A few weeks ago I told you about The Boy aka The 8 year old, and said I would induct you into the mysteries of The Girl aka The 5 year old aka The Nutter formerly known as The 4 year old.
Blimey Charlie, where do I start with that one?
Let's kick off with her birth. Her 43 minute advance notice of impending arrival that culminated with a naked me lying on the bathroom floor telling a paramedic to 'Stop fucking shouting at me! You're not helping!' as The Girl made her debut, umbilical cord wrapped around her neck, blue, floppy, unresponsive. The first words she heard were 'Oh, bollocks. Breathe! Come on, breathe.', before she and I were whisked off in the ambulance, siren wailing, blue lights flashing, to be pronounced healthy and normal at the hospital.
Despite the drama, for the first twelve months of her life, she was a quiet, content little being with straight black hair. And then, shortly after her first birthday, something happened. Her hair lightened and became a mass of golden ringlets. And The Voice arrived. The Voice. I thought I had a set of lungs on me. Oh dearie me, The Voice. Accompanied by the force of nature that is The Girl's personality.
Determined. Forceful. Driven. Focussed. Bonkers. I can remember her, aged 13 months, crawling across the living room floor, intent on some prize she had spotted on top of the bookcase. She couldn't quite reach it, but if she pulled all the books down upon her head in an avalanche of hardbacks, sending her flying back several feet, she would win.So she did this, then cackled delightedly when she achieved her aim, despite the various flesh wounds she'd sustained in the process.
My initial alarm at just how much of a toughie she was eventually developed into a rueful pride – 'She's definitely not going to be a girly girl' I'd tell people 'Oh, no, she'll be an utter tomboy.' I fondly imagined her as the Jackie Fleming tomboy – big blue eyes, blonde curls, pretty dress, kickarse boots, attitude in spades.
Which rather neatly proves the first rule of parenting: You will always be wrong. Even when you're right, you will be wrong.
Because around the age of three, The Girl met the concept of Disney Princesses, which fairly neatly sum up everything I hate. Helpless femininity. Beauty valued over ability. Only ever being validated by a man. Blech. I'd tried, as much as is possible, to keep this world of pink glitter a secret from The Girl, happily encouraging her to play with Lego, cars, and some dolls that I felt weren't too rancid in their presentation. I read her stories about girls who didn't sit around waiting to be rescued but sorted the world out themselves, and encouraged her to believe she could be the same (I needn't have worried on that score. She has the confidence of a battleship, so much so that she frequently tells me 'No, don't need your help. I can sort mine own problems out.'). But at some point a family member (I know who you are. I am biding my time before I come after you. Be afraid) bought her a DVD of some frothy, crappy Disney Princess film. And a Disney Princess dress. And some Disney Princess books. And a Disney Princess cup. And told The Girl 'You are a beautiful princess! Yes you are! A PRINCESS! A BEAUTIFUL PRINCESS!' And thus set in motion the second rule of parenting: Disney Princess tat is more addictive than crack.
I am not exaggerating. Our house teeters on the verge of a tidal wave of plastic tat. Some of it related to The Boy (Lego, Star Wars figures, Moshi Monsters). But the majority is pink, emblazoned with the hideous caricatures of female 'beauty' as represented by the breed of Disney Princess – eyes that take up at least half their face, teeny tiny nose, wide mouth surrounded by full pink lips, long tumbling hair, slim to the point of anorexia with waists so improbably small that they would surely snap if their owner were to do anything more strenuous than blink and smile vacantly. And of course, the Disney Princess pose. Stand, facing forwards. Extend your upper arms 45 degrees from your body. Bend your arms 45 degrees upwards at the elbow. Then bend your wrists 90 degrees, exposing the palms of your hands. Congratulations! You are now the embodiment of
evil helpless, innocent, female grace,
charm and beauty.
The outwardly benign, inwardly malignant gaze of the whole bloody raft of Disney Princesses gazes at me from every corner, making me seethe inwardly and want to say 'The Girl! I am not raising you to believe that love's true kiss will make the world a perfect place! Stop believing in this shite!' Of course I don't say that (not least because I'm sweary enough as it is, without actively cursing at my offspring). My general parenting ethos is to let my kids be themselves. Obviously, I steer them, encourage them, support them, but mostly, I tell them I love them and let them choose for themselves. But in this, I'm very aware that I feel like I'm betraying my own beliefs and feminism. It doesn't sit well with me when family and friends ask what the girl wants for birthdays and Christmas and I, torn between honesty and my own ulterior motives, always sigh 'Oh, just more Disney Princess bollocks.' Yes, it's what she wants, and it makes her happy, but her simulated gasps of 'Oh! It's just so adorable!' make me dry retch a little and wonder if this is just a phase or if it signals something more sinister about the type of women we're teaching our daughters to be. I disapprove of it so inherently, yet I allow it, intolerantly. In my wilder fantasies, I allow myself the luxury of picturing a Disney Princess free house, a vast conflagration of pink plastic burning merrily in the garden whilst I gloatingly look on. I'd never do it of course, it's too Victorian Dad to deprive your child of something they love so much. And yet...
There are encouraging signs. The Boy is starting to recognise The Girl as a playmate and ally in his mission to convert the world to the cult of Jedi, and cajoles her to play with him with the suggestion 'Girl! Girl! You can be Princess Leia! She has a blaster pistol!'. And then of course I wonder why I'm happy to see her join in with The Boy playing with guns (surely just as bad as the vapidity of Disney Princesses), when I'm trying to get her to reject another traditionally gender specific method of playing.
And the only weaselly answer I can come up with is attitude. Yes, Princess Leia gets rescued by male heroes. But she also kicks arse, shoots her way out of trouble, and answers back. She fights for a cause, doesn't give in and when Han Solo is frozen in carbon she goes in to rescue him on her own. THAT is the type of princess I want the girl to aspire to being like. If you have any tips on how to achieve this, please let me know. I am getting to my witless end.