Everyone needs a princess dress.
Feminists are picking on Elsa. No, children should not do Hallowe’en as Elsa. In her “moment of self-actualisation”, sniffed Emma Brockes in The Guardian, she busts out of her dowdy village clothes and into … an evening gown, with a slit up the side all the way to her thigh and a bridal-like train dragging behind her. In the New York Times, Annie Pfeifer, who teaches fairy tales in a department of international literary and cultural studies objects to the same moment, a sexy makeover — complete with a slinky ball gown and silver high heels.
Her clothes change in a different way. Before she had a long cloak trailing behind her, now something diaphanous floats. She throws away her thick gauntlet, designed to prevent her from expressing her powers. The thick dress up to the neck had some sort of embroidery on the front, feminine but in keeping with the restrictive style. She fights the tight braids to let her hair down. She is angry and determined, but exultant. The stultifying rules- “Conceal, don’t feel”- that the “perfect girl” had to obey no longer apply.
Annie Pfeifer complains the Grimms rewrote fairy tales to reinforce patriarchy, but as folk tales the stories were told by women, funny and bawdy with a feminist spark. Cinderella won the Prince with her cunning and skill, not her beauty. Gerda rescues her best friend from The Snow Queen, who has frozen her heart. But Frozen has the heart-freezing an accident, by a well-meaning character. The conflict arises from decent people suffering fear and unknowing, not inexplicable wickedness. I find that a wonderful lesson for small people, that good people do bad things because we do not understand, or by accident, and we can work together to be better.
Pfeifer’s ideal fairy tale empowered children to think for themselves and overcome obstacles on their own. Ah. Active characters overcome difficulties to achieve greatness. That lays children open to the disillusionment Larkin wrote of:
Who lets the girl down before
The hero arrives, the chap
Who’s yellow and keeps the store
Seem far too familiar.
Children are on the treadmill far too young. Léne works with children excluded from school, some as young as seven, for not obeying rules they don’t understand and perhaps can’t obey anyway. If you can’t sit still you should not have to immediately, some way should be found of letting you learn how. Oppositional Defiant Disorder may be a sane reaction to an insane situation. The grown ups are doing bad things because they do not understand, and they fear or resent the child.
So everyone needs a princess dress, boys as well as girls, men as well as women. You are valuable for who you are, not just for what you achieve. You are beautiful. Yes, play actively, and delight in what you, your mind, your body can do, but also take time to delight in your beauty, simply for being human.