Gender: Unraveling difference between truth, fiction

Rose has chosen the Disney book, Cinderella, from the library, the version in which Cinderella “always tries to please her stepsisters,” despite their verbal and psychological abuse. And even though I feel like something is lodged in my throat, something large and chalky, like say, consumer culture selling the notion that to be successful, a girl must be pretty and sweet, I say, “Yes, I would be happy to read Cinderella to you, sweetie.”

Afterwards, I close the book and say casually, “So, you know that was fiction, right?”

Rose: “Of course.”

Me: (as fakely cheery as the band playing while the Titanic slowly sunk) “You know, there’s a lot of fiction in that story.”

Col: “Like what?”

Me: “Well, you know how Cinderella and the Prince fell in love after dancing together for a few hours? Without even talking to each other?”

Rose: “Yeah?”

Me: “That rarely happens.”

Col: “Also, pumpkins don’t turn into carriages.”


Rose loves pink, also everything sparkly, glittery, glossy, twirly. Most days, I watch her shuck 10 snazzy costumes (all over the floor of our house), while I’m still in my dirt-spangled clothes from yesterday. When Rose asked to get her ears pierced for her sixth birthday, I was on board because her body is her artistic palette, to be altered with the paintbrush of clothes and jewelry. I want her to feel the freedom of artistic license.

Thankfully, she’s also a scrappy wild child who pees outside, wipes herself with dandelion blossoms and gets on with the work of barefoot chicken wrangling.

I don’t want to be the buzzkill mom who puts the kibosh on princesses whose highest aspirations are to snag a man. I want to believe my daughter can sail through the ocean of mainstream media only to dock someday at Port Confidence and Self-Love. I’d like to think Rose can toss the Disney Princess books into her centrifuge of “beliefs about myself” and watch the harmful messages sink like stones to the bottom.

But, a 6-year-old can’t navigate those choppy waters – where women are depicted starvation-thin with hairless, hourglass bodies – and not sink a little.

Rose got a Barbie doll for her birthday from a friend. I told the kids, “You know, there’s this funny study about what Barbie would look like if she were real.” We laughed about how in real life Barbie wouldn’t be able to walk upright, fit a whole liver (just room for half), or lift anything, including her own head, because of her extremely long, skinny neck. And Rose, vigorously brushing Barbie’s hair said, “Well, it’s just a toy, Mama.”

Well yes, and no. Barbie is just a toy, and Cinderella is just a book, but they’re also million-dollar businesses served up to our daughters in sparkly pink packages, these daughters who are still mapping their roles on this planet.

It’s a big machine to disassemble: Disney, the media, the sexualization of girls, “happily ever after” and the entrenchment of gender roles. Like everything else, my greatest influence is in my own home. I won’t ban Barbies and princesses, but we’ll continue to have some frank conversations around here about what’s truth and what’s fiction.

Reach Rachel Turiel at her blog, 6512 and growing, on raising children, chickens and other messy, rewarding endeavors at 6,512 feet.

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