Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Shades of Dr. Laura

"Oh! How cute! You're Snow White!" I exclaimed over the blue-and-yellow clad curly-topped moppet standing in front of me. Her face was sticky with orange lollipop, but she beamed, suitably princess-like, as I oohed and ahhed over her costume.

By some vast cosmic glitch, I was scheduled to work Halloween tonight, and the mall in which I work promotes safe celebration of the holiday by offering candy to all the little tykes who come trekking by in costume begging for their requisite "tricks-or-treat." So there I stood, behind my counter in the retail store in which I work, while throngs of children clambered in, eager for sugar. Little boys streamed in dressed as Batman, Spiderman, Buzz Lightyear, and all sorts of other heroic characters who embark on deeds of daring and have hair-raising adventures.

As the night wore on, however, I began to notice that approximately eighty percent of the little girls who came into the store were dressed as either brides or Disney princesses. While I am as much of a princess fan as the next girl--my dorm room is even papered in pink Disney-princess posters--and I hope to be a bride someday as well, I couldn't help but muse as to what this stark contrast between the little boys and girls' choice in costumes says about the current state of society.

For as much as we, as a nation, claim to have produced several generations of independent, bright, motivated, "free-thinking" women, to have successfully defied traditional gender roles and done away with the atrocity of sex-based discrimination--we still fundamentally subvert our own best intentions by weaning our daughters on pink, frilly, unrealistic fantasies.

Don't get me wrong. I don't consider myself a rabid feminist. Marriage, and motherhood, are incredible callings for those to whom that grace has been given. There is certainly nothing wrong with a little girl aspiring to such a vocation. However, we have fundamentally and tragically, I think, etched into the minds of our children that boys have superpowers and fight crime while girls sit around having tea parties and being generally bored for about twenty years until Prince Charming comes along and rescues her from her own meaningless existence. We might as well be telling our daughters that life begins at marriage, because that's the message they're getting when we plunk them in front of Cinderella at age 5 and in front of standard-issue chick-flicks at age 15. And then we have the reprehensible naivete to wonder why our little girls wind up with such low self-esteem, why they have learned to define their identity solely by what man's elbow they're hanging upon this week, why they're having premarital sex at younger and younger ages out of a desperate desire to feel loved and appreciated.

We do a far better job of instilling a sense of independence and self-reliance in our boys, and it's time we did our little girls a favor and let them know that they don't have to be a bride or a Disney princess to have human dignity and worth, that singleness is a richly fulfilling vocation as well, and a vocation to which all of us, at least at some period of our lives, are called. They need to be taught that marriage isn't the sole purpose and end of a girl's life, but rather a happy and lovely part of some girls' lives. They need to be given genuinely courageous female role models, instead of learning to idolize Cinderella for getting the guy and Barbie for having an impossibly small waist.

Let's start teaching our little girls that life is about more than Prince Charming, that marriage is a mutual partnership intended for the spiritual good of both parties, and not a magical solution to life's problems. So, to every little girl who came in today dressed as Sleeping Beauty: you, too, can be a superhero...ine. Even without a sidekick.