Update: Also at First Things’ blog, improved by pretty picture and a good editor.
So, Sesame Street, as I’m sure you already know, thinks little girls should ditch the princess swag and start dreaming law school.
Poor Sesame Street. They try so hard, but fail to ask the simple million dollar question: am I implicitly assuming that female nature is substantially different from human nature in general?
Little girls are human, and trade in the mythic and heroic. Even if making them starry-eyed about middle management were remotely feasible, why would we want to encourage our boys in colossal, parti-colored, cape-swishing flights of fancy and our girls in the Protestant work ethic?
“Every woman was once a little girl. And every little girl holds in her heart her most precious dreams. She longs to be swept up into a romance, to play an irreplaceable role in a great adventure, to be the beauty of the story. Those desires are far more than child’s play. They are the secret to the feminine heart.”
But, contra John and Stasi Eldridge, the great adventures of my childhood had little to do with playing the “Beauty” of the story.
From when I was about eight, my brothers and sister and I would play a game in our backyard after school. It sprang out of nowhere, fully formed, and suddenly I was at the reins of a giant flying chariot, guiding our trusty pegasus, as Sir Ronan and Princess Ariana shot arrows at the bandits below. My brother was a knight, my sister was the princess, and I was the queen (I never needed another name).
I ruled a great forested kingdom constantly besieged by wild bandits, and frequently rode forth to do battle with them by the side of my trusted lieutenant, Sir Ronan. He had come to the castle after years of grim wandering, and any questions about his origin or former deeds met stony silence. He commanded a special garrison called the Eagle-Wing knights, who trained till I summoned them in the Eyrie, a castle atop a remote mountain in the north. They were sworn enemies with the Lizard Knights, dastardly renegades who often joined forces with the bandits.
I spent my time in statecraft, my flying chariot, and wrangles with my headstrong daughter, Princess Ariana (eternal apologies to my sister for bossiness). I wanted her to help me rule the kingdom; she wanted to become a magician-cum-healer, and was constantly climbing down the castle walls on her rope of unicorn hair in order to look for rare herbs in the forest. Once she was captured by bandits, and I went on a bit of a rampage until she was safely returned.
Younger siblings were allowed to be helpful blacksmith’s apprentices, elves, or friendly feral children raised by wolves.
Sir Ronan wore blue and black, I wore a dress of green velvet edged in gold, and Ariana wore red with silver sleeves. There was no pink, and nary a flounce in sight.
The crap sold to little girls is lousy not because it involves princesses, but because the princess industry depends on bending little girls’ imaginations into a very narrow and purely decorative channel. The problem isn’t that little girls want to be princesses, that their fantasies latch onto our set of cultural set of stories with women at the center. The problem is that the only princess available to them is Marie Antoinette.
If they’re given the space and freedom, little girls and boys will come up with much better games, much better roles, much better stories, than anything currently hawked by either Disney or Sesame Street.
Princesses, loosely defined