Thursday, November 21, 2013

Moral quandaries with three year olds

Today the kidlette and I read a book about Cinderella. It just so happened to be the licensed Disney version.

The front page had a dramatis personae of sorts, with portraits of the various characters accompanied by their names inscribed below. There was Cinderella, the Prince, the Fairy Godmother, even the two mice, Jaques and Gus, were included. The kidlette immediately pointed to the picture of the two stepsisters and said to me, very emphatically, "Those are bad girls!"

"How do you know they're bad?"

"Cause they have bad faces."

The stepsisters are, of course, drawn to look more cartoonish and far less attractive than Cinderella. The kidlette then paused for a moment, and appeared to be truly puzzled. "Why are they bad?" she asked me.

"Well," I ventured, "sometimes when people feel jealous or frustrated they do bad things because they don't know how to talk about their feelings."

She seemed to think about this for a moment and then asked me, "Why are they making bad faces?"

"Maybe they're feeling angry or frustrated, so they're making angry faces."

This seemed to satisfy her for the moment and we finished the rest of the book without any other moral queries. 

The kidlette is well into her princess phase, having picked up on the fact that princesses are all young and beautiful. She has yet to discover the kinds of princesses that shove people out of windows (lines 1575-1582). I sincerely hope she does, if for no other reason than to learn cool words like defenestration.

While I'll admit that I often find our society's pressure for little girls to be obsessed with all things pink and glittery slightly worrisome, I don't think there's anything inherently wrong with wanting to be a princess. I'm 27, and I still haven't grown out of that phase. Somewhere underneath all the cynicism is a small part of me that still wants to be a Disney princess. There's nothing wrong with little girls (or big girls, for that matter) wanting to be a princess, so long as we remember that there's much more to being a princess than simply being young and beautiful. Things like leadership, compassion, and intelligence are all important lessons for children to learn, and I give Disney and Pixar a lot of credit for their recent strides in these areas.

As the kidlette grows older, I hope she learns that there are many different kinds of princesses out there for her to emulate, and that the people we often label as "bad" are far more complex than we realize.

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