With two girls, I've been drowning in pixie dust for the past eight years. As a feminist, I resisted the princess culture but eventually gave into the sheer joy my daughters experience from glitter, tulle and rhinestones.
When "Frozen" burst into the world a few months after my oldest became a big sister, I pushed the "sister love" angle hard. My youngest and I now stand on the coffee table belting out "I Am Moana" and jumping onto the carpet. She pretends to find the heart of Te Fiti on an ocean carpet. I cry. Cultural appropriation aside, something about that movie smacks me right in the feminist heart.
Recently, my oldest had an end-of-the-year spirit week that included a princess/superhero day. She donned a Belle costume and a bejeweled hair clip. I ignored thoughts of Stockholm syndrome.
At drop-off though, I noticed only a few girls in her class wore princess attire. The grades below looked like the inside of a Disney store, but all of the girls in the classes above had ditched the tiaras. Our normal was shifting, and the princess phase was nearing the end.
It made my chest ache. Inevitably, the aspects of parenting I once found annoying are the ones I miss: the middle-of-the-night snuggles, the endless games of peekaboo. As I watched my oldest flit across the field to join her class, I considered WTF comes next.
But is that also appropriate for my young daughters? Look, Gal Gadot is a beautiful badass, but the freakin' violence and the push-up bras. Is that where we're heading? For a hot minute, I considered hunting down a copy of the problematic "Sleeping Beauty." Then I recalled the violence in the princess movies and simmered. Moana almost gets eaten and charred to crisp. Anna blocks a fatal sword thrust with her body to save her sister—yes, I've unpacked that one in my head a few times.
I’m not ready for superheroes, but I wasn’t ready for princesses either.
I suppose the real transition is from animation to live action. Though the superhero stories typically began as comics, many kids today experience them (and the violence they contain) as live-action films. More mature audiences also recognize Gal Gadot takes off the Wonder Woman costume and goes home to her family like any other working mom. But I’m not sure my kids will.
Superhero movies and even comics also force the transition from idealized romance to sex. The stories of Wonder Woman and the Black Panther may contain romantic subplots, but the happily-ever-after comes second to fighting the villain. Instead of wedding dresses, we have BDSM-like costumes and simmering sexual tension (or, in some cases, sex). I do want my daughters to have a positive outlook on physical intimacy. Maybe just not in elementary school.
So, like with the princess culture, I have to make adjustments. I plan to show my girls pictures of the actors in the real life and discuss acting as a career. Within the movies, I’ll focus on the positive of physically strong female characters who defend themselves and protect others. I’m not sure how I’ll tackle the talk about sex, but it will probably mirror our conversations about "The Little Mermaid" and why she may not have made the best choices, despite marrying the prince in the end.
I’m not ready for superheroes, but I wasn’t ready for princesses either. With a few careful discussions along the way, I believe we’ll leave the tiaras behind without permanent damage. I’ll cry, of course. But at least I have characters like the Wasp and Wonder Woman to work with while raising my little feminists.