Thursday, October 10, 2013

Princesses and Bravery

So, I see things on Pinterest all that time saying things such as, "Top Ten Books for girls--no princess books on the list!". I feel like there are either women/girls who are super into princesses, especially Disney ones and basically think they are a princess or there are women/girls who are adamantly against princesses and their stories in every way. Why can't there be a middle ground? A place where you can like princesses but still be smart and brave. I say there can and so would Sara Crewe (from the book, A Little Princess).

I do sort of get the anti-princess movement to an extent. Disney markets their princess stuff in often very tacky, overly pink, covered in jewels junk. However, I am fan of Disney movies and Disney princess movies. I even like to go to the Disney store (gasp). The Disney Store often has better merchandise than the horrible stuff Disney sells elsewhere. Disney makes such awesome characters and it is a pity that they ruin them when they sell such tacky stuff.  Do I want my daughter to grow up to be a subservient, woe is me adult? Of course not. Do I want her is be smart, brave, lady-like and imaginative? Yes!
Elanor at about 18 months old.

So here's the thing: I think many women don't exactly know what bravery is or how many sorts of bravery exist. Many women are for having women be more violent and wanting to see women on the battlefield. While there is a time and a place for physical fighting, it is not the bravest thing a girl can do. I love Mulan (the movie) and though she is a very good soldier, that is not what made her brave. Sacrifice and endurance are the two things that make someone brave in my opinion. Mulan sacrificed herself--in taking her father's place in the army, knowing that if they found out she was a woman she would be killed. Belle from Beauty and the Beast likewise sacrificed her freedom and life for her father. Cinderella (both in the actual fairytale and Disney movie) is brave in a very different way. She quietly endures her slavery and then despite her step-mother and sisters, with a little help from her fairy godmother, she goes to the ball. She bravely entered the ballroom and in making that choice she freed herself from her step-mother. The prince saw something rather more special about her and chose, rather intelligently, to dance the night away with Cinderella. A girl, who was humble, kind, hard working, patient and hopeful even in her hopeless plight (in the fairytale her father was alive and well and let all of this happen to her). Most of the Disney princess movies do actually highlight very brave girls, just not brave in an in your face, fighting way. Though Merida is brave in the in your face way, her skill with the bow and headstrong attitude are not what make her truly brave. When Merida learns how to swallow her pride, understand her mother and then speaks to all of those wild men with composure and grace, those were signs Merida had found true bravery.

Our little Merida in the making.
 Elanor and I were reading the story of St. George and the Dragon the other day. In it, St. George meets a girl (a princess) who is walking alone from her castle to the dragon's lair. He asks her what she is doing. She explains that a dragon has been terrorizing her kingdom, all of the people are now within the castle walls, and they have been giving the dragon sheep to appease it. However, when they ran out of sheep, the princess on her own decided to offer herself up to the dragon so that he would leave her people alone. That willing, lonely walk to death is much more difficult than slaying the dragon and takes a good deal more bravery. Of course, St. George took care of the dragon and everything ended happily, but the point is that slaying the dragon was not the "brave" part of the story for me. It was that princess who was willing to die to save her people. 

Most of the popular fairy tales (Snow White, Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel, etc.) were not only meant to entertain children, but also to instruct. Beauty is not everything, be patient and hold on to your dreams, don't talk to unsavory strangers, do not steal lettuce from a witch's garden (yes, that one is Rapunzel). {Sidenote: Also, Gretel, from Hansel and Gretel is the hero of that story. That little girl is so brave.} Lately, I feel like fairytales have been getting a bad rap. I hear, "too many girls have these expectations of a prince coming to save them and then he never does", etc... There is obviously something else going on here. I was raised on fairytales and had no such delusions and Albert Einstein highly recommends them (it is true!). It is the parents that create silly, self-obsessed girls. Fairytales and princesses have no place in that argument. If girls were going to truly emulate some of these fairytale princesses they would be much more humble, meek, lady-like and so patient. Also girls could take a hint from real-life queens and princesses, because there are some pretty brave women there (Queen Elizabeth I and II, Queen Victoria, Princess Diana, Princess Kate Middleton). They are not perfect, but brave, yes they are. {side note: watch Roman Holiday with Audrey Hepburn to see what princesses life is really like. I love that movie (so terribly sad).}
Elanor channeling her inner Audrey.

Basically, I am trying to say that princesses and their stories are still important and they will not turn your daughter into a prima donna. Fairytales create imagination and magic in a child's life which is so vitally important. I am all for strong, brave girls but she must also be humble and kind. She must also be a lady and girls can learn this from fairytales (obviously not from the likes of the witches, step-mothers and such). I am so tired of feminists saying women should not be like this. What should we be? Men? No! Women. Women who act with grace and meekness and strength (in every sense of the word, both physical and mental). Women who can so easily change the world without swords, guns and wars. Bravery is so much more than fighting, not to say fighting is not brave--it can be when necessary. Bravery is sacrifice, endurance and as Coraline says, it is "when you're scared but you still do it anyway, that's brave". {Sidenote: Coraline by Neil Gaiman is such a good book for girls. Coraline is one of the bravest little girls in children's literature.} There is nothing wrong with princesses, it is the media and advertising and
 attitude that girls need to be beautiful to be valued that is wrong. If you read those age old fairytales, even watch many of the Disney movies, you will find there are many good, strong role models for girls. Plus, girls have so many great books with awesome heroines from the American Girl books to The Little Princess to Anne of Green Gables. 
{Sidenote: In my opinion, there are not as many good books or movies with great role models for boys.} Girls also have plenty of real-life role models and the most important and best one should be her mom. It is a lot for me to live up to. More than anything I want Elanor to be brave, smart, kind, and a true lady.   

{Sidenote: I also think it is important to introduce your daughter to a variety of things. She can like princesses, but also space, jungles, and trains. Elanor's favorite color is yellow, not pink, and she loves alligators, dragons and dinosaurs. She loves a variety of movies and books about all sorts of things, not just princesses. This whole post was about defending princesses, but like everything it should be loved in moderation. Also, girls in many ways have the better end of the deal. They can read "boy" books be into "boy" things, but if a boy decided he would like to dance, then he is teased to no end by his peers and often harassed by his own parents.}

So let there be dressing up, stories and most of all magic. 

Elanor last Halloween as Rapunzel (the costume was kindly bought by Tyler's mom--we cannot afford the Disney store fancy versions).


  1. I don't know if you wrote this in response to what I said in my post, but I suppose I should clarify what I meant anyway. :) I am all for determined, strong, intelligent girls making hard choices, standing up to peer pressure, defending their honor/country/family, making sacrifices for what's good and right, etc. Mulan and Belle are good examples of that. The princess stereotype I DO have a problem with is the pink plasticky helpless damsel in distress that does nothing but dream about boys and sigh.

    You say that you grew up on the Disney princesses and yet you still turned out well-rounded, but I would argue that's more likely because you had a great mother who encouraged you to try new things and to be involved and to care, and didn't have much to do with Disney at all. (I did read her excellent blog post on the subject, and it really was so awesome.) I grew up on Disney movies too, but I don't feel like they had much to do with how I turned out one way or the other. But I have never been very girly. You are right, there are some good princess role models in Disney. There's Mulan who sacrificed herself to save her father, who came back to save China even though she knew she could be killed for doing so; or there's Belle who was well-read, who rejected the handsome, sought-after Gaston because he was false and shallow, who stood by her father even when the townspeople called him insane and wanted to lock him up. I LOVED the movie Brave because it was so different from the typical princess story. There was no boy, no prince, no suitor; it was all about Merida and her mother and how they come to understand and to really cherish each other. I loved that. What other Disney movie focuses on the mother-daughter relationship like that?

    But then there's also Snow White, who is about as helpless and brainless as you can get, and Ariel, who literally sells her voice, her passion, for a guy she doesn't even know, and she changes her entire body just to fit in with another crowd. And Jasmine who, while she has a few admirable qualities, really comes off as petulant and bratty. And Aurora mostly sits around doing nothing except dreaming of the day her prince will come instead of appreciating all that she has.

    If THAT'S what being a princess means, then yes, I maintain that it's a bad word in our house. But if it means being brave and treating others with respect and standing up for what you know is right and you just happen to be wearing a fancy dress while you're doing it, then by all means be a princess. ;)

    I would definitely agree that women should not have to act like men to be successful. I'm a big believer in the strength of femininity, and it's sad that the world tends to place a woman's worth in how pretty she is or how she dresses rather than what's inside.

    I apologize if you felt my comment in my blog post was close-minded or that it was directed at you. It definitely wasn't. It's obvious you are doing a wonderful job of raising Elanor to be well-rounded and thoughtful and imaginative. It sounds like you are teaching her the proper way to be a princess, and kudos to you for that. :)

    All that being said, I still don't want anything puffy, pink, or princessy in my home. But that's my prerogative as head designer/decorator. ;)

    1. Wow that was really long. I just want to add that I don't have anything against Disney! I just don't much care for Disney World, or Disney merchandise in general, because it's so commercialized. But I don't really care for cartoon characters in general, not in books, not on clothing, not on home decor. They belong in movies and TV shows. (Now watch Gracie grow up to want everything with Minnie Mouse on it, oh heaven help me, haha.) But, that is just my opinion! If anyone else feels otherwise, that's totally fine.

      Outside of Disney, I'm sure there are many more worthwhile princesses as well. Sounds like you know of a lot of them; maybe I'll have to get some book recommendations from you later on down the road. :)

  2. No, this was not in response to your comment, as I have been thinking about it for awhile. Yes, I agree with you on the whole commercialized bit. I don't want Disney bedding. etc. in Elanor's room, but I do not see anything wrong with her being into princesses as long as she is interested in many other things as well. Also, you have to give Snow White and Aurora some slack. Snow White came out in 1939 and was being worked on that whole decade. The 30s were a very different time period and you cannot really judge Snow White based on modern day standards. I am not a huge fan of that movie myself, but I do enjoy the original fairy tale by the Grimm Brothers. I am not really into modern day mickey mouse clubhouse stuff and I do not let Elanor watch it. We have watched some old 30s mickey cartoons that were pretty funny and imaginative. Elanor does not watch much tv in general (usually one movie on friday nights and occasionally a tv show during the week). We like British tv shows such as Shaun the Sheep and Charlie and Lola.

    I agree with everything you said, I am not into "puffy, pink, princessy" stuff either and it is not in Elanor's room. We are huge fans of "Brave" at our house. I just think that the people are ruining princesses and their stories by commercializing them. Like I said, I do like many of the Disney princess movies, just not the stuff they market to girls. It is as if they make these awesome characters and then ruin them when they sell such tacky stuff. Maybe, I will add this bit to my post. :)

    Also, I was not necessarily raised on Disney princess movies, I said fairytales, which is a bit different. :) My mom was not a fan of Aladdin or Little Mermaid, so we did not own those. We also watched Shirley Temple a lot and my sister and i were really into her. My mom encouraged reading and I did a lot of that and I have been thinking I want to come up with girl book lists for all ages.

    Also, I have never been to Disney World, so I don't know much about that. I have been to Disneyland and love it. It is a magical place and is not as big as Disney World. Plus, many of the rides were designed by Disney himself and have been there since the park opened, which is neat.

    Basically, I agree with you. In this post I wanted to point out that girl femininity is under attack and princesses (the good ones) can be good role models and that there are all sorts of ways to be brave. Also, they are just plain fun to pretend to be. Elanor is always pretending to be someone from Wendy to Merida to Rapunzel.