Growing up, I never really wanted to be a princess. I was rather torn between the pretty dresses of the latter and the guns and lasso of the Cowboy. So it ended up with me wearing the glittery tulle dress, red lipstick and the gun holster strapped to my waist. My role models were Robin Hood, Pippi Longstocking and Matlock.
My generation grew up with fairytales of beautiful Caucasian princesses with lush red lips and delicate skin, who would sleep for years and wait for Prince Charming to come and kiss them back to life. While the notion of romance and a Knight in shining armor is not necessarily a bad thing, these fairytales controlled the narrative of what a girl could be or dream of back then and for years to come.
A woman has to marry rich to become something is a value that many fairytales communicate, unfortunately. While the two ugly hearted sisters of Cinderella manipulated their way to the Prince, it was their mother, who instilled the value in them that a ‘woman is rescued through a rich man’, hence the family is saved from poverty. Surely, this is based on the historic fact when kingdoms were connected and wars avoided through arranged marriages, but what kind of an example does this set to young girls being read to before bedtime?
While Snow-white accepted shelter with the seven dwarfs in exchange for food and cleaning services might sound like a legitimate barter deal, it does depict a clear gender role. The fact that Snow White would never fall in love with one of the dwarfs reflects the clear classism of the narrative. Would Snow White be rewritten in our day and age, she would have never taken the red apple in the first place, because she would know better.
When I was looking for a role for women my age in all these fairytales, I realized that the choices are limited to mean Step Mother, side kick Queen, who dies at childbirth, chubby Fairy God Mother or the Evil Queen. So for women to assume leadership positions they must have an evil skillset under the hood, be manipulative and ruthless. Not one good example of a successful woman in her thirties or forties. Who would little girls want to be growing up?
So when female roles are reduced to ‘who is the fairest of them all”, who have to change and bend over, to meet the likings of the Prince, we are teaching girls that their value is in their outer shell. When Arielle gives up her voice to save the man she loves, we teach girls that these are the kind of sacrifices that women are supposed to offer, whereas you would not find this kind of offering from Prince Charming when it comes to problem solving.
Most of these fairytales picked up by Walt Disney and turned into all time classics accompanied many generations and impacted gender roles for years to come. Only very recently, have girls gotten better roles in Disney movies; who can forget Mulan or the brave Merida, or Anna who saved her sister and fell in love with a commoner? Finally, someone woke up and realized that we cannot tell our children stories from the 19th Century passing them off as vintage heritage. Times change and so must we.
Children need role models, they need to see successful women in the workplace, at home and in every sector there is. Boys need to see female role models to aspire to be like and to acknowledge as a child that this is normal and admirable to imitate. Girls need to see female role models to aspire and dream about what she can become. They need to know that women are scientists, movie stars, astronauts, presidents and mothers because they choose to be.
When I casually asked my daughter (she was 8 then) while watching “Sophia the Princess” about what she wants to be when she grows up, she would say “Artist, Inventor and Vet” and that “it must be boring to be a princess because from what she can see they look pretty all day and do nothing”.
Women empowerment starts at home, with a father, who is not afraid to raise strong girls and a mother, who is not a ceiling to her daughters’ dreams and ambitions. We must change the narrative from you cannot to you can and you will. We must show our girls that they have the right to be what they want to be and to become what they choose to be. They need to have the power to choose over their bodies and be empowered to own their minds. They must know that they are safe at home with whatever the say or do, they need you to show them that they are worthy and that they deserve a life of choice. Empowerment is the right to know and choose. Only at home can we instill all this.
When my younger daughter (4 years) dressed up as Spiderman last Halloween, I realized what a gift it is to dare to be Spiderman in a world full of Princesses and I smiled and l am excited about what is to come my way when I look at my girls.
So next time we pick a story, it better be the real one!
Photography: Remon El Markiz
Hair: Kriss Beauty Salons
Makeup Artists: Mai Ayman, Dina Rashed, Sandra Nicolas and Rana Barsoum.