I know. It’s an inflammatory title. But it’s something that has been nagging at me for a while, now. You see, I really don’t like the whole “little princess” thing. I’m not big into pink. I’m not into dolls. I don’t get fashion…at all. Even as a child, I was far more the “let’s see what happens when we add this brake fluid to this chlorine” type girl, than the fairy queen. I actually scalped Barbies.
And that’s pretty much the point where I get myself into trouble…because, dammit, I also believe in valuing children for who they are, and respecting the things that interest them. And that, for me at least, has meant taking a step back to breathe (okay, into a paper bag), and to have a look at my own perceptions of why raising a little princess (or in my daughter’s case, a pony alicorn princess) does not automatically mean she’ll end up locked in a tower awaiting rescue as an adult.
There seems like there has been a bit of a push lately to define what a feminist actually is. I’ve seen the memes. I’ve seen the cartoons. Feminists are those pants-wearing, shaven-head ranting lunatics you see on TV who all hate children and whose sole purpose in life is to find the perfect moon cup (yeah, I had to google it) and let their underarm hair flow free in the wind. So it can be quite hard to be a skirt-wearing, long-haired mother who would not, for a million dollars, wear a moon cup and…okay, I don’t shave my underarm hair. I get one tick. My point is, I can sometimes be left wondering if I’m letting the side down. I mean, I support women’s rights! I consider myself a feminist. I think it is an important for me to raise my daughter to be a strong woman in a world that, frankly, doesn’t appreciate them. Nor want to.
And then I thought about it. It’s just as detrimental to women’s rights, surely, to pigeon-hole feminism and feminists as anything other than who they are – as women in all shapes and sizes who believe passionately, not only in equality, but in the recognition and respect of those aspects of womanhood that set us apart from men, across the board. So when my daughter suddenly became obsessed (and I do mean OBSESSED) with My Little Ponies, I was forced to do some soul-searching. For a start, I just didn’t like how the new generation looked. They have big hair, long legs and HUGE eyes and compared to the fat, sweet, dumpy-looking things I remember have very definitely had their feminine features…well, featured.
But pony-child was adamant, and so I succumbed. I let her have the toys. I let her watch the show. And you know what? I’m so glad I did. The show is funny, well-written and based around themes of friendship, kindness and respecting each other, despite differences of personality, race (yep, there are several races of pony, and all of them work hard to respect each other) likes and dislikes. Yes, there is the stereotypical “smart one,” the “ditzy one,” the “fashionista,” the “sports star”…but what I never considered was the wide range of role-playing opportunities this offered my daughter, who can now pretty much mimic any of the characters to the point where, at five years of age, if their voice actors ever get vocal nodules, she could stand in for them and no one would notice.
She gets to experience what it is to be a powerful, intelligent…er…pony. A sporty, confident pony. A shy pony who stands up for her friends, even when she’s feeling scared. A pony who loves to create and design pretty clothes for other ponies. A pony who rules the whole world. A pony who tries to destroy it. A pony who feels comfortable in her own skin, just being the pony she is. That’s a pretty powerful lesson right there. For both of us. (Note to self: shut up in future and trust pony-child.)
Frankly, as far as feminism goes, these ponies have got it together. ALL the powerful ponies are girls. ALL the teachers are girls. ALL the leaders are girls. Do the boy ponies resent this? Do they try to besmirch their personal characters, their clothing and their physical appearance in the public domain – such as happened not so long ago here in non-ponyland to a certain non-pony female Prime Minister? Do they try to intervene in the decision-making? Do they ever tell the girl ponies that they’re not strong enough, not clever enough, not reliable enough in case they need to head off on pony maternity leave? Nope. They simply expect their female leaders will do their jobs – and do them well. THEY NEVER EVEN QUESTION IT. If that’s not feminism, then what is?
Yes, you could argue that it’s not depicting social equality to have no male ponies in positions of pony power. But you know what? From the point of view of a TV show FOR KIDS, whose brains are like little social sponges, and who base a lot of themselves, and their behaviour, on what they see on TV, that’s actually nothing I’m going to complain about. That’s pretty damn rare. I’m not sure if I can think of another show to even match that. (Yes, I’m sure there are plenty…but feel free to bombard me with examples anyway.)
So, in case you’re wondering, next time you see my pony-child with a tiara and 17 different butterfly clips in her hair, draped in pink play-cloths and calling herself Princess Shining Golden Crystal Sunshine, yes – I’m still very much a feminist, raising a little feminist. She is sporty. She is intelligent. She is shy, and crazy and funny and confident. She loves purple and anything that sparkles. She has magical powers that can raise the sun.
She is perfect and she is powerful. And as far as pony alicorn princesses go, she doesn’t have to consider whether or not she’s a feminist. In her world, the need for it doesn’t exist.
I'm much more used to the look of the new generation Ponies now. I must admit, it did take me a while to see past the big eyes and long legs.
I still have a long way to go. If pony-child suddenly became interested in Barbie, for example, I would have to do a LOT of soul-searching before saying yes. I think because Barbie is human-shaped (or sort of), and the MLP's are pony-shaped (ha, or sort of)...I dunno!