The kids and I took in "Brave" last week. As Merida galloped across the screen, wild red tangles flying behind her, I whispered to my daughter, “Are you a brave girl, too?”
She paused, then answered, “I don’t know.” At movie’s end, she awarded it only a middling sideways thumb.
I felt a little deflated. Not a full-on flat, just a maybe-you-want-to-check-that-tire.
For two pink years, we’ve celebrated the princess. Daughter’s costume box spews tutus and 75 percent of her everyday clothes are purple or pink. I’m not going to throw her a spa party and I carefully monitor her media intake, but I really don’t give a shit if she runs around in pastel tulle.
Mini-Snooki? No. Mini-Cinderella? Why not?
Me myself, I empathize with book-loving Belle and find Rapunzel’s latest iteration endearing, but mostly the princesses bore me. Dopey Snow White and comatose Aurora … snore. But these women and their tales first were told centuries ago, and Disney re-imagined them for mid-20th century audiences, not early 21st century parents.
At 4, daughter is too young to understand the notion of historical construct, and so instead of much blather re: evolving conceptions of women, I aim to present her with much variety re: women, fictional and real.
Disney’s (Pixar's) Merida promised to be a strong and welcome break from the Satin Simperers vogueing on daughter’s lunchbox, and so I was excited for Brave. Did I hope daughter would ask to take up archery, be Merida for Halloween, gallop around the house like the little Scots-woman she is? (Clan Baird.) I kinda did.
But then, after daughter delivered her one-thumb-sideways review, I gave Merida a second thought. I realized that, just as I can’t relate to Snow White stupidly falling for the witch’s un-subtle trickery or to Aurora’s stunning beauty and Pollyanna-ish worldview, I can’t relate to Merida.
I’m not physically adventurous like the Scottish princess, who slings arrows while riding bareback. The most recent act of bravery I can recall is wearing my Mr. Happy shirt to an exercise class peopled by wealthy women in Lululemon tank tops.
While I certainly spent many a high school hour fighting with my mother, I’m not emotionally fearless like Merida, who defies not only her parents, but also societal norms.
I’m not even conventional-but-strong, like Merida’s mother Queen Elinor, who rules the kingdom in all but name. I’m not cunning like the witch, or bodacious like the nursemaid.
I’m average and not particularly strong, of will or muscle. I stay at home with my kids (one of whom is currently asleep on my shoulder), do dishes, make lunches, and write this blog to work my penning muscles. Mostly happy. Mostly unexceptional and okay with trailblazing my own small, meandering, private road to satisfaction.
I doubt Disney is going to write a movie about me, an average girl who grows into an adult of average looks and talent, and learns that it’s A-okay, she can still be happy.
Of course, I don’t think my daughter is average. I’m her mother, and so she is my superstar: bright, athletic, feisty, and funny funny funny, the kind of girl a mom knows will do great things.
Maybe they will be Great Things (Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter, the next Jane Goodall) or maybe they will be great things (teacher, electrician, stay-at-home mom).
My secret wish is that she becomes a highly successful female comedian who also develops software. (Smash those glass ceilings, sweetie!)
My biggest wish is that she be a good person living a good life.
I’ve been looking to pop culture to teach her about the many kinds of women she can become and the many ways she can be happy. But pop culture is ALL CAPS: Disney’s going to give her GOOD and EVIL and HAPPY ENDINGS; DC’s offering up HEROES vs. VILLAINS.
If we’re talking real life, I guess it’s up to me.