Age six, my daughter has lots of ambitions. Some days it’s to be a pilot (passenger plane not military jet), other days she’s an aspiring dance teacher and merrily perfects crucial teacher skills in the ‘changing of shoes’ between imaginary tap and modern. Chef, doctor, waitress, they’ve all had a mention. But Disney Princess is a regular favourite, and pretty dresses and glamour aside, I’m really not sure how I feel about that…
Let’s take Snow White, for example. Obedient to her wicked step mothers unrelenting demands, I can’t fault her strong work ethic. Attracting the attention of a passing Prince, we must caution Snow White on talking to strangers – I’m sure my daughter has learnt about Stranger Danger in year 1 already?! And yes, it was a shame that her wicked step mother was a total fruit loop and ordered her man slave to kill Snow White. But really, for Snow White to run away to shack up with seven needy men to become their faithful servant…? Well, that’s not a situation that I’d want my daughter to aspire to. Living in the middle of a forest, miles from civilisation, I bet poor Snow White didn’t have a day out with the girls for months. Cooking, cleaning, sewing and transforming the dwarves dingy little cottage with her feminine touch, Snow White had simply swapped one evil master for seven new ones. Or were the seven dwarves just a metaphor for the many facets of a single mans complex personality? Regardless, did those little men ever bring a shiny diamond home from their mine for Snow White to enjoy? Did they heck. Cue the wicked step mother arriving dressed as a cranky old lady with a shiny red apple. Snow White was clearly deprived of female company and ate the apple out of sheer relief for a girly natter. Yay for a healthy diet and all that, but a fine example of how sometimes in life, a big fat slice of chocolate cake is the better choice. Bring on the evil curse of deep sleep (further evidence of isolation-induced boredom) and it takes a handsome prince to break the spell and wake poor Snow White. Riding off into the sunset on the lap of her hero, to live in a big fat castle on a hill. I’d LOVE to live in a glittering castle of perfection, but poor Snow White’s life is a recurring pattern where she swaps one life of servitude for another. Unless the castle has an army of servants and a secret underground passage to a shopping centre, well, then I might reconsider her future prospects…. Still, not a life choice I’ll be suggesting to my firstborn. Oh, and don’t forget, your mother is an old cow who wants nothing more in life than to make you suffer…..? Hardly!
Cinderella wasn’t much better. What is it with these classic Princesses being so blimmin’ submissive? Scrubbing floors, washing pots and repairing luxurious gowns belonging to her ugly step sisters, why did Cinderella never think to say ‘no’? Seriously people, do we want our daughters to be so downtrodden and susceptible to bullies? Bring on a fairy godmother (don’t we all wish we had one of those?) and Cinderella’s future happiness and personal freedom is yet again sealed by a handsome prince. Bah, how predictable.
Sleeping Beauty, can you guess? You got it, handsome prince to the rescue. Admittedly this time also reuniting her with her parents, but still. When will these girls learn to find happiness for themselves? I’m no feminist, but surely that’s not the message we want to be sending to our kids; ‘work hard at school, do your best and one day a man might swoop in and change your fate?’ I think not.
Fortunately Disney Princesses have improved over time. The 90’s bought us Belle, who aspires for ‘more than this provincial life’; she’s an ambitious and intelligent girl who sees the beauty behind the beast. Approve. Ariel the mermaid wants to better herself, let’s not fault her motivation there. Princess Jasmin rejects her father’s pressure to marry until she meets a man that she considers fit to wed.
And modern Disney Princess characters are even more savvy. They have gumption. Tangled’s Rapunzel wants to broaden her horizons and see more of the world, that’s the Princess equivalent of taking a gap year out to backpack around Europe. And let’s not forget Tiana, Disney’s first black Princess, finally, who works hard and fights all the odds to open her own restaurant. But even these most modern of heroines have one thing in common, their happiness is only sealed by a man.
But relax, we are saved by Brave Merida, the fiery haired Scottish lass who charges to the rescue on Angus, shooting her bow and arrow to defend her independence against tradition. Unfortunately, her mother is once again the enemy of the tale, but there’s nothing like turning the stubborn old monarch into a bear to put things into perspective. As always, there’s a moral to the story but I doubt that many six year olds would pick up on it.
And coming right up to date with Frozen, Disney’s latest sensation where Princesses learn that the handsome Prince is sometimes a complete tool, and that a sisters ‘true love’ can be equally as powerful as that of any man when it comes to saving the day. Ground breaking.
All I want for my daughter is to be happy, and if that involves wearing cheap nasty clippy-cloppy shoes and swooshing around the house wearing acres of static shock enducing polyester and coloured plastic jewellery, then I guess that’s okay. I know that one day she’ll outgrow this phase and swap her aspirations for something a little less….pink, but lets allow six year olds their innocence for as long as possible. I hope that one day she’ll study hard, explore the world around her and achieve her goals, whatever she chooses for them to be. And yes, I’m guessing that a man will feature in her happiness (and as long as he doesn’t break her heart) then that’s great. Really. My life would also be incomplete and soulless without my husband to share it with. But in an ideal world, I’d hope for the handsome Prince to be a cherry on top of the Princess shaped cake that she’d worked to bake, ice and decorate for herself, and not for him to be the whole cake…. If the cherry falls off, well, you still have a pretty yummy cake to enjoy. Right?
How about you? What ambitions did you have as a child, and were they fulfilled? If yes, has the reality lived up to the aspiration? What about your children, what do they want to be? Are all childhood ambitions unrealistic or should we support our children and agree that its entirely possible to become an astronaut chef who makes poorly aliens feel better with magic recipes?