! You write beautifully. Estonia seems like a perfect place to raise a baby (as long as it gets warm sometims, that is...). Your blog is thoroughly entertaining and if I wasn't in the middle of india i would read all day... love to you and thank you for the positivity...

11:22 PM  
Blogger Eppppp said...

Hi, Renee! We love your blog, too!
And check more Marta pictures at Epp

5:35 AM  

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