Friday, June 3, 2011

Grown-Up Princesses

My daughter is five. She spends a great deal of time telling us which princess is her favourite. She has also taught her little brother to have a favourite princess as well. I am required to give a regular update of which one is my favourite. If I should change my choice, the record keeping must reflect this important change. Today I was asked at breakfast about who my favourite princess was. Usually I say Ariel, the mermaid princess. But this time the name Miranda came out. ‘Who?’ A character from Sex and the City. But they were not Princesses. Or were they?

I don’t know whether you ever got into that HBO show but at the time I was utterly addicted. I ordered cable because of it. I made sure the night it was on was clear and clean. If I had to record it, I made sure there was back up. The show made me laugh. It made me cry. It made me judge and wince, contemplate and be disgusted. But most of all, it comforted me.

If you are not aware it was a show about four women who were single (and then not), growing up in their thirties and forties, and figuring out their careers, romance, friendship, sex and the inner circles of New York City. It was racy, sure. But there was something paradoxically tender about the storylines. The writing was impeccable. The characters were believable even though they seemed to be caricatures.

Each woman had a stereotypical slant. One was the whore (Samantha). The other was the prude (Charlotte). The other was the lawyer geek (Miranda). And the main character, was, well, the girl we all wish we were but know we could never be. She was whimsical, smart, successful, neurotic, shallow, frivolous, skinny, poor or rich depending on the season, single or taken depending on the season, a trustworthy friend or a deceitful, self-absorbed hag depending on the episode (or the scene). She was also the parts of us we wish weren’t there. She was Carrie Bradshaw.

But what a guilty pleasure I took in studying these women. It was a relief to know that I was not alone in my obsession as there were people writing PhD theses on these women. Why was it acceptable to love these women who gave themselves away to men, fashion and the good old dream of money and status? Had I not grown out of such fantasies back in the day of my Disney Princess phase?

But that’s just it isn’t it? I’m not sure we do grow out of our Princess phase. It just shifts a little. We still long for magic and wonder in our lives. We want to sing with the animals in the forest and feel the backwards pull of a billowing heavy dress and the clic clac of our shoes as we walk down the staircase. We want a partner on our arm. Incidentally people have written PhD theses on Disney Princesses as well. Capital ‘F’ Feminism is having a field day with these characters.

I admit that I love to watch Disney movies with my daughter. I think her favourite right now is Aurora from Sleeping Beauty. Something about the pink dress AND the blue dress options are exciting to her. Some days Princess Jasmine gets the win for obvious reasons.

But, my daughter can still climb around in the dirt with the best of them. She bosses around her boy friend at day care in ways that make me cringe. She shows no signs of submission and seems to understand that the world is her oyster. She is kind to others but makes certain she keeps her share of control. She is smart and knows it.

I prefer to push a wheelbarrow full of stones or compost around instead of dragging a ballroom dress but I understand the excitement of dressing up pretty. I kind of like it under a rare moon. My daughter does too.

I’m sure these depictions on the screen of women are costing us something. But I’m not sure it is all as bad as some make it out to be. There is as much or more concern lately of racism showing its ugly head in Disney movies – but that is a whole other story. I believe we are in a position to differentiate between fantasy and reality – and as parents we have the opportunity to point out the distinction to our children. We can teach our children to dream, create and expand like in the movies but still intimately know our place in the earthly order of things.

I loved Miranda in Sex and the City because she was quirky, blunt, did not know all of her strengths, was generous but only in guarded ways, worked hard, read trashy magazines and cared deeply. I rooted for her. I wanted her to find happiness through the fog of working too much, yelling at people too often, and eating too much ice cream.

These people are not real. I know that. But watching them play out their lines on the stage, I see a bit of myself in them. Or perhaps an image of what I wish to be – if only in an alternate reality – or my perception that day. Sometimes I think I find comfort that I am not one stitch like any of these people. I want them to get a grip and buy clothes that don’t need dry-cleaning or start cutting their hair themselves instead of wading through all this beauty B.S.

So I guess Miranda is my favourite princess. Perhaps one day I’ll find a new one. And even if she grows a tail and goes to live in the ocean, I will still look to her for that magical little escape.

Somehow, by contrast or example, she helps me see that I am already everything I want to be and have everything I wish to have. I think that’s just a grown-up kind of Happily Ever After.

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