Thursday, 1 September 2011

Disney Princesses.

Having just read Peggy Orenstein's wonderful book, Cinderella Ate My Daughter, I've been thinking of the central role played by princesses in little girls' imaginations.

Now, I have no problems with princesses qua princesses.  Stories like Cinderella and Snow White provide a rich variety of imagery symbolic of the transition from childhood to adulthood.  I have a problem with extreme gender stereotypes masquerading as science, I have a problem with aggressive marketing to children, I have a problem with girls not being allowed to be anything BUT a princess, and I have a problem with Disney's blandification of classic fairy tales (see: The Little Mermaid - in the original, she loses the prince but gains a soul. Try finding THAT in the anorexic Ariel we're all familiar with).  But these are all for another time.

What's occurred to me is that you can find a few princesses in the Bible.  And we should make sure we stock little girls' imaginations with THESE characters as well as with Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, and Snow White.  Don't do it at the expense of the non-princess women - Sarah, Rachel, Leah, Rebecca, Miriam, Hannah, Deborah, Ruth, Mary, Elizabeth, Mary Magdalene, etc. - but there's no harm in throwing your little girls a crown or two among all the shawls and headscarves.

A couple words of warning:
1. Don't try to make ALL women princesses, by going all precious and saying, "but all girls are special princesses to God!"
2. Don't Google "Bible princesses," if you value your sanity, your eyeballs, or your faith in humanity.  Just don't.

Here are a few suggestions:

Do you teach the story of Moses in the bulrushes to your preschoolers?  Do you make a point out of mentioning Pharaoh's Daughter?  She was a princess - who, out of compassion, disobeyed her father's cruel edict and saved a life, treating the reviled foreigner's child as though it were her own.  That's not bad for a princess story.  When we acted this story out as part of our first summer programme, the girls loved making crowns and jewellery for Pharaoh's daughter to wear onstage - and loved acting out the scene where Miriam and Pharaoh's daughter conspire to save Moses's life.

What about Queen Esther?  The humble girl from nowhere marries Prince Charming, but the story is anything but happy ever after.  Instead, there are death threats, banquets, back-room scheming, a queen's bravery, and a happy ending.  Jenny Koralek's re-telling, with Grizelda Holderness' beautiful illustrations, is an excellent version of this story.

If you're brave enough to tell the story of the Coming Kingdom as part of your pre-school curriculum (we do), highlight the wedding imagery.  We, the people of God, are the princess, the beloved Bride of Christ, and the Kingdom of God is a marriage feast where we get to cast off our scullery maid clothes and put on beautiful white gowns, and which is the beginning of our happily ever after.

1 comment:

  1. Good points! I was struck by how quickly some girls in our church picked up on Pharoah's daughter being a princess, despite my not particularly stressing that part of the story. (This was in reading aloud a Bible-based storybook.)