I just found this document in the cobwebbed shelves at the back of my laptop. (Virtual cobwebs, virtual shelves.) I apparently wrote it in March of 2010, which makes it nearly two years old. (I'm so desperate for content these days, I am posting two-year-old opinion pieces.)
I’ve always been one of Those mothers: the ones who took Women’s Studies in university, read “The Beauty Myth”, and took back the night, and then have a family of daughters who aren’t allowed to have Barbies.
Those Mothers, in case you haven’t met us personally, have also been known to ban Disney (harmful female role models) and use our bodies to block the magazine racks at the grocery checkouts so our cart-riding children can’t see this month’s Cosmo headline. (10 New Ways to Please a Man in Bed.)
Raising girls this way isn’t easy, but the payoff is that my oldest daughter, 8 years old, still loves her Playmobil and stuffed animals, and plays with her hobby horse every day. Other children her age have moved on to (and, in some cases, past) the eye-rolling, hair-tossing, boy-kissing, lip-gloss sucking world of Hannah Montana......while Charlotte is still a child.
Last week my husband called the kids from the family room to tell them Presto! was on TV – a Pixar short about a stage magician, his magic top hat, and the hungry rabbit inside it. It’s a hilarious film with a lot of visual laughs, and it can be hard to find, so the girls came running to see it. I heard Ian say to them, “They put Presto! on before Snow White.”
“Snow White?!” my daughter exclaimed, “Did you tape it for us?”
Ian said “Uh, yes, I did,” and glanced over to the doorway, where I was standing glaring at him (in an attractive, non-confrontational way, of course).
“Snow White, huh?” I said with my mouth, while my brain was yelling it’s violent! It’s scary! It victimises women, and vilifies them all at the same time! Snow White is a passive and gullible role model who needs to be rescued! All Disney movies encourage women to languish prettily while waiting patiently for a man to save them!
(See? Total abdication of female power.)
I looked over at my children, who were excited and happy, laughing at the Presto! rabbit's antics and settling in to the couch with blankets, getting ready to watch Snow White. My husband was sitting with them, remote in hand, saying “You guys are going to like the seven dwarves, they’re so funny.”
I realised something at that moment, while I was working up the courage to say yet another “No” to a misogynistic, commercialised mega-corporation, and force my family to turn off the TV.
My children have two parents.
I walked down the hall towards the kitchen, thinking. Maybe it’s okay, having laid groundwork – important groundwork, I feel – to let their Dad show them Snow White. Maybe it’ll be all right if he takes this other direction: a direction that I’ve never wanted to go.
As I plugged in the popcorn maker I thought, I can worry about the big issues – the undermining of the female role in our society, the future of my daughters’ self-esteem – tomorrow. Right now, their Dad can show them this classic Disney film, with a story they’ve read in books anyway, and they can all have a laugh at Dopey together.
Because successful parenting, at its most fundamental, is about balance. We’ve all heard “everything in moderation”, and it applies just as much to how we nourish our children’s minds and emotions, as it does to how we nourish their bodies. It’s just as dangerous to keep my children 100% sugar-free, as it would be to only feed them white bread and Nutella: there’s a ditch on both sides of this road.
My husband and I have different roles in this parenting adventure, just as we do in this marriage. And the best way to equip our daughters for the potholes ahead is to show them that there is a left and right, a feminine and masculine, a yin and a yang to everything. To help them to know how to steer around the obstacles of adolescence and adulthood without hugging one side of the track too closely, they need to see the give and take of different people compromising while loving each other.
I walked back to the family room, popcorn in hand, listening to my family laughing together. It’s been a long time since I watched television at all – even longer since I saw a Disney Princess movie. That evening I didn’t watch Snow White: I watched my children see something fun and funny, that they hadn’t seen before. I watched my daughters laugh at the dwarves and frown at the witch. I watched them have a wonderful time with their Mom and Dad.
And I’m pretty sure they’ll be okay.