People always ask me what girls could pretend if they weren't playing princess. That lack of imagination saddens me. How about some historic American girls or women (preferably with cool costumes)? Of course, we don't learn much about them ourselves, so why don't you tell readers: who ELSE could our girls pretend to be besides a princess (preferably with a cool costume...)? How about Laura Ingalls?
This is the age of the internet--it's easy to educate yourself and expand your daughter's imagination.
And what could be more American than fighting for independence from (Disney) royalty?
"The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute tyranny over these states. To prove this, let facts be submitted to a candid world."
I love this article about Princess culture and patriotism from the El Paso Times by Kate Feuille. It starts with the author mulling over her abandoned application for the Daughters of the American Revolution after spying a t-shirt on a girl that said, ""Remember, remember always that all of us, and you and I especially, are descended from immigrants and revolutionists." Turns out the quote is from a speech Franklin Delano Roosevelt made before the DAR in 1938 (though the First Lady resigned her membership from the group a year later when it refused to allow Marian Anderson, who is African American, to sing at Constitution Hall). Feuille goes on to write that she was struck not only by the t-shirt but by how odd it was to see it at all:
I've grown so used to seeing girls in head-to-toe glitter that seeing one bearing a political message startled me. I have been fuming over the princess-ization of our daughters ever since the arrival of 14 princess-themed birthday invitations in one week.
In America, we don't have princesses, I lecture, when my daughter asked to decorate her bedroom in Disney. Your ancestors came to this country to escape the oppression of divine right, primogeniture, and other accidents of birth.
At Ella's kindergarten graduation the kids were asked what they wanted to be when they grew up. It befuddled me that the girl who replied "cat" got uproarious laughter while the "princess" response was met with abject approval.
When I'm calmer, I can take the time to tell Ella what we have in America in lieu of the princess. We have heroines like Sacajawea,
and Margaret Corbin, who defended Fort Washington alongside her husband and became the first woman to receive a military pension, and Francita Alavez, "The Angel of Goliad," whose actions saved many lives during the Texas Revolution. Not to mention the countless women, whose names are lost to all but their own kin, who quilted and cooked and doctored their families in harsh conditions across the country. Women whose skills ensured the survival of settlements that have grown into the shining cities we have today.
I understand that the princess story is appealing to the little girl in all of us. I got up early and watched Kate Middleton walk down the aisle and into the history books, too. ("She's wearing flats under that dress," I whispered to my daughter. "Real princesses don't wear slutty shoes.")
So it doesn't really matter what you put on the walls or if your daughter is carrying a "Sleeping Beauty" lunchbox to school. What matters is what we tell them about America, about women, about their history, and their future.
At our house we complement Grimm's Fairy Tales with "Little House on the Prairie" and Maud Hart Lovelace's "Betsy-Tacy" series, based on the author's childhood in the turn-of-the-century Midwest. I show my daughter fading photographs of her great-great-grandmothers and tell her stories about the one who stitched the fraying quilt on her bed.
I tell my daughter, this is America. We don't do princesses.
Enjoy your holiday.
One of Daisy's favorite toys of ALL TIME is a set of Lennon Sisters Paper Dolls that my friend Dawn gave her for Christmas when Daisy was 6. Some weekend mornings, Daisy will wake up early and I'll find her in her room, happily cutting out elegant dresses or winter ski jackets and inventing stories for the four girls. She doesn't know who they are. And again, they are not licensed to the hilt. And their clothing is always appropriate. Sometimes I blow bubbles at her while she plays with them, though she doesn't know why and gets annoyed if they get on the paper (you'll WRECK the, mom). It's just all so sweet and incongruous it cracks me up.
So what a thrill it was, after I mentioned the dolls in a post I wrote for Motherlode to hear from the Sisters' publicist. She wanted to tell me about the Best Pals dolls that Kathy and Janet have created. They're rag dolls that are exact replicas of the dolls they had and loved as children.
Give it a second. It takes awhile to adjust to something so sweet and basic, a doll that looks childlike. They remind me a little like Laura and Mary Ingalls. What's notable is that they exist to be girls' friend--a companion doll--not as a tool to teach girls to fuse femininity with constant consumption, materialism, "sassiness" or focus on appearance. Because in 1949, that was the dominant role of dolls--to be a girl's "best pal."It seems that is more of the stuffed animal today.
There is also a line of multi-cultural best pals (in the first version of this post I hadn't realized). One of them, Isabelle, was named after the Lennon Sisters' grandmother (who was Latina).
There's also Lily:
The Lennon Sisters themselves were the four oldest in a family of TWELVE kids. They worked hard to help support their family, honed their talents and did well. And yeah, maybe they were square but they were the only act I enjoyed when I'd watch "Lawrence Welk" with my grandma (who gave my Minnesota homegirls The Andrews Sisters an early break--had a signed photo from them that said so-but that's another story....). Here are the Lovely Lennon Sisters singing the story of "Ferdinand the Bull."
Also, the Best Pal dolls are what they are. There are two of them. That's it. There are no "Best Pal" grapes or t-shirts or band-aids or diapers or DVDs. What a relief
One more thing: Notice the colors of the original dolls' clothing and ribbons. In addition to what I've said in the past about pink being originally for boys and blue for girls, my clothing historian guru, Jo Paoleti, has told me that the other classic division was: brown haired children (girls OR boys) were dressed in pink and blonde children in blue. Certainly plays out here.....
And oh, just for the heck of it, here's a great Andrews Sisters' vid.
Coda: I just found this fascinating article on the Lennon Sisters, who were the pop "princesses" of their time and were, in fact, merchandised more than any girl since Shirley Temple. Interesting to see, though, how they were protected, how the media declined to cover the scandal and tragedy in their personal lives for the sake of not only their privacy but their "purity." Back then, though, a girl whose wholesomeness was fetishized didn't try to "grow up" by objectifying her sexuality. I'm not saying it was BETTER in those days, but today's pattern isn't much of an improvement....
My friend Anne-Marie just told me about this Swedish kids' clothing line, POP that has recently come stateside. I love it--especially the sales. And I love their manifesto on why, in addition to boys and girls, they provide a unisex line. "Our unisex collection (UNI) consists of clothing that is based on situation and function rather than on gender. As a clothing manufacturer, we want to make it our responsibility to offer an alternative to clothing that is based on gender. There is really no reason to design different models and fits for small boys and girls since there is no great difference in the way their bodies are shaped. We have taken an overall approach to unisex clothing, and consider not only color but also pattern and fit. We primarily want to offer children and parents freedom of choice. Each collection is first planned based on the UNI concept, after which we develop clothes that are more gender oriented."
POP. I'd call it WOW.
Girls these days all want to do ballet in preschool. And that can be fine. But most of them won't want to continue once it gets "real"--and given the body image concerns about ballet, most of us really don't want our daughters to get serious about it anyway (I don't mean to put the knock on ballet--or certainly any other form of dance--which I respect. I'm just saying the rates of eating disorders, body distortion etc. in ballet are significant. And besides, have you SEEN "Black Swan?"). Anyway, in addition to--or instead of--ballet how about getting your daugher and her friends into kids' yoga? It's graceful, you can wear a leotard if you want, and it's something that can become a building block for a lifelong healthy practice promoting POSITIVE body image, confidence, competence and inner strength. Sounds good, doesn't it? Check at your local studios for kids' classes. There are also some great Yoga DVDs which you can find on my "Resources" page.
Once upon a time, a long, long time ago, before the pall of pink was cast over our land, Disney made the Mulan Movies. And they were good. Especially Mulan II which contains the song that Andy Mooney, head of Disney's Consumer licensing division would prefer you to forget: Like Other Girls
I am working really hard to try to get a new page going of ideas to counter the pink-and-pretty princess tsunami for little girls. A little hope and light to go with the rest. My plan is to have it up in the next few days, so please check back. I hope it can become a resource for parents who want to know: NOW WHAT? Meanwhile, the glorious Lisa Belkin offered this "Motherlode" post with ideas.
Honestly? It wouldn't have occurred to me to buy the Oprah-narrated nature DVD-series "Life" for my 7-year-old, but a friend gave it to Daisy for the holidays and she LOVES it. There's some alternative yet mainstream culture for your daughter...
Daisy recommends: "Horace and “Morris but Mostly Dolores." Delightful, non-spinachy book on girls, boys and friendship. Kinda made me teary. Ages 4-8.