Just so you know

All right. I have ideas. I think about stuff. So here is the spot for stuff I'm thinking about and want to be able to share more broadly and possibly promote. Like I have time for this.

Everything is provisional at this point and subject to change in the future - as far as the blog is concerned. In real life some things will remain unchanged.

Also, our children are not really named Lenny and Linus. We are not that cool.

Feel free to share, rant, disagree, but please remember that I'm an actual person who tries to be respectful. I'd love it if you are and do to.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Sons, Feminism and Disney Princesses

photo credit: octaviosn via photopin   

I said I'd write a post about Disney princesses and feminism and I should probably just do it before the thought leaves my head.  It may not be as well fleshed out as I'd like but that's life.

I've written before that
I'm not sure how to help my boys develop a healthy sense of themselves and others given all the messages they get from media, marketing and society in general about what girls and boys are supposed to do and like.  For a while it was feeling like a lost cause with Lenny who, at age five is really into rules and definitions.  Even a much less observant child would have noticed the pink and purple aisles full of dolls and dress up clothes.  "We don't want to go there, that's girl stuff."

"I didn't play with them, they were playing girl games."

"Why were they girl games?"

"Oh, you know...."

Usually it had to do with sparkles and rainbows and such.

But lately his best friend at school is a girl I'll call Emma.  I noticed at Valentine's Day when he came home with this picture of them together.   Then he started bringing home papers with her phone number written in her own kindergarten hand on pieces of school paper.  They NEEDED to set up a play date.  Finally we worked out the details and they've had two so far.

But the part that has to do with Disney princesses started at school during recess.  Lenny announced one night at supper that they had played "mermaid" during recess that day.  Then he described being a pirate and defending the climbing structure against some other boys who were "Autobots."  I said, "How did the mermaid come into it?"

"Very well."

"I mean when did the mermaid come into the game?"

"At the beginning."

It turned out, naturally, that his friend Emma was the mermaid and that sometimes Lenny was a pirate and sometimes he was a person and sometimes he was a mermaid.  I didn't figure out that the game was based on Disney's "Little Mermaid" until later that week when they were playing together and I heard her mention Arial.

So since Lenny seemed a little confused about what was really going on in this game we sat down and watched the movie together.  We have an old VHS copy (along with the equipment required to play it) which Lenny's dad had before I met him.  I'm not actually sure what the story is behind that one.  Anyways....

Lenny liked the movie, other than the part where I went to answer the phone (we have a land line - coming soon: a post about how comfortable I am here under this rock) and Linus started crying and Lenny couldn't leave because the movie was still playing and he didn't want to miss it.  His favorite parts were the kissing part and the part where the animals "attacked" to stop the wedding.  I think by the kissing part he meant the "Kiss the Girl" song.

This turned out to be less of a big deal on the play ground than I would have thought.  When I asked, the next day, if he'd told Emma that he watched the movie he said he didn't get a chance. ("She talks a lot.")  They have continued to play the game, but Lenny doesn't seem to feel any differently about it.

So my point is that it turned out that all the messages these two have gotten about what boys and girls are supposed to be like have not gotten in the way of them being friends.  And they managed to adapt at least one Disney princess movie into a game that is fun for both of them and some other kids in their class.

Is it important that Arial has an overprotective father and doesn't even seem to have a mother?  Or that the "evil villain" in the movie is female?  Or that the ultimate goal that this princess can find - other than walking around on dry land - is to get married?  Probably eventually it will.  But at the moment they don't seem to see this particular story as something they should expect to find in the "real world."  Emma says she isn't going to get married  - ever.  (She discovered some details of having babies and decided she never wants to do that.)  Lenny says she'll change her mind when she gets bigger. 

Disney princesses are notorious for portraying young women as powerless and in need of husbands.  They even generally use illustrations that are so uniformly "pretty" - soft and clean and thin and pastel colored - that it's a wonder that any of us end up having any hope of being attractive.  At the same time being attractive is clearly set up as one of the most important jobs a girl has.

But at least at this point, for these two kindergarteners, the story is as much a part of their pretend play world as talking cars that save the world.  And the fact that Arial needs the prince to fall in love with her and kiss her to avoid life as a strangely contorted sea plant does not seem to give Lenny a particularly powerful position in the game even though he is the obvious choice for the prince.

So hopefully they will continue to approach the messages they get from movies and even from the world in general through the lens of their own personalities.  And maybe the messages they are getting at home about people being allowed to choose what they like and do and to be who they authentically are will be louder than the messages they get everywhere about conforming to rigid stereotypes.  I hope so.

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