Little girls these days appear to go through a Princess phase. This confounds me. Disney’s Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty were around when I was growing up – in fact, Cinderella was already getting a bit long in the tooth – but their existence didn’t prompt me to demand tiaras and dress entirely in pink tulle. I didn’t clamor for a Princess costume at Halloween – although admittedly this was because there was a two costume rule in our house. There was a cocker spaniel costume and a wizard costume. One year I was the cocker spaniel and Peter was the wizard, the next year he donned the floppy ears and I put on the peaked cap spangled with silver stars. We didn’t care. It was not about the costume. It was about the candy.
My mother didn’t allow me to have a Barbie doll. She didn’t think it was age-appropriate. Not that I actually wanted a Barbie doll. I’d seen one too many of the headless version, scattered, half naked and abandoned, on lawns and playgrounds. It was a sorry fate. Nor did I like to play at being a teenager, which is what playing with Barbie is. I didn’t want to be a teenager, even when I was one. I wanted to be a kid — to play kickball and bury small dead woodland creatures in our makeshift graveyard and hang out with puppies. I wanted to do things that involved getting dirty and tulle is notoriously hard to clean, especially if it has sparkles. When, aged twelve, I had to shave my legs for the first time in order to wear the nylon stockings mandated by Mrs. English Bagby’s Social Dance class, I wept.
I did have a few dolls growing up. I had a knock-off Betsy Wetsy doll. It operated on the same principle as a Mister Coffee Machine. You poured water in; she peed water out. The novelty wore off quickly. My aunt and uncle gave me a Chatty Cathy doll one Christmas. When you yanked on her draw string, she said random anodyne things like, ‘I love you’, ‘Please brush my hair’, and ‘I’m so sleepy.’ She was an engineering marvel, but kind of a drip. For the most part, my dolls were relegated to serving as hostages in various war and pirate games, a role to which they seemed ideally suited, being so entirely passive.
Some perfectly reasonable women I know are all about the pink. Pink this. Pink that. I cannot help but be suspicious of this. My favorite color is green. That’s because Scarlett O’Hara’s favorite color was green. (I didn’t say it was a good reason.) I don’t even look particularly good in green. But at least it’s not pink.
On the continuum that begins with hyper-girlie and ends with Lesbian super athlete, I fall somewhere between tomboy and Capable Woman on Mars. I like hunting dogs (though not hunting), I can pee in the woods with what can only be described as aplomb and I’ve even been known to don a pair of overalls, crack open a copy of Car Mechanics for Dummies, hoist the hood and stare at the engine of a car, although, admittedly, said activity has never resulted in any really good thing happening vis a vis the car.
I used to wonder why I was this way. Then it struck me. That’s how Mom was.
My mother could do anything. Truly. She threw pots and she wove cloth. She made baskets and she sewed a fine seam – the woman could tailor men’s pants, for Pete’s sake! She refinished furniture and built shelves and sanded floors and hung wallpaper and got up on tall ladders to paint the second story of our house in West Lafayette. She installed garborators and wired lamps and caned chairs. And that when she was not being a fine actress and an extremely popular university professor! If you could choose somebody to be marooned on a desert island with, you would want Martha Nell Hardy . . . because she would build you a hut with a roof woven from palm fronds and figure out how to make fire and fabricate fish hooks out of flotsam and jetsam. She would have aced Survivor and lucky you would have come along for the ride – all of us did. I am nowhere close to being as capable as my mother. I don’t think anybody is. However, I do have her can-do attitude if not her actual can-do. And, let me tell you, you can’t do any of that shit in a tiara.
So my advice to parents of young girls is this: unless there has been a wide ranging genetic mutation in the last quarter century, your daughter’s Princess phase is due to nurture, not nature. Don’t indulge it and it will go away. I am blessed with four beautiful, powerful adult daughters (five, counting my spectacular daughter in law) and, I have to tell you, there are some goddesses among them, but not a single Princess. And I like it that way.