As I sat down to write this, Purim was a couple of weeks away. We’d begun talking to our daughter about the party at the Soloway Jewish Community Centre, explaining the holiday and how we were all going to wear costumes.
“What would you like to be?” I asked.
The answer came pretty quickly – a princess.
Sigh. In the days after our daughter was born, I made it clear there would be no pink in our house, no referring to her as a princess. To me, assigning her that label was to risk relegating her to a pink rhinestone ghetto from which none of us would ever escape.
Except I’ve since come to learn it’s inescapable.
In her book “Cinderella Ate My Daughter,” Peggy Orenstein traces the explosion of what today is called princess culture to a single event – a Disney exec attending one his company’s ice shows in the 1990s and finding scores of young girls in homemade princess costumes.
A missed marketing opportunity, he realized, and the Disney Princesses line was created. It’s since become an estimated $5.5 billion franchise – not including all the products sold in connection with the movie “Frozen.”
My daughter hasn’t seen that movie. She has no idea who Elsa is or Snow White or Cinderella. When she says she wants to be a princess, I have no idea what she has in her head – but she knows. It involves a wand and some kind of tutu.
The prime minister might make a cabinet that’s 50 per cent women because “it’s 2015,” as Justin Trudeau famously said, but toddlers don’t want to dress up as the health minister.
They want to be a princess.
What’s a 21st century mother to do?
We’re told princesses are too gender specific and that we should strive to give our children strong and realistic female role models and encourage play that isn’t gender based. I agree, wholeheartedly.
But, when you go to the toy store, there’s the “girl” section and the “boy section.”
When you get to the clothing store, there’s the “girl” section and the “boy section.”
Studies have shown that, despite the great strides women have made in all walks of life, marketing to kids is more gender specific now than it ever was in the days well before a woman could even make into Parliament, let alone become the health minister.
But, in addition to the pink versus blue debates in secular society, there is also the question of our faith.
We didn’t know the sex of our child before she was born.
Ahead of time, we talked about what would happen once he or she arrived. If it was a boy, a bris. Which mohel, what to serve, who to invite, that would all have to be sorted out, but the fundamentals were pretty clear.
But, what if it was a girl? I sent the rabbi an email, asking what the “requirements” were. The answer was none – it was entirely up to us.
There were two ways to look at this. One was to be a bit depressed. Why has nothing emerged in Judaism to formally welcome a girl baby with the same sense of obligation and history as the bris?
But the other way was to forget the concept of a ceremony needing to be “like” a bris.
As people grapple with princess culture taking over childhood, at the adult level there’s the same struggle – leaning in, taking our turn, etc. The call for women to stop trying to be more “like” men and embrace the qualities that make them who they are is loud and having an impact.
So, should it matter that my daughter wants to be a princess for Purim? In answering that question, perhaps I should look ahead to the next Jewish holiday. That she’s healthy and making her own choices – dayenu. It should be enough for me.