A point-counterpoint discussion between Patrick Malone of SIECUS and Martha Kempner, Rewire.
Patrick’s Point: You Can Control Your Daughter’s Pretty Princess Exposure
In case you have been living under a rock on Mars and haven’t heard, the royal wedding is upon us and, with it, one of the largest media circuses to surround a non-event in a generation. The last royal wedding, which took place 30 years ago, resulted in divorce, heartbreak, controversy, and more TV movies than you can shake a stick at. But, come hell or high water, the American public is committed once again to following every detail of the upcoming nuptials, despite the fact that opposition to monarchical rule, specifically rule by this monarchy, is one of the founding ideals of our nation.
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Fine. Whatever. There are a lot stupider things that people watch on television, and adults are allowed to pitter away their time on such frivolities as the Kardashian sisters, giant inedible cakes, or even this wedding. Adults are going to do what adults are going to do. But, I ask you this, Martha: are you really going to watch this with your four-year-old daughter?
Over the many years that I have known you, Martha, I have often heard you talk about the challenge of trying not to force Charlie (your daughter) into traditional gender roles and stereotypes, and even listened to the ongoing lament you expressed when, despite your best efforts, she entered into the dreaded “princess phase” that seems to be so common among little girls right now. But despite your conscientious efforts to keep too much pink out of your house, well-meaning family members, friends, and gift bags from birthday parties have created a glut of tiaras that could choke a mouse turned into a horse.
But here, finally, is something you can control. You and I both know that the narrative of this wedding is going to focus on how magical the day is and what a fairy tale story it is that this prince picked a commoner to be his princess. This sends all sorts of wrong message to little girls about what fate holds in store for them, that their value is determined by a man “picking” them, and that being a preening, puffy, perfect, princess is the ideal for girls. Pardon my ineloquence, but barf. Little girls are so exposed to these potentially harmful messages outside the walls of their homes that they don’t need more of it inside.
If you are truly committed to helping your daughter shape her own identity in these critical years, as I know you are, take this opportunity to take control of your own fate, and watch the wedding on your TiVo after Charlie goes to sleep. She’ll be able to catch reruns of it when the divorce happens.
Martha’s Counter-Point: A Little Princess-time With Mommy Can’t Hurt
What can I say Patrick, you’re right. The media frenzy around this wedding is ridiculous. It absolutely perpetuates every stereotype that I have tried to keep away from Charlie and may usher in a princess phase that is far worse than the Disney-mandated one that she seems finally to be growing out of. And yet, not only am I going to watch it with her, I’m keeping her home from school and making a special day of it. (Nobody yell, it’s preschool, also known as daycare, she won’t be missing any SAT prep.)
Here’s the thing; I think it’s going to be fun. There’s pomp. There’s circumstance. There’s a gold stage coach, a palace, a big sapphire ring, funny hats, and really, really fancy dresses. And I think she’s going to love it. We talk about weddings a lot in this house. (The current plan by the way is for her to marry Juliette, her baby sister, so we can all live together forever.)
So I’m going to put my ideology aside for the day and have some fun with it. Her friend Molly and her mother are coming over. My mother is going to sleep over so she’ll be here first thing in the morning. Maybe we will eat scones with clotted cream. Perhaps we’ll drink tea out of dainty china cups and hold our pinkies up.
Will it have any educational value? No. Will watching it help impart the values that I ultimately want Charlie to have? No. Will it hurt? I don’t think so.
I remember watching Charles and Diana get married. I was 8. It was before we had cable. The only TV in the house was a 13-inch Sony Trinitron with a dial and rabbit ears in my parent’s room. They were away, and my aunt, my sister, and I camped out on their bed early in the morning to see the big event. I remember the dress, I remember the horse-drawn carriage, and I remember waiting for them to come out and kiss on the balcony. (I also remember, years later, sitting in a doctor’s waiting room reading one of the first articles about discontent in their marriage and feeling sad for them, but that’s another story.)
My point here is this: I remember it and it didn’t ruin me. I did not come away thinking that the most important thing I could be was pretty. I did not come away thinking that the most important thing I could do was to marry well. I did not spend my adolescence and young adulthood waiting around for a prince to find me. And I did not come away with the belief that my wedding day was going to be the most important day of my life. Sure I invested too much money on Silver City Pink lipstick, wasted too much time on trying to get my feathered bangs to stand up just right (it was the 80’s), and spent too many nights waiting by the phone for some boy to call– but that’s just part of growing up. I also did well in school, got into a good college, graduate Phi Beta Kappa, and carved out a pretty interesting career. And, when it came time for my own wedding, Woodie and I looked at it as a good excuse to get all of the people we loved together for a whole weekend and have a lot of fun.
Patrick, you’re right that I am in complete control of whether or not Charlie knows anything about this wedding. She is not even of the age yet where she would have heard about it and asked to watch it. I could keep this media spectacle away from her (and trust me if there were a Kardashian involved I would).
I realize that having opened this particular can of worms, I may have to redouble my efforts to undo themes of princess-hood and wedding spectaculars. I might point out that this particular prince and princess met in college where they were both getting a good education. Maybe I will note that they dated for over eight years before they decided to get married (which just might counter some of Disney’s penchant for love-at-first-sight, wedding two-frames later). I may even say that she had a career before getting married (I know, I know it was in fashion) and that after she becomes the princess she will likely work with many charities and call light to important issues much like Princess Diana did. Or not.
Mostly I will just have to trust that the last 4 and the next 14 years of living in my house and learning my values will be enough to counter one day of pomp, circumstance, and media silliness.