After remaining silent for years, women have been coming forward recently with stories of sexual discrimination and harassment — and even rape — by some of the most powerful men in this country.
Every day in the news there’s testimony from a woman recounting the duress she endured in her job, her home, or a social situation where she felt denigrated, humiliated, or frightened by men. It’s a fraught time to be the parent of a daughter.
Author and journalist Devorah Blachor’s new book, “The Feminist’s Guide to Raising a Little Princess: How to Raise a Girl Who’s Authentic, Joyful, and Fearless Even If She Refuses to Wear Anything But a Pink Tutu,” was published last month by TarcherPerigee. In her guide, the self-proclaimed feminist writes of the difficulty she had accepting her daughter playing dress-up in ball gowns and watching Disney princess movies, but Blachor also addresses the innumerable challenges women face in our society.
Blachor herself spent much of her adolescence in passivity waiting for her prince to come. She did not identify with the Disney princesses of her childhood — Snow White, Cinderella, and Sleeping Beauty. Instead, Blachor associated herself with “The Ugly Duckling,” a literary creation of Danish author Hans Christian Andersen (who Walt Disney also admired).
Deciding to be a “quiet” person at the age of 13, Blachor resolved that girls who were too loud never got boyfriends. By suppressing her true self, she fell into a deep depression that lasted over a decade.
Blachor left the United States at age 21, when she no longer felt she fit in and moved to Israel. When she still had not entered into a romantic relationship by the age of 25, she actively chose to take medication to help her overcome her depression. She now says she has not regressed into depression thanks to a healthy regimen of diet and exercise.
As she entered the dating world, Blachor learned to let go of the “quiet self” she had created as a child and expose her authentic self to a man whom she would eventually marry. Abandoning her fears of rejection, Blachor embraced the relationship with her future husband who accepted her for who she really was.
Because of her personal experience with passivity and depression, Blachor became extremely cautious when her daughter, Mari, started emulating the princesses of the Disney empire, which re-ignited itself in 1989 with the release of the film “The Little Mermaid,” another Andersen fairy tale.
Mermaid Ariel was soon joined by more assertive princesses from a new group of animated Disney movies in the 1990s — Belle from “Beauty and The Beast;” Jasmine from “Aladdin;” Mulan; Pocahontas; and Tatiana from “The Princess and The Frog.”
When a Disney executive attended a Disney ice-skating spectacle in 2000 and saw little girls in the audience dressed in their homemade princess costumes, he realized the market for a Disney-princess franchise. By 2012, that franchise had made $3 billion in global sales.
Constantly hearing comments from strangers about “how cute” or “how adorable” her daughter looks in her Disney princess costumes, Blachor fears these comments will teach her daughter that looks are more important than other values.
Blachor constantly reminds Mari how beautiful she is inside and out. (She blames the beauty industry for creating an unattainable image of female perfection as women are bombarded by photoshopped, flawless pictures of models selling products.)
Although Blachor secretly wants to throw out all of the Disney princess merchandise her daughter has acquired, she is reminded that parents who try to control their kids end up raising children more apt to be depressed, and later on in adulthood, have difficulty maintaining relationships.
Writing with a humorous edge, Blachor creates a “femtastic” (feminist) fairy godmother who updates all of the antiquated Disney princess tales. Most of the revised stories are funny, but some are quite shocking, as she writes:
• “Old Sleeping Beauty: Once upon a time, Prince Phillip kissed Princess Aurora, who was fast asleep at the time.”
• “Femtastic Sleeping Beauty: Once upon a time, Prince Philip read that one in five American women say they were sexually assaulted in college, including many instances of women being assaulted while they were passed out. So he took the … pledge, recognizing that non-consensual sex is sexual assault. And they all lived happily ever after.”
In 2013, the Disney world changed forever when it released a new princess movie called “Frozen,” loosely based on Andersen’s tale, “The Snow Queen.” (Disney had tried to make “The Snow Queen” into a movie during the 1950s, but the idea was shelved.)
Blachor’s unabashed love for “Frozen” stems from the storyline’s similarities to her personal struggle to suppress her true self. The movie begins with Princess Elsa as a young child. Elsa finds out she has a power to create ice and snow, but when she hurts her sister, Anna, with it, she is told by her parents to repress it. Elsa spends the rest of her childhood in fear and isolation in her bedroom, rejecting offers from Anna to play together.
When their parents die, Elsa is forced to become the next ruler of the kingdom. During the coronation ceremony, Elsa’s power is unexpectedly revealed. Seeing the looks of horror on the faces of the people in the room, she runs to the mountains and finally unleashes her true self in isolation by creating “a breath-taking, beautiful ice castle,” as Blachor describes it.
Anna pursues Elsa, because she loves her sister unconditionally. She now realizes that Elsa had shunned her to protect her from being hurt. It is Anna’s belief that her sister can keep her power and still live in their family’s castle.
When Elsa is forced to return to the kingdom, a man tries to kill her with a sword, but Anna saves her by blocking her sister with her frozen body. Because of Anna’s act of true love, she melts off her ice. The vast freeze over the kingdom melts away as well.
Elsa, who has publicly exposed her authentic self, is now accepted and loved by her people and regains the throne. With a plot about supportive, sisterly love, “Frozen” stands as the highest-grossing animated film of all time.
Determined to find out what really happened to all of the little girls who dressed up in Disney’s princess merchandise, Bachelor interviewed 17 girls, now in their late teens, and found they have all grown into relatively happy, ambitious young adults. When looking back on their “princess” experiences in childhood, these young women say they were happy being immersed in imaginative play.
As the more recent Disney movies have featured heroic princesses chasing after their own destinies, these young women added that as they grew older, they realized a prince was not coming to rescue them. While Disney has made progress in modernizing their fairy tales, the United States still proudly proclaims itself to be “egalitarian,” an assumption Blachor finds hypocritical.
Stating that the United States is the only wealthy country not to offer family-friendly policies like paid maternity leave, Blachor writes, “If women attain full gender equality in the United States, up to $4.3 trillion could be added to the annual GDP in 2025.”
As some American politicians criticize welfare, Blachor believes that “welfare benefits like family leave don’t drain the economy, however. They are the backbone of a healthy work culture, which includes both genders and doesn’t maximize the potential of one at the expense of the other.” As an example, Blachor notes that Denmark offers its citizens family leave and “has one of the highest employment rates in general.”
Blachor also found a research study that said the happiest countries are “the ones with the best work-life balance,” such as those that provide paid maternity and paternity leave. With some smugness, she concludes, “According to the U.N. World Happiness Report and other studies like it, the happiest place on earth is Denmark, the home country of Walt Disney’s favorite fairy-tale writer, Hans Christian Andersen.”
Now when Blachor sees her daughter dancing and singing in public as a little princess, she views Mari as feeling brave and free enough to express her real self. Whether or not she will still be able to do that into adulthood is the unanswered question for us all.
Allison Plitt is a frequent contributor to NY Parenting and lives in Queens with her 11-year-old daughter.