My Daughter, the Princess

My daughter wants to be a princess. She likes Disney’s Queen Elsa.
She is four years old.
This morning she was singing ” let it go” at the top of her lungs.
And it bothers me. It bothers me to have my little girl, the one I have worked so hard to raise, picking yellow instead of pink, providing gender neutral toys, adjusting nursery rhymes to be as gender neutral as possible and reading gender neutral books to is the girliest of the girly girls.  It also bothers me to no end that she is feeling this level of affinity to something that does not culturally and racially represent her at all. Oh that worries me!!!
A good friend of mine said to me- ” a feminist cannot have a daughter that wants to be a princess. You need to put a stop to that.”
And it got me thinking- do I really?
Women are educated in Romance  
I named my daughter Aida, after the princess in the similarly titled opera by Giuseppe Verdi written about an Ethiopian Princess. Even if it is purely fictional, naming her Aida is mindful of what a powerful princess can do. That being said, I have a major challenge in accepting the Disney princess in particular. Aside from the fact it is a capitalistic commercial business unfairly targeting young children, is that it is educating girls in romance. Disney builds young girls’ romantic expectations that are both unrealistic and to their detriment.   It shapes a dependency syndrome based on patriarchal norms that anchor us to expectations that someone else will provide, someone else will love us and someone else will ‘rescue us”, expectations that will inevitably culminate in bitter disappointment.
You Have to Earn it: Get your own tiara
Here is where I stand. You like the fluffy dress, the sparkly tiara and the shiny shoes, good for you. Enjoy! Everyone deserves to feel good and like how they look, especially you! And me! I love love love fashion. I love clothes and makeup. I love my spa days, my mani-pedis. I am certain as my daughter who grows up watching my fascination with cosmetics and fashion, will develop her own fascinations with beauty. Already, she wants some nail polish on her fingernails and a brush of eye shadow on her eyelids and I let her. I have no problem with her interest.
My only condition is, never do so for someone else, never for the male gaze. She is too young now of course but there are two things I hope to brainwash her with. If you want to dress up, put a ton of makeup on your face and paint your nails, among other things, make sure it is all for you, because it is fun. You enjoy it. And when you no longer enjoy it, whether it is for a day or for life, not doing all of that fine too.  The second, unlike the Disney version of a makeover, there will be no fairy godmother, prince charming, king or queen giving you a tiara. You have to buy your bling yourself, no one will buy it for you. You are responsible for purchasing your own tiara and everything else that come with.
There will be no Prince Charming: Get Ready to Rescue Yourself
Among the many disappointments in dependency peddled Disney is how it robs a woman’s agency to make her own choices. Each character (ofcourse there are exceptions- Merida(pixar?) and Tiana are worth a mention) is in a perpetual waiting game, waiting to be rescued, waiting for a prince to make her happy, waiting for a kiss, waiting for love, waiting for someone to ‘take her away’. Honey, prince charming will not be coming and if he does come, he will disappoint you. Rightly so. These fantasies make us pile up so much expectation and emotional baggage on one single person that we are incapable of making lasting partnerships. No one is going to rescue you, you have to rescue yourself and if someone decides to come for the ride, even better!
Speaking of Prince Charming: Gaston and Le’fou
One more thing that bothers me is how the male characters in the Disney movies are so limited in so many ways. Personality wise, you are stuck with the handsome but distant prince charming, the homicidal ego maniac that is Gaston and his idiotic sidekick Le’fou, the angry beast. Even with the more recent, progressive versions it is the reckless and unreliable Prince Naveen and Eugine in Tangeled. It speaks volumes about the expectations on how boys are socialized into men.  My husband always likes to point out, the men in these movies are either utter morons or handsome but inaccessible and women’s expectations are based on that.
These limiting stereotypes concern me both for my son and my daughter in what they are expected to enact and expect in gender norms. It concerns me that for young boys who do not prescribe neither the stupid nor particularly handsome duality, all it leaves is the angry beast. That should scare us all. I have been informed that girls outgrow the princess phase by the age of five or six and I am all for letting my daughter explore in order to grow up to be what she wants to be. Knowing this is on record, a disclaimer is key here, specifically targeting my daughter.
Baby, if you manage to dig this up in the near future and throw it on my face in the event of inevitable disagreement, please note, I mean what I say. You can be anything you want to be but I do not have to like it. In fact, I know I will have a hard time as you make decisions I do not agree with, date boys and men I do not like and just simply be anything but a replica of me. I will do my best not to let it show too much. You choose to be you. That is agency and I will not take that away from you. Your current obsession with princesses is just one of many on the way and I am working to embrace that.

Sewit Haileselassie

Sewit Haileselassie is a bold feminist with a background of economics, communication and gender studies. She’s a serial reader, critical thinker and analytical conversationalist.

  1. Great article attack the Disney trope. I grew up with Disney and hindsight is 20/20. It’s only now that I can see the negative effects it caused not only in my relationships but also in my views of female standing within society. So yes, you’re right to be worried but would you prefer she gravitated towards the hyper sexual Bratz doll?

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