Friday, July 16, 2010

Some More Things To Balance: Gender Roles and Princesses

So, ever since the ultrasound revealing that I'm having a girl, everything has seemed much more real.

This dose of reality has also left me considering a few more pieces that need to be balanced if I'm going to feel like a successful parent. First of all, since I'm having a girl, I've been really considering what this means to me as a feminist.

Secondly (and something I'm sure I will discuss more as time goes on), I am also having a biracial child (I am white and my husband is black).

Intensifying the way that I balance these socio-identifying markers of my child is the fact that my own studies deal with issues of rhetoric and difference, particularly how pop culture influences shape the way that we view "differences" like race, gender, ability, class, etc.

At the moment, I'm focusing on the gender issue.

For some background, I should tell you that I grew up in a very traditional home, as far as gender roles go. My mom was a stay at home mom from the moment I was born, and my dad was the sole provider of the money. My mom also did all of the cooking, cleaning, and baby-tending. In addition to the traditional roles (which I feel pretty neutral about, if both parties agree to the roles), I feel that my parents also had some negative roles. My dad controlled all of the finances, to the point that my mom had to ask for an allowance to buy clothes for herself and the kids. My mom was very insulated from the outside world and rarely interacted with other adults.

Despite seeing my parents in these roles, I was not much of a girly-girl. I climbed trees, hated dresses, caught frogs, and more often than not went to bed with scabbed knees and scratched arms from my adventures playing in the woods.

When I was 12, my parents went through a very nasty divorce that left my mom struggling to return to the workplace with few translatable skills. She did it, but she's certainly not doing work that she enjoys, and she struggles to maintain a comfortable lifestyle.

All of this is leading up to one point: I don't know how I feel about Disney Princesses.

Maybe that's not even very accurate. I think I know perfectly well how I feel about them. I never liked them much, even watching them as a child. I always, always identified with the male protagonists or with the villains. I would pretend to be Aladdin or Jasmine's pet tiger, but never Jasmine. I was very fond of Ariel's underwater friends, but she seemed pretty stupid to me. The most classic princesses--Cinderella, Snow White, Aurora--were downright boring.

So, when I started stumbling upon posts (like this one, or this one, or this one) suggesting that maybe girls shouldn't be allowed to watch these movies, my first reaction was somewhat apathetic. I said to myself, "I watched them, and I think I'm a driven, independent woman, so surely they're okay."

Now I'm not so sure.

For one thing, I didn't really watch a lot of TV, period. I don't know how to ensure that my failure to morph into a body-obsessed woman hell-bent on finding a rich, muscular husband repeats itself.

I realize, of course, that my daughter will not (for quite some time) be watching any shows with the critical eye that graduate studies has beaten into me. When she sees Ariel give up her voice to gain legs to meet the prince, she will probably not be thinking: "Oh, but now she's silenced, and her inability to walk properly on her new legs represents a weakness and dependency." In a way, this is comforting. Perhaps my daughter will just watch the movie for the story, enjoy it, and move on with her (successful, independent) life. On the other hand, maybe I'd feel more comfortable if I knew she would analzye it in that way.

The bottom line is that I don't think that I will ever be able to watch those movies again with that critical analysis turned off. With that in mind, I don't think that I will be able to watch my daughter watch those movies with a clear conscience. I also don't want to deprive her of good, innocent fun. For the moment, I think I've decided to watch everything that she is going to see carefully and determine what messages are being sent. If I think I can live with those messages, she can watch it. If I can't, she won't.

I know that I will be criticized by some of my friends for this decision. They will call me silly and say that I am over-thinking things, but sometimes I think the world could use a little more obsessive analysis.

Note: In no way is the fact that I'm carrying a girl the only trigger for these thoughts. I would have had the same misgivings about letting my son watch these shows, but I suspect the social pressure to watch the Princesses would have been diminished. With things like this in mind, though, I don't think the negative influence is any less.

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