Monday, October 1, 2007

Rasta and Cinderella

This weekend Cinderella stormed our household like a Chechen terrorist. I took my daughter to a birthday party for a friend of hers, another little girl. One of the party favors was a little purple plastic watch. The party was at one of those jumping warehouses where children disappear into big inflatable tents with slides and bumpers and emerge yelling and giggling and tired. My little girl disappeared and somewhere along the line arranged for someone to put this purple watch on her wrist. She came running out, “Daddy, Daddy look at my watch!!” Then, with all the cutsie of an already cute 3 year old she cocked her head with her chin on her shoulder and slyly asked, “Do yooooou know what time it is?”

My heart was bursting the way only parents’ hearts burst. I said, “Nooooo, what time is it?” Then she ran up and said, look, its seventeen o’clock.” When I looked, Cinderalla jumped off the watch face and slapped me in my eye. I felt like a conservative middle aged white woman must feel if Rza from the Wu-Tang Clan suddenly jumped in her window while she was eating dinner. I smiled – deflated. “Nice, but I think it is 12:30.”

I cannot stand the blistering intensity with which the images of these white princesses are pushed upon everyone. Seeing Cinderella on my girl’s wrist was like poison. I call my daughter Rasta. “Rasta, who loves you?” “Daddy does,” she answers. Behind that, in my mind, are the images of strength and beauty and grace and femininity that are embodied by Rastafarian women in particular and black women in general. There could be nothing more antithetical to that image and my image of my little girl than Cinderella and her crew. More broadly, it really upsets me and simply hurts that the images of white girls, royalty and beauty are all inextricably bound together and injected into all little girls heads. My wife and I feel like guards protecting the clean and impressionable space in her psyche from that biased and exclusive imagery. For the little while that it lasted, it burned me that Cinderella was marching around on my girl’s wrist.

Needless to say, the watch came off at the first opportunity where I could do it peacefully. “You can’t bathe with the watch on ole girl.” At every conceivable opportunity after that, she asked if she could put it on. At every opportunity I said no and then had to withstand a slew of why’s. I just kept saying because I don’t like it. She pleaded, “but Daddy she’s not wearing pink.” Herein lies the challenge. I don’t want to address the issue directly because I’m not sure you can explain these reasons to a three year old. I also do not want her to develop, as my wife said, a chip on her shoulder. It isn’t that we fail to see the beauty in white dolls, little white girls or Cinderella for that matter. We simply want her to develop an appreciation for beauty that is as nuanced, various and personal as beauty itself is. The Cinderella cocktail is an expanding poison that sucks out the space for alternative images of beauty -for all little girls. Whenever do you see a little white girl wearing a t-shirt with a black girl on it thinking that the girl on her shirt is beautiful?

The onslaught has backed us into a corner. It has forced me to resist these images in ways that I find uncomfortable. I don’t want to deny my little girl party favors – that is almost cruel. The intensity of the siege, however, has dictated the intensity of our resistance. To the extent that we can provide a variety of images of beauty we will. That variety will include Cinderella and her ilk, but they will be just one of a number of images of beauty and of royalty and of femininity. Even then, while her development is still delicate, my Rasta will never wear Cinderella.

kamau

11 comments:

Sara G said...

For what it's worth - I, and a lot of other caucasian parents can't stand the princess culture either. I sure don't believe that Disney princesses represent a healthy standard of beauty or behavior or personal power. There is an unbelievable amount of peer pressure among girls of the preschool set to adopt the princess culture. What I have found is that it originates with one or two moms who think it's "cute" and indulge their little girls' every desire to own the paraphernalia. They bring it to school or host parties with princess themes and whammo! Every girl wants to be Cinderella. Yuck. I can think of many better role models for girls of all colors and ethnicities to look up to.

IK said...

My kid got a Cinderella cell phone (!) from her grandmother -- not the white one. Said grandmother also prettied her all up as a cheerleader last halloween. She used to come home from school in diapers with those damn princesses on them. Her friend at school, Nadia, wears a dress every single day and is called Princess rather than Rasta by her parents. Since Nadia is almost 3, she's the princess hegemon in this 2-yr-old class.

All I can say, besides "FUCK!" is thankgod for Dora. She may not be perfect, but I'm tremendously grateful for her. (Although now my kid things every single thing comes in a Dora version. She spotted Dora edamame at the grocery store the other day, so now she thinks we should've looked for some Dora squash too.)

Damien said...

Isn't this the joy of parenthood? Boiling down tough idealogical and social issues into a tiny, sweet tasting pill for one's three-year old? "Because I don't like it" ain't gonna cut it, Dad ;)

Jokes aside, that's a tough spot you're in. Being a not-having-kids-anytime-soon kinda guy, I have no real suggestions. I do know that kids, even three-year-olds, are usually more capable than I've assumed. You may, in fact, may be able to be a bit more direct than you think. Or at least enough that you can start the conversation without developing that chip your lovely, intelligent, probably right wife mentioned.

That or avoid sending your kid into inflatable tents. Everyone knows they are covens for tools of the white marketing machine. Duh.

NikkiJ said...

I have a standing rule in my house that little white princesses are not allowed. I don't try to disguise the rule, so my daughter is used to it. My kids know to look at the next toy. When we want princesses in our house, we dress in "sparkly" clothes and wear tiaras ourselves. I think because of this my daughter doesn't feel like she needs those white ladies. We have capes, and tiny high heels and other stuff that is only for play time.

I've always tried to avoid telling myself that my kids won't understand why I feel the way I do about things, and am therefore very straightforward. Since you know Rasta is very intelligent, may I suggest you tell her exactly why you don't like the watch. This method has rarely let me down. In fact, it has help prepare my oldest for dealing with race issues in school. Being that my son, even in an all black environment, is the darkest, these "issues" began in preschool. I believe that our straightforward conversations is one reason why his blackness is one of his favorite things about himself.

luvlife0702 said...

funny how i never mentioned race as the reason for not wanting barbie in my house (the bitch always brings all her friends and shit with her and she looks like a plastic surgery don't was my reason). but there we were in the houston airport and she asked for teh barbie suitcase cuz barbie's blacck girlfriend was on there. i still said no and she asked why and because we had talked about all the princesses and stuff that she watched via disney i told her that she was not the kind of girl i wanted her to be. and we talked about why. and she was 4.

but i'm a rabid feminist and so she had already deconstructed snow white and all the crew. and forget about dora, i love me some shrek. and though we get most of the jokes (most of it is for us not them cuz they dont have historical context) we can explain to her why the movie was the anti-fairy tale.

then again, all it takes is grown women to walk around talking about finding their prince to just ruin the whole goddamn thing i'm trying to get at.

that all said, what i know from all my social work training is that talk is cheap and primping is all around her including in the house where she asks "why you wear make-up?" and that's where the tire hits the road cuz we can talk about all kindsa beauty but when she goes out in the world she goes by what she sees. thank goodness i live in hippie land so piercings, tatts, thin, fat, fleece and coach are easily accessible choices for her to make.

and then there is their own personality. i might not 'maintain' my hair (except for locks which was serious high maintenance) but she really ccares about hers.

but i knew it all had been worth it when i asked her at 6 about some fairy tale movie or other and about the 'happily ever after' ending and she said annoyingly,"Mom, it's just a fairy tale". job done!

last, the glorification of women with locks is a very strange phenom which was rather annoying. there is nothing more regal to me about locks than about a perm. it's just hair. and you can have a pretty perm or pretty locks. they are fashion choices and less often than before they MAY be political ones. but too many women see it as a way to get long flowing hair without a weave and up their blackness quota in the process. black women and their hair...

luvlife0702 said...

PS the whole princess stage disappears around 4th grade. you'll notice the halloween costumes go from princess to witch. this year mine will be Miss Halloween as in she has won the halloween pageant. so sash on velvet dress and witch hat with tiara.

but it's all play. my girl's only dress is the halloween one we bought at value village. she believes you can be a girlie girl and kick ass on the court or the field and only own sneakers and kayak and hike in your stylin hair.

no need to trip. you're using 30+ year old brain to analyze 3 year old automatic attraction to 'pretty in pink'. hey, that's how they buy into marriage and shit. it's all part of the same culture. white dress. tiara. princess for a day. treat me like a princess. knight in shining armor. white horse. started in medieval europe and we black folks want to buy in halfway but sorry, dont work that way: the european way is a way of life than cannot be stopped by any one of us individually since most of us still think in terms of princesses whether you call her rasta or princess. same idea. you're special.

kill the princcess mythology you kill the ideal of the special girl.the quinceanero. the sweet 16. the precious hymen.

and of course, that's why this 'pussy power' feminist would love for you to all keep on doing what you're doing even if the outcome is not what you intend. but once a girl gets 'it' at a young age, then the bridal magazine has less of a draw and this sistah has less work to do. reality v fantasy means spoiling other kids childhoods too. some moms hate what their kids talk about when they come from my house but its good when 10 year olds contemplate body image and beauty image and gender roles. but to get rid of all that fantasy means to retire the tooth fairy and santa claus cuz at the root of all this is the discussion of what is real and what is marketing and why you are being sold a message.

crack that mirror and the world changes.

persuede said...

I remember as a child my parents explaining to me why some of the things my playmates had were not part of my toy chest. And I understood. It wasn't something I dwelled on for too long, to be honest. As a kid, there's so much to explore and learn and discover, I think kids move on a lot faster than the grown ups in their life! The only white doll I ever had was a Barbie someone gave me and within a week she had melted with some crayons on the radiator. I was already on to something new, lol! Also, my folks used to "recolor" the illustrations in books. I didn't catch on till much later, and when I did, just thought it was so appreciative that my mom took the time to do that and only reinforced the values they were trying to pass on to me and my sisters. It ain't easy, but it is all that there is in the end. Great post and keep up the good work!

persuede said...

Oy...clicked the "publish" button too soon! Meant to say:

I didn't catch on till much later, and when I did, was just so appreciative that my mom took the time to do that. It only reinforced the values my folks were trying to pass on to me and my sisters.

NikkiJ said...

If you're not quite ready to implement one of the many previous suggestions, I feel that at 3 it's o.k. for time to make an even trade. Target has an abundance of character watches for kids.

persuede said...

http://my-it-list.blogspot.com/2007/11/party-supplies-for-children-of-color.html

Cinamon said...

Peace everyone,
I have a funny story to share. When my sister & I were little girls, our next door neighbors gave us white barbie type dolls for christmas. Our mother took the dolls & put them in brown dye. Once the dolls dried, I said "Mommy, their hair is hard now" & my Mother answered me "That's the point"

My sister & I got it, we were not sad, upset or disappointed, we really didn't care. We were very fortunate to have two older brothers that enjoyed having us around, so we wound up helping them build tree houses, playing in the dirt, learning how to ride bikes, etc.

I have to agree with Persuede, Children are very intelligent, they can handle anything if you explain it to them.