From very early on, you could tell that my daughter was an out-and-proud feminist.
She was constantly asking, “Why?” Why can boys do that and I can’t? Why do they call that a boys’ toy? Why aren’t there any girls in this baseball team? Why haven’t there been any lady presidents?
My wife and I didn’t even have the feminist “indoctrination” that some of our relatives assumed we’d performed on our daughter. She didn’t need any coaching or political brainwashing. Right out of the gate, she was a defiant little girl-power warrior and, frankly, we couldn’t have been happier about it.
Which is why it was a bit of a surprise when — at the age of 4 — she asked me to take her to a princess breakfast.
Princesses? Really?! I had not expected that.
We were headed to Florida to visit family and we had one day where my daughter and I had been given free passes to a Disney park of our choosing. So I started to break down our options for our daughter and, to my surprise, she quickly settled on EPCOT.
“But why EPCOT?” I asked.
“I want to meet characters, Dad. That’s all I want to do.”
We’d heard from a friend that EPCOT had the most opportunities for kids to interact with the various Disney characters roaming the parks, and that, more than anything else, attracted my daughter’s interest. As she looked over my shoulder at the EPCOT website, she saw mention of the Princess Breakfast at the Akershus Royal Banquet Hall.
“DAD,” she said. “We have to do that.”
Once again, I asked, “Why?”
Her response, “I think meeting princesses would be GREAT.”
She had no other explanation to offer. Just that she was very, very intrigued at the thought of meeting princesses. (It was also pretty ironic that, while we had this discussion, she was wearing her favorite Blondie T-shirt.)
My wife and I had a quick debate about her decision. In many movies, toys, and books, princesses are portrayed as image-obsessed girls looking for a man to save them. (Thankfully, there are many more positive princess characters in modern pop culture than when I was a kid.) Our daughter had never been into makeup or faux jewelry or being rescued before. Were princesses going to turn her into a damsel in distress?
In the end, we decided,“Why not?” Our kid had a good head on her shoulders and we could always talk about any mixed messages she’d encounter at the breakfast. We also decided that, if we were doing this, we weren’t going to approach it cynically. We were going to embrace the experience and leave our sense of irony at home. So, we booked our tickets, my daughter picked out the dress she wanted to wear (red flag?), and we went to our first Princess Breakfast.
Guess what? Meeting princesses was GREAT.
Here’s why — one of my favorite things about my daughter is her sense of imaginative play. When she was younger, she would go into her playroom and spend HOURS creating worlds, relationships, and complex storylines between her favorite toys. A Spider-Man figure became an evil scientist. A cardboard box became a castle. As I watched her imagination run wild, I could see her developing really important life skills — visualization, empathy, storytelling, reasoning — just by allowing herself to have fun and play.
The Princess Breakfast was just an extension of her imaginative play scenarios. Now there we were — standing in a real ballroom, being introduced to real princesses. And, even if they weren’t technically “real,” they were certainly dressed for the part and game to play.
And how was that any different than all the times I’d throw on an eyepatch and pretend to be a pirate at home? These princesses were all there to play with her, to help her imagine a fantastic world where a kid and her dad could go have a casual meal with a former mermaid or a woman with a fairy godmother.
There was nothing anti-feminist about these princesses. They weren’t trying to convince my daughter to be prim, proper, and passive. They were active. They were there to imagine with her, to role-play, to encourage her creativity on a kind of massive canvas that my daughter had never gotten to play with before. She now had real women wanting to play with her and dressing up to play a role in her stories. It was wonderful.
At the breakfast, the princesses would move from table to table, making sure that each and every kid got some face-time. As every princess introduced herself to my awed daughter, they’d coax her into conversation. They’d learn about her, offer more details of their back stories, and encourage her to get swept up in the fantasy with them. They were playing with her, which was incredibly endearing to watch.
When we finally met Ariel, my daughter started telling her all about the “alternate ending” that my wife had created to The Little Mermaid storybook we had at home — an ending where Ariel delays marrying Prince Eric so she can go to school and become a doctor. Ariel, bless her heart, completely rolled with it, telling my daughter how much she valued education and never once contradicting my wife’s story.
As we left the Princess Breakfast, my daughter suddenly broke away from me and ran into a crowd. I quickly caught up, finding her talking to Mulan, who’d kneeled down to my daughter’s level. They were singing to each other. Apparently, apropos of nothing, my kid had ran up and started singing “Reflection” from Mulan to her. Mulan, to her great credit, started singing back and, in the middle of this packed, humid theme park, she and my daughter were performing a duet. It was a lovely, intimate moment — as if the whole world had stopped just for them. When they finished, a few people around us applauded while Mulan spoke to my daughter like an old friend.
While sometimes princesses can be tricky role models, getting to meet real women playing real princesses ended up being a hugely positive experience for my young daughter — my daughter who was always asking why girls were being treated differently than boys. Because she didn’t see divas when she met those princesses. All she encountered were engaged, empathetic women — women who commanded the attention of the room — women who actively wanted to interact and imagine with her.
How is that not feminist?
So, if you’re not a fan of princesses (and I definitely wasn’t), try meeting one in person with an open-minded, wide-eyed kid sometime. It might just change your mind.More On