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Rapunzel Goes to Med School

“PLAY ARIEL!” our 3-year-old scream-demands from her car seat as I drive her to preschool three mornings a week. “The story, not the song, please!” So I press play—she did say please, after all—fast forward to Track 5 and allow the British narrator to begin his tale of sunken treasures, underwater rescue and finding your soul mate. Toward the end, as wedding bells ring for Ariel and Prince Eric, she and I always share a moment where I look back at her, our eyes meet and we smile as she announces, “They’re married! That’s nice.”

True love as deep as the blue sea and as pure as a young girl’s voice certainly does sound nice. But break down the story a bit and the "Little Mermaid" is actually a "Little Misogynistic":

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1. Ariel’s dad only wants her to date mermen (homosapienphobe!)

2. Pressured to conform to society’s idea of beauty, Ariel schedules an appointment with the sea witch equivalent of an unscrupulous plastic surgeon who agrees to replace her tail with long, sinewy legs. BOOM! she’s attractive to humans.

3. Even though she’s rendered the underwater equivalent of Jennifer Grey, the prince puts a ring on it and Ariel lives happily ever after.

Is this a moral we want to instill? Our toddler finds the story hopelessly romantic; she can listen over and over without tiring. At 7 p.m., as my husband walks in from work, she races to the door in her Ariel costume calling out, “Prince Eric! You’re home!” But lately, both he and I have noticed she is starting to ask about princes a lot. If a story doesn’t have a prince (See: "Berenstein Bears"; "Clifford"), she wants to know where he is. When we explain there is no prince, she needs to know why.

Eff that noise.

I wouldn’t kick Prince Adam (aka The Beast) outta bed. But I’m also trying to raise a confident, self-reliant daughter.

So I made up my own prince-less princess story. It’s called "Rapunzel Goes to Medical School." Here it is in a nutshell:

Rapunzel is sick of sitting around, waiting for a prince to show up. She has plenty of skills and realizes she could go to medical school and help people heal. She applies, gets in and spends her days attending lectures and experimenting in the science lab; at night she hits the books at the campus library.

One evening, a boy approaches her and scoffs, “What are you doing here? Princesses can’t become doctors!” At first, Rapunzel is bummed out, but soon that sadness turns to anger and only motivates her to graduate at the top of her class. She opens her own practice, and one day, as she enters a room to treat a patient with a sore throat, she’s startled to see the boy from the library. He flunked out of medical school and needs Amoxicillin for his Strep throat. Even though Rapunzel could rub her success in the boy’s face, she remembers she took the Hippocratic Oath to do no harm, so she writes him a script and sends him on his way. The End.

This modern day fairy tale accomplishes a few things: 1) It’s terrific for her vocabulary; she’s now doing things like grabbing her handyman tool kit and pretending to walk out the door, announcing, “I’m going to start my own practice!” 2) It offers her a new frame of reference for setting life goals. Women don’t need to just sit around and wait to be rescued; we can go out and rescue ourselves. 3) It proves to her that a story need not revolve around a prince to be interesting and exciting.

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Look, I’m not the Prince Nazi. Princes Eric, Philip and Charming are all welcome in our home. I wouldn’t kick Prince Adam (aka The Beast) outta bed. But I’m also trying to raise a confident, self-reliant daughter who will one day know how to change a tire and be equipped to buy her own condo. And because I don’t want her to think her parents will only be happy if she becomes a doctor, I have also penned a few other original stories, including "Elsa and Anna Buy a Car," "Cinderella the Zookeeper," and "Wendy’s Babysitting Agency" (sequel to Peter Pan with a special guest appearance by Gaston as Wendy’s administrative assistant).

Image via Twenty20/scott_r_smith

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