By Harlen Leonard
This week a hypothetical online letter on Salon.com, written from a father to his daughter, has captured the What I See team’s attention. The letter comes from Mo Elleithee, a Democratic political consultant in Washington D.C., and addresses his daughter’s misconception that she can never be the President of America.
You and I were walking down the street and I pointed to the picture on the front page in the newspaper stand.
“Do you know who that is?” I asked.
Beaming with pride that you knew the answer, you looked up and said, “President Obama!”
“That’s right!” I congratulated you. “President is a very important job. Would you like to be President some day?”
Then, turning to me with a look as if I had just made the silliest suggestion ever, you laughed and said, “Daddy…I can’t be president! I’m not a boy!”
Talk about a verbal gut punch.
Mo then goes on to note how he is aware that his daughter is only three and that her only frame of reference for ‘President’ is a man, and isn’t that sad? He points out that, in America, women make up only 20% of senators and only 10% of governors, and yet they make up over 50% of the population. He hopes that these numbers will change as she gets older.
But then it got worse.
When I asked you what you did want to be, you said with all the certainty in the world, that you wanted to be…a princess.
And not just any princess. You like Arielle, and Cinderella, and Jasmine, and Aurora, but you really wanted to be Belle. And I had to be the Beast.
Secondly – your mother and I really did not want you to fall into the “princess trap.” You know the one – where the helpless princess has only one singular path to happiness, and it revolves entirely around winning the affection of her Prince Charming. I thought those stories were lovely and cute before I met you. But when I began to realize the lesson that they were teaching in the context of what you might take from them, that all changed.
It’s not easy to avoid that message. It’s everywhere. We can’t walk through a store without finding some imagery of the glamorous princesses beckoning to you.
Now I understand exactly what Mo is saying. He wants his daughter to succeed in life, driven by her own independence and ambition. Not the so-called ambition forced on to young girls by the media.
I agree with him. I could understand his frustration, especially as he was the travelling Press Secretary for Hillary Clinton during her 2008 campaign.
However, is it really so wrong to want to be a princess? I am sure that people rolled their eyes at Kate Middleton when she said the very same line at the age of three. The idea of the princess waiting around and swooning is long gone. The Duchess of Cambridge has her own career and has certainly not done things by the ‘royal/traditional book’. Let us also consider recent Disney princesses, such as Tiana from Princess and the Frog, who actively worked to make her dreams come true, and the ever awesome Merida from Brave. Is wanting to be a princess such a bad thing with role models like this?
It is clear that Mo’s issue is his daughter conforming to social and media pressures in regards to gender roles and careers. I can also understand that he doesn’t believe his child has chosen her definitive career path and he is simply using this experience as an example of the media presence in his child’s life and the pressures that befall her. After all, it is a sorry state that a child, who has never watched a princess film, is under the impression that she is expected to be a princess.
However, on another note…she is three. She is a three-year-old child and the chances are that her views will likely change as she gets older and is exposed to different role models and ideas.
Mo ends his letter on a positive note as it turns out it is his daughter that wants to rescue him:
“Daddy, I have to marry you!”
“You do?” I asked, more than a little amused.
“Yes. Because you’re the Beast and you didn’t turn into a prince yet. So I have to marry you.”
While the conversation went on a little longer (and got even more hilarious as you started ticking off your invite list, which included the Tooth Fairy), that moment struck me.
In your mind, you weren’t the demure little princess waiting for Prince Charming to come save you or sweep you off your feet. You were the one coming to my rescue, to help me reach my potential.
You were the one who was empowered.
On a final note, Belle was my favourite princess. She was sassy, smart, knew her own mind and defended her family. I still like to believe that, after getting married to the Beast, she went on to have a successful career as an archivist. However, this is my personal princess preference.
Does it matter what career a woman has, as long as she feels empowered?
Would you mind if your child wanted to be a princess? If so, please let us know in your comments.