I have always been a fan of children’s books that accurately portray women and girls. Of course I grew up with Disney, Barbie, and all other crap that told me to look at my body, that boys were smarter and stronger, and that women were not equal. As a kid, I really had no ideal role models about women. At least not until college. I had a mini childhood retroactive while in college during a children’s literature course and a women’s writing course where I had the opportunity to look at what messages we are sending children from an early age.
When Chris met me I already had a small collection of children’s books (think quick picture books, not children’s novels). Most of my accrued stack of books were more specific to a child feeling loved and good about themselves. Hmm, maybe a trend that I did not feel as a kid. However, one of my all time favorites was “The Paper Bag Princess” where a princess is to marry the prince when a dragon attacks the castle and kidnaps the prince. The princess finds the dragon, is smarter than he is (ah yes a book that shows little girls and boys that girls can be badasses). Yes, she rescues the prince. I mean, why not? Think about how many books and Disney movies have a princess or some “beautiful” distraught girl who is saved or rescued by their dashing prince (or maybe a beast). Beauty & the Beast, Cinderella, Snow White, The Little Mermaid, oh I could go on, but you all know how the story goes.
When I read this New York Times article “Turn Your Princess Obsessed Toddler Into a Feminist in Eight Easy Steps” a huge smile appeared on my face. I will copy the first two steps to give you a gist of why you should take a moment to read it:
“1. Read the Brothers Grimm version of Snow White in which Snow White is asked to clean, cook, make beds, wash and sew for the dwarfs in exchange for shelter from the evil queen. Ask your toddler to imagine what might have been different if the dwarfs had been female instead of male, and instead of a tiny cottage in the Wood, if Snow White had stumbled upon Wellesley College.
2. Wonder aloud, what with Cinderella’s history as a cleaner, if she and Prince Charming are likely to share the division of labor in their home. Remark that, if the immaculate state of his white gloves is anything to go by, it’s difficult to imagine that he ever takes out the garbage.”
Somehow I am in a marriage where Chris’ white gloves would never be clean and the division of labor ebbs and flows, and if anything it flows fuller to his plate, depending on what is happening in our life. As my tiny baby niece grows up I hope she is surrounded by positive influences that allow her to decide that her brain and creativity are just as important as the boys around her, that she is not here to serve a man, and that her voice matters. I know whenever we have kid(s) of our own, I will be a strong proponent to let them play out whatever gender roles they decide are comfortable to them while also encouraging respect and understanding for the other gender.