I’ll cop to it and proudly: In today’s polarized society where politics seem to have way too much influence on friendships and times are changing whether some like it or not, I am a feminist. A loud, proud, you-know-what-kind-of-hat-wearing feminist.
I am also the mama of a 2-year-old girl with another little girl on the way, the daughter of a woman who was both a working woman and a domestic goddess, and I’m married to the son of a single mother. Feminism is important to me.
In college I was a cheerleader and our squad was aligned with the campus’s Feminist Action Committee. We performed at functions in support of women’s rights and volunteered for various feminist causes with impacts both local and global. I was always aware of the fact that eyebrows were raised at our short skirts and feminist proclivities, but I knew the two weren’t mutually exclusive and we just did our thing. I knew I was a “real” feminist and I am now, too.
I am also someone who recognizes that today’s feminist culture is severely flawed. In fighting so hard for women’s rights we are forgetting femininity. There is nothing bad or antifeminist about cheerleaders, princesses, or lipstick. But I keep sensing an attitude applied to those of us who embrace “girly” things or uphold what are considered “traditional” gender stereotypes. And it isn’t cool.
As a stay-at-home-mom, I’ve been verbally bullied out of conversations among fellow feminists because I, in their words, “can’t be supporting the cause of progression for women if I’m home with my children wasting a college degree.” True feminism supports all choices and the opportunity for choice itself, but when you get a group sitting around a coffee shop table or (worse) commenting on a Facebook thread, elitism shows up quickly. It often starts with princesses.
Women in these groups I’m in have mentioned countless times that it makes their skin crawl to see their daughters develop an affinity for princesses. “I want her to have real role models!” they’ll lament, and I’m over here scratching my head. Yes, the famous princesses of our day were pretty pathetic. The plot of basically every movie I watched as a child led to the ultimate goal of marriage. Blech. But today’s princesses are different!
The movies and TV shows these kids (not just girls) are watching today feature strong female leads. Yes, my daughter decorates herself in countless bows and bracelets daily, but she wears them while shouting, “Mommy, run!” and acting out scenes from Sofia the First. An 8-year-old protagonist running down dragons, returning lost souls to their families, and saving her kingdom from outside evils? That’s a princess I’d think any feminist would love.
Still, many of the people in my feminist circles are staunchly anti-princess. They express upset and even outrage over these characters as if an affinity for them is going to turn their daughters into vapid, superficial anti-feminists. If we instill that mentality in our girls now, we’re lining them up to do the same to each other later — to judge or exclude people based on appearances or interests, rather than giving everyone a fair shot.
I’ll be the first to say that my daughters need role models who take on challenges. And I don’t want everyone to look the same. Way more important to me than how these women decorate themselves or don’t is the fact that they need to be of different colors, shapes, sizes, and backgrounds. We read stories with strong female leaders from all around the world.
Growing up, I read everything I could get my hands on that had a strong female lead. I wrote letters to female politicians and figure skaters alike. I daydreamed about what kind of woman I wanted to be one day — a writer, but also a doer. Someone who gives back. I have never faltered in my feminism, and with time and education I have learned to be better at it. I have a long way to go.
But I’ve also never apologized for wearing makeup and dresses and I certainly won’t start now. And I won’t take my daughter’s princesses away. She isn’t learning from them how to look pretty or find a man. She’s being modeled strength, resilience, and a fearlessness I almost wish would slow down. (“Mommy, watch this!” is usually followed by a jump off something way too high for my comfort!).
Girls need all different role models. I will always expose mine to characters and concepts on top of the princesses my oldest loves so dearly now. We play with everything from tool boxes and trains to baby dolls and fake makeup. “Gendered” toys are not a thing in this house. But if we want to raise strong women, we need to start by respecting our girls. I’m not saying princesses are the favorite for everyone, but if she (or he!) loves them, why take them away?
I do not want our world to look the way it does now when my kids are my age. I pray that 83 cents on the dollar will be a thing of the past. That rape culture goes extinct. That everyone knows it is not okay to touch someone’s body or mess with someone’s rights, no matter what sex either person is.
Part of getting there is to unify and celebrate each other for our differences and to expose our daughters to strong women of all kinds. That’s the only way they’re going to decide what type of role models they’d like to be some day, and believe me, we’re going to need them all.