All my daughter wanted for Christmas from Santa Claus was a Cinderella princess doll.
I have to admit that, for quite a long time, I contemplated not getting one for her. As a modern dad who considers himself fairly progressive when it comes to parenting, I don't like subscribing to outdated notions of gender stereotyping.
Besides, I felt conflicted about buying into the whole "Disney Industrial Complex." If I succumbed and got my daughter a Disney doll, was I enabling her lifelong entry into a global cult of materialistic fantasy aimed at the perpetual separation of me from my hard-earned dollars?
Sure one day, it's a princess doll. But the next thing you know, I'm on an overpriced Disney cruise ship throwing down martinis with Donald Duck at Club Mulan while my daughter plays shuffle puck with Bambi. Screw that!
Now, most of you know I don't get too riled up over the various parenting "controversies" that seem to divide people and cause heated exchanges on parenting boards, mothering forums, or PTA conferences. I'm generally a "whatever floats your boat" kind of guy.
Want to home-school your kid, breastfeed him until he's six, and raise him as a vegan? Go right ahead, MoonUnit. Let me be the first to stand out of your way.
Think your toddler is the next Stephen Hawking and needs to learn 4 languages, play three instruments, and memorize the Fibonacci sequence so he can get into Harvard? Go for it, dude. I'll be over here teaching my daughter the finer points of how to properly fart on the dog.
So if I'm so nonplussed about what my buddy James likes to call "high-class problems," why did I find myself tormented about buying my daughter a Cinderella doll?
Because I discovered that giving your child anything Disney or Princess-related can be somewhat conflicting and surprisingly touches on our individual beliefs more than one might imagine.
Anyway, free-thinking father of the new millennium that I am (warning: sarcasm alert,) here were some of the concerns that rattled around in my pea-brained head while I debated whether to buy her a princess doll or not...
1. Disney Princesses are terrible role models.
This was, by far, my biggest issue with the princess dolls. Look, I know that it's absurd to think of a plastic piece of crap as being a role model for my daughter but the fact is that, in Disney's case, the doll is a representation of a character. So let's take a look at those characters.
Most of them spend half their time in captivity or in a coma, waking up only when a prince comes along and kisses them. The only ones who are exceptions to this are Mulan and Pocahontas. Hell, Mulan has to dress up as a boy to fight in the army and Pocahantas lacks full princess status.
Also, many of the princess tales celebrate the ugly duckling scenario of overnight transformation. That, in and of itself, would not be that big of a deal. The problem is that none of the princesses actually "work" to achieve their transformations.
Sleeping Beauty is a victim. Snow White's greatest feat of courage was dusting. And as someone once said, Cinderella essentially gains all her power through the good will of a magical floating Angela Lansbury look-alike.
Now, I'm no feminist but it's pretty clear to me that Disney princesses tend to belittle the efforts that women have made in terms of achieving gender equality on their own terms and with their own efforts.
2. The Princesses create unrealistic body images for young girls.
The princesses are invariably tall, thin, and buxom with perfectly coiffed hair and impeccably plucked eyebrows. Whereas the average American woman is 5' 4", weighs 145 lbs., and wears between a size 11-14, if Cinderella were a real person, she'd be 6' 0", weigh 100 lbs., and wear a size 4. Her measurements would be an incredible 39-19-33.
This argument really didn't resonate with me. I have a hard time thinking that giving my daughter a Cinderella doll would produce unrealistic body images for her and lead her down a lifetime of anorexia and bulimia.
After all, that's what the media, the advertising industry, her peers, and women's magazines are for!
3. Girls shouldn't be forced to play with dolls. Boys shouldn't be forced to play with trucks.
We have never bought the Peanut a doll so I honestly don't know where she got the idea that she absolutely needed to have a Cinderella princess doll. I'm guessing that it came from one of her friends at school, probably the same one who taught her how to say "fuck" and whom I imagine will be approaching her in a few years, asking whether she wants to try stripping for crack money.
The reality is that we never know where or how our kids pick up their various influences. Just as we never bought the Peanut a doll, we also stubbornly refused to dress her in anything pink. Shit, she's a New Yorker! If she wants to fit in here, she's going to have to learn that, aside from black, the only acceptable wardrobe colors are grey and white. Besides, I didn't want my daughter walking around looking like a bowl of cotton candy.
Needless to say, despite my best efforts, my daughter can't get enough pink in her life.
4. Disney is an EVIL EMPIRE.
Despite the fact that we live in a free-market capitalist democracy, I dig the fact that people feel threatened by any massive consumer company with the power to dictate our social mores and limit our freedom of choices.
On the one hand, I like to think that we're all free to make our own decisions, right? Nobody's holding a gun to our head. You don't like Wal-Mart? Fine, don't shop there. Despise ExxonMobil? Ride your bike to work. Nobody's forcing anybody to do anything they don't want.
On the other hand, Disney's sheer size and the influence they exert over children today should be a concern. The business of princesses is a HUGE business. Sales at Disney Consumer Products, which started the princess craze six years ago by packaging its female characters under one royal rubric, have shot up to $3 billion this year, from $300 million in 2001. There are now more than 25,000 Disney Princess items. “Princess,” as some Disney execs call it, is not only the fastest-growing brand the company has ever created but also well on its way to becoming the largest girls’ franchise on the planet.
Little scary, isn't it? Where does it all end? Seriously, I'm waiting for the day when I go to Home Depot and see that they're selling $6,000 John Deere Cinderella tractors.
5. Disney is RACIST.
BossLady and I often cringe when we watch old Disney movies. The jive-talking crows from Dumbo? The gibberish-speaking monkeys from The Jungle Book? The Native-Americans in Peter-Pan? The Siamese twin cats from Chip N Dale Rescue Rangers?
Man, no matter how you look at it, that is some seriously straight-up racist stereotyping.
Now, I'm firmly opposed to political correctness. And there is a part of me that wishes that Disney's poor history on racial characterizations could be attributed to an earlier time in our nation's history that predated a sensitivity to dealing with various ethnic characters.
Sadly, I think Disney's modern characters are just as racist and insulting as they were in the past.
Did you know that the opening musical sequence in Aladdin had to be re-edited due to protest from Arab-American groups for implying that the Middle East was a barren wasteland where the justice system was based solely on limb-removal? A place where people get their "faces torn off?"
Meanwhile, in The Little Mermaid, a Jamaican crab teaches Ariel that life is better "Under the Sea," because underwater you don't have to get a job. (Up on the shore they work all day. Out in the sun they slave away. While we devotin' Full time to floatin' Under the sea!) Why the lazy man got to be Jamaican, mon?
And what about Mulan and Pocahontas? As I said earlier, Mulan has to dress up as a boy to fight in the army and Pocahantas lacks full princess status. Heck, I can barely watch Mulan because of all the ching-chong fortune cookie prose and revisionist history bullshit. Meanwhile, Pocahontas looks African-American and is dressed like a Disney-style sexpot.
Clearly, Disney still has far to go when it comes to being racially and ethnically sensitive.
AT THE END OF THE DAY...
It was clear that I was over-thinking the whole issue. After all, at the end of the day, it's just a fucking toy.
Look, we live in an age where a child can be left unsupervised in a trailer with "American Gladiators" on the TV and a book of matches within easy reach. I'm not saying that we shouldn't think about all the things that influence our kids. However, I am saying that maybe we don't need to get our panties (or boxers) in a twist over each and every single thing. Some battles are worth fighting. Some aren't.
My daughter is a wonderful kid. She's courteous, polite, empathetic, and treats everyone with a huge amount of respect. She doesn't beg me to buy her useless shit and few things in life make her happier than simply being with her friends and family.
BossLady and I promised ourselves that we would never spoil her and agreed that, for Christmas, we were only going to buy her a single gift from "Santa." Ultimately, after all that internal sturm und drang, we decided that if the Peanut wanted a Cinderella doll, that's what we were going to get her.
You should have seen her face light up when she unwrapped her Cinderella doll on Christmas morning. Hell, had I known she would have been so completely overwhelmed with happiness, I would have bought her a thousand Cinderella dolls. At that precise moment, all my yuppie concerns about giving her that doll disappeared in a nanosecond.
Want to hear the funny thing?
Four weeks later, we have no idea where the Cinderella doll is. However, my daughter is still having a hell of a fun time playing with the box!
Oh well, at least it wasn't Barney.