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Figuring Out Feminism When You’re a Dad of Daughters

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As a dad of four daughters, I feel a little lost sometimes when I think about helping my girls navigate their way through this sometimes crazy world toward womanhood. Thankfully, I have the help of an amazing wife and mother to help me. But certain things still make me shutter at times. Between the peer pressure they face in the outside world, the body image and fashion expectations out there, and the fact that they face potential bullying and intimidation even at home through social media, it’s scary. Dads of young women have to weave a narrow path of the emotional changes our daughters go through as they reach puberty. We need support from every possible angle.

Just when I think there’s a major victory for girls in the media (in this case, Frozen, which we adored for all the values it promoted) there comes backlash to what I felt was a pro-feminist plot twist by an even more radical feminist point of view. I’m referring to Mayim Bialik’s recent blast against the movie in Kveller. I have to give a special nod to my fellow Babble blogger Joanne Mazewski for giving her own take as a mom on this a couple days ago.

The very same plot points that I thought were really empowering for my daughters are under attack in Bialik’s arguments.

Bialik asserts that Disney depicts Anna as a lovesick teenager, ready to take on the world and find her prince. She immediately falls in love with the first prince that she runs into and is ready to get married. For me, that somewhat typical, deliberately cliche through-line early in the film only made what followed that much more powerful, especially when I tried to watch through the eyes of my daughters. For me, the movie was centered around the secret kept by Elsa and how alienated it made her feel. From a messaging standpoint, I found it refreshing that Disney tackled this topic as there are so many kids that keep themselves locked up, for whatever reason. I want my daughters to be proud of who they are on the inside as well as the outside. They all have unique personalities and each special in their own way. I think Disney handled this very well.

Bialik’s other major beef was that in revealing that that same prince was in fact a “scheming villain,” it was equal to male bashing. From my perspective, this is not only one of the more important aspects of Frozen, but is also a subtle way of helping us dads fight a very real battle in the coming years. Teenage girls, like Anna, are easily duped and manipulated. How often do they fall in love and think they’ve met their prince? I know there are going to be many times when I dislike the guys my daughters fall in love with. Trying to convince a teenager that they’ve made the wrong choice is nearly impossible. At the least, Disney teaches a very valuable lesson to children and it comes from an old cliche: you can’t judge a book by its cover — even if it is dressed in the finest linens and is the 13th prince of the Southern Isles.

As a parent, I believe that my kids deserve the opportunity to be themselves and not hide behind falsehoods in order to fit into societal norms. I also know that the choices they face in their teenage and early adulthood years are very difficult, maybe for girls more than boys. They do have many battles to face ahead, and as Bialik rightfully points out, equal pay for equal work is still an argument we face today. From my point of view, the key messaging in Frozen helps build the foundation to face some of those challenges without fear.

The thing that gets me the most, though, is the message that the backlash ultimately sends to girls that may have loved and felt empowered by Frozen — as my girls certainly did. Is Bialik saying that their feelings are wrong? Bialik is someone we admire as a strong personality and role model both in her role on TV and on Kveller. While my daughters are not likely to read her column regularly like my wife does, it still bugs me — the sort of radical feminist-anti-feminist-did-you-actually-blindly-believe-that-Frozen-was-empowering brand of feminism. To me, in the end, her argument is a bit anti-little-girl. And if I had to make my own assertion, it would be that Bialik just can’t allow herself to like a mainstream kids movie.

I think it’s very easy to find fault in just about any book, movie, TV show, song, etc. Everything is open to interpretation, but our family, as well as millions of others, see the messages in Frozen as positive and educational vs. stereotypical. It’s up to us as parents to guide our children to see these messages and help them to understand what’s being communicated. So as Disney helps support my goals as a parent, I’ll be waiting at the door for the next prince to come knocking.

In the meantime, Mayim, what movies do you recommend for my four girls?

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