Came across this wonderful book by Susannah McFarlane, while browsing (online) my local library’s bookshelves. It is a modern take on fairy tales, and I was blown away by it.
What if Rapunzel wasn’t a poor, helpless princess with her beautiful long hair as her only redeeming factor? What did she do all day in that tall tower of hers (Hint: very interesting stuff)? What if prince what’s-his-name wasn’t her savior but her companion? What if Cinderella put up with her evil stepmother for the sake of kindness and she went to the ball just for the experience of it rather than making the prince her mission? The book explores and wonderfully illustrates (figuratively, but also literally- the illustrations in the book are superb!) these ideas and more!
I have always had this contentious relationship with fairy tales – leading ladies with big eyes and beautiful shiny hair and no personality, them being so dependent on the prince marrying them, them forgiving the most horrendous things done to them because that’s what good girls are supposed to do, aaargh! I mean, I love Hans Christian Anderson and the Grimm brothers for their rich imagination, but the fact remains that their stories were regressive and borderline offensive. But they were men of an age that didn’t know better. We do, though, or at least are supposed to, so it’s beyond my imagination why we continue those tropes and that silliness. Over decades, the popularity of these princesses (I don’t even know why Disney calls them princesses. Other than Snow White and Elsa, and may be a couple more, they are all simple girls who end up marrying princes – and that’s also the only thing they really do), especially enabled by the blatant consumerism propagated by Disney (ohhh the staggering craze of the all the merchandise! but that’s a topic for another day), has grown by leaps and bounds. So much so that all the girls and their parents are obsessed with them.
Which brings me to the other topic I wanted to talk about! Over almost the last 7 years as a parent, I cannot tell you how many times I have cringed at people asking me how my “princess” was. Of course, let me preface this by saying that I don’t have anything against princesses or people who think/consider/treat/expect their daughters to be princesses – to each their own. But in my case particularly, I find the usage of the term ridiculous. My daughter is not a princess! Aside from the plain and simple fact that we are not royalty, we also have no interest in treating our daughter like one – with all the bells and whistles that come with it, including “fulfilling her every wish”! I am actually a bit horrified to think of the entitlement that comes from always getting whatever you ask for, even when you have enough money to spare. As someone from a very middle class family with no family money and no connections to fall back on, I have grown up with values like independence, not taking things for granted , staying grounded despite small successes, and making the best of whatever one has. And I’d like my daughter to grow up with similar values! Although I won’t lie – I would want her to be slightly less emotionally conservative and much more fearless. Yes, the middle class has its own set of problems: the constant, suffocating fear of taking risks and the tendency to stay “on the safe side”, for example. But spoiling her like a princess won’t remedy that. Instead, we will always let her know that even though we won’t build the staircase for her, we’ll have her back anytime she misses her step on the ladder she builds herself!