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Snow White, as seen by Dina Goldstein

Snow White, as seen by Dina Goldstein

What parent has not worried about the impact of Disney’s princess marketing juggernaut on their young kids? It’s ubiquitous, poisonous and almost impossible to avoid.

Today, a good friend sent me this link to Fallen Princesses, a photo exhibit by Dina Goldstein. She is, apparently, a mom and a photographer, and these photos are her answer to the dark questions the Disney princesses stirred up when her three-year-old became besotted with them.

Because it was sent to me with no warning about what it was, I happened to look at it with my five-year-old daughter on my lap.

Let me tell you, we had some fascinating conversation about what those princesses in those pictures were doing. I was only a little dismayed when Rio cooed at Snow White, “Look, Mama, this is when she has babies! And a husband! And a dog!”

uh…yes. To her credit, a little later Rio looked more closely and said, “They do seem to have a lot of babies.”

After we’d looked at the whole series, Rio wanted to know what was going on with these princesses. Especially with Belle, who is depicted having plastic surgery.

“She’s having surgery on her face,” I said.

“Why?”

“To make her look like a princess,” I said. I did not want to be having this conversation. I don’t want my five-year-old to know about plastic surgery, or the desire to be someone else, or the beauty industry.

“Why would she do that?” This is one of those moments, I realized. One of the moments when my daughter asks me hard questions and I owe her real answers.

“She doesn’t know how beautiful she is,” I said. “She’s confused.”

And then I told her that real women sometimes have surgery on their faces to try to be prettier. That real women sometimes do all the things these princesses are doing – get sick, have babies that no one helps them care for, get sad, grow old and lonely.

Rio expressed the opinion that princesses are great, and she understands why any woman would want to look like one. On cross-examination, she agreed that I am beautiful, and don’t look like a princess. That’s because I’m not one, she explained.

“I wish I was a princess,” Rio said. “But I can’t do anything about that.”

“You are better than any princess to me,” I said.

“No, I’m not,” Rio said very matter-of-factly. “Princesses are better than me. Because they are prettier.”

um…

Deep breath. What to say? This is the textbook Disney-is-evil stuff I’ve read about but never expected to encounter in my own home. Lost, I repeated myself.

“You are better than any princess to me.”

“Even the world is not better than princesses,” Rio explained patiently, the way one talks to someone very slow. “Princesses are the best.”

After that she wanted to know if princesses are real. I showed her a picture of Princess Di, and talked about how hard her life was. Rio wanted to know if Real Princesses are real, and I assured her that all of Disney’s princesses are entirely fake.

I’ve always been a bit of an apologist for Disney. I don’t buy that stuff, obviously, and we don’t watch TV at home. But I haven’t worked to keep it away from my kids either.

Very early in my parenting, a mom I admired made a case for princess-worship as a little girl version of goddess worship, in which young kids deify images of beautiful, magically gifted, powerful young women. I liked that reading, and clung to it when my two-year-old became obsessed with the Little Mermaid.

Beyond the female divinity argument, I’m an avid fan of Bruno Bettelheim. I’m sure he wouldn’t defend Disney; they whitewash fairy tales in exactly the way he advises against. But I think one of his most basic points is that children experience stories differently than adults do. They are drawn into a story for reasons opaque to their parents, and are satisfied by elements that elude us. This should be obvious to anyone who has ever let their preschooler pick the story at bedtime and then been stuck reading a Clifford book aloud for the 37th time. So while the princess schwag looks appaling to me, I’ve rested happy in the knowledge that I am not the target audience, and can’t know what my kid is getting out of it.

Finally, like most of my peers I survived a childhood riddled with Barbie, GI Joe and Strawberry Shortcake, and still grew up to be a self-lovin’ hippy feminist. Rio will do just fine no matter what crappy gender stereotypes she plays with as a kid. By the time she’s old enough to read this, I’m sure the fact that she ever wanted to be a Disney princess will be an embarassing footnote on a glorious life as a self-possessed, beautiful, brilliant young person.

That said, hearing my own daughter (who, let’s face it, has had a pretty sheltered life when it comes to media) say that she thinks princesses are better than her because they are prettier cost Disney all their credit with me and then some. Rio will be fine, but they are not helping. They are hurting.

Why am I posting about this? It’s not because I’m all riled up about how Disney is undermining my daughter’s self-esteem. I do plan to write them a letter, which I expect them to ignore. Whatever.

I am posting about this because Rio asked me to. “Mama, can we put these on your website?” she said. She wanted everyone we know to see these princesses. Because, you may recall, princesses are The Best. I agree with her. I want everyone we know to see this – both the photos and the discussion they provoked – in the hopes that a few more of us will wake up and stop turning a blind eye to what Disney is doing to our girls.

And I thought I was having a rough day. Here’s a report on women parenting babies in prison.

The report looks at a number of different programs that allow mothers and babies to stay together while the women serve their prison sentences. Laying aside one’s feelings about the efficacy or ethics of locking people up for non-violent crimes, programs that allow moms and babies to stay together seem like a great step toward breaking the cycle of poverty-crime-prison that many of these babies are born into. That’s a boon not just to the individual mothers and babies, but to all of us.

I was upset by the general tone of commentary on Feministing’s post about this. A lot of people were critical of these programs because they saw them as inappropriately privileging mothers over women who don’t bear children but might have other worthwhile things to do with their lives. I get that, but I think it misses the point that these programs are at least as much about the babies as they are about the women.

Several people said that mothers have no special relationship to newborn infants, and that anyone can care for a newborn as well the biological mother can. I don’t think that even warrants a response, and were I to attempt one it would be in language too colorful for this blog.

What I did not see, and am interested in, is perspectives from women who’ve been in prison, or those whose mothers were. If you’ve had that experience, or been close to people having that experience, I’d love to hear your perspective in the comments.

Yesterday appears to have been National Missing Children’s Day.

You can read some exciting tips about keeping your children safe from abduction here. They include things like:

  • sneaking home and ringing your own doorbell to test your child and see if she will answer it (she should not, according to this article).
  • teaching your kid to hang up on people with “strange voices” on the phone.
  • avoiding walking past people on the street or riding in elevators with anyone who seems ““creepy” or “questionable”.

I think this is all great advice, because it’s widely known that the greatest risk to children comes from funny-looking strangers grabbing them off of sidewalks, out of public elevators, and through telephone lines. It’s also well-established that the best way to build a trusting, open relationship with your kids is to sneak up on them and administer surprise exams to see if they are following all your rules.

My personal favorite: “Anyone who wants to spend time with your kid or has an unnatural interest should give you a red flag!”

Seriously? Did you really print that out loud, New York Times?

I assure you, I often want to spend time with kids – my own and other people’s – and I have never yet been tempted to abduct or molest one. I think the odds are quite good I never will. I also think my mother has nothing but cookies and craft projects on her mind when she offers to babysit for the weekend, and that my friend who invites Rio to go visit her grown-up ballet class does so out of a love of little girls’ dreams.

As this wonderful comment points out, the vast majority of missing children are not victims of any crime (just lost), and the vast majority of crimes against children do not involve abduction.

Personally, I’m skipping the whole enchilada of fear and paranoia articles like this serve up. When I think about keeping my children safe, my focus is on teaching them the skills they need to be confident, independent people in the world, not on keeping them small and afraid.

My kids are small, and almost always with me. I haven’t broached the subject of stranger danger with them. I’ve been more focused on teaching them how to cross streets safely, and how to speak up for themselves.

What do you do to keep your children safe? And what are you working to keep them safe from?

I don’t actually have the answer to this question, sorry. I just want to talk about the media coverage of it, and how it seems to be on every parent’s mind.

Schools are being closed. People are being quarantined and advised not to travel to the Americas because of this. It’s front page news all over the world. The WHO is being very scary.

I am in no way equipped to guess how much of this is helpful and healthy precautions and how much of it is security theater, putting on a big show of disease prevention and wasting resources. Certainly the novelty plays a role. As this post from a friend points out, tens of thousands of Americans die of the plain old flu every year. We don’t get worldwide panic every November. Something special is going on here.

It could be that this new pathogen really has the potential to, as a friend of mine so adorably phrased it, “kill us all”. It could be that it’s a slow news week. Probably a bit of both. I was working in a newsroom when the Bird Flu was scaring everyone. Reporters and editors really did sit around trying to find ways to keep it on the front page, and essentially making up stories. Why? Because people expected us to, and our competitors were doing it. It was the hot topic of the week, and ignoring it would have been bad business.

Very briefly: I am not worried about Swine Flu bringing down the apocalypse, any more than I worry about meteors hitting the earth or nuclear war. Those things might happen. I’ll do what I can to prevent them, which is precious little. Being afraid will not serve anything, and I’m not inclined towards fearing invisible threats.

In all the press and panic about Swine Flu though, I did see one good idea that I think I’ll follow, which was to lay in a two-week emergency store of food, water, cooking gas, first aid supplies/family medicines, and batteries.

I don’t think for a second that my family will be trapped in our home for two weeks while everyone around us dies of a virulent flu, or that having a lot of bottled water in my basement would really help in that scenario. But we’ll probably lose power at some point. Our neighborhood might well be hit with a particularly violent winter storm, or the powerful leftovers of a hurricane. That earthquake Boston is 400 years overdue for could strike.

I expect the Swine Flu to go the way of Bird Flu and EEE and Mad Cow Disease; disappearing from the eye of the public mind almost as quickly as they entered. Hopefully I’ll take one useful thing from this round of media fear-mongering, which is to be a little more prepared for disaster, in whatever form it might take.

I am a little late to the party in blogging about this, but in case anyone missed it, Consumer Reports took a broad swing at attachment parents this week with an article entitled Five Products Not to Buy For Your Baby.

The article asserts that because there are no safety standards or good research studies on cosleepers or baby slings, one should avoid these products in favor of more traditional options.

I’ve never used a cosleeper, personally, so I can’t vouch for their safety. My babes just slept in my bed. Under a mountain of soft blankets. Yeah, I’m a safety rebel. They are happy healthy kids. There you go.

My baby sling remains the one prized baby item I’m not willing to pass on to friends or Goodwill. Probably my most joyful hours with my babies were spent wearing them in their little wrap carriers.

I feel sad that Consumer Reports biased article might dissuade some parents from experiencing the joy and ease I had as a new mom wearing my baby, and angry that it might impact some of the small businesses that make slings and wraps for babies. Apparently the author of the article is a dad himself, and professed shock at the uproar his article caused. Dude. You wrote an article called “Five Products Not To Buy For Your Baby” and included several popular items with nothing but hearsay and cultural bias to suggest they are unsafe. What did you think would happen?

I bet I’m not the only with an opinion. If you follow the link above, you can let them know how you feel, too.

The ALA has published their annual list of most challenged books for this year.

Sadly for me, Tango Makes Three still tops the list. We bough this book a few years ago on the strength of it’s being listed here, and it’s been a bedtime favorite ever since.

Somebody write a compelling, cute, offensive to closed-minded bigots children’s book again, please?

Via the inestimable Ms. R, from whom I get much of my wacky parenting news: this story from the NYT tells about foreign parents losing their American-born children when they’re arrested for immigration violations.

Much of the article focuses on a woman who was arrested when her son was 6 months old. During her incarceration by the feds awaiting deportation, a state judge gave her now-two-year-old child away for adoption.

The article subtly displays the inherent racism and class prejudice of the case: a poor Latina woman gets inadequate legal representation and resources, and her child is adopted out to an upper-middle-class American family. The judge who gave her child away says, ““Her lifestyle, that of smuggling herself into the country illegally and committing crimes in this country, is not a lifestyle that can provide stability for a child.”

The message: being American is better than anything else, and to truly be American you must perform middle-class values.

It might be argued that the judge is right; the adopting couple can offer this little boy a “better” life than his biological mother. To believe that, you have to buy into the notion that middle-class is “better” than poor and a life here is “better” than a life in Guatemala. Ms. Bail, the boys mother, clearly does not. “My parents were poor, and they never gave me to anyone,” Ms. Bail recalled. “I was not going to give my son to anyone either.”

Of course the things the judge wants for Ms. Bail’s son – stability, an education, a “good” home – are the things I want for my kids. In a perfect all children would be awarded an equal measure of love, education, and a happy home life. Quite possibly this judge’s decision gives the kid a statistically higher chance at getting the things many people want: a long healthy life, a college education, safety from violence and crime, etc.

I don’t think it’s right though, for the judge to simply reassign the kid to a “better” family. Bail is not accused of doing anything wrong as a mother; she’s accused of being in this country illegally, where she was working at a factory. One might even imagine that she risked her own life and left her home to come here and work in the hope of giving her own children a better future. It’s shocking to me that her parental rights were even on the table as a possible loss in these circumstances. We don’t normally empower our legal officials to go around scooping up children who are in adequate-but-poor homes and farming them out to richer families. This woman is being victimized because she’s not an American citizen.

Of course, the tragedy has already occurred. The kid is living now with his adoptive parents, the only family he’s ever known. It really would be wrong to wrench him from that home to deport him alongside his mother to a country who’s language he does not speak with a woman he does not know to parent him.

I’d like to hope the attention this case has gotten will spark some reform within the immigration system, to prevent future incidents. But I don’t imagine it will. It’s just another friendly reminder from the press that racism and classism are alive and well within our borders.

This is definitely my favorite television commercial of all time. It’s also a genuinely moving birth video. Enjoy!

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Flickr Photos

A little bird told me…

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