I have an essay in Brain, Child today about how I’ve found the topic of gender identity to be both interesting and challenging to navigate as a parent. Here’s a clip:
Now that my son is old enough to dress himself, his drawers are filled with Spiderman shirts, Star Wars pajamas, and Transformers underwear. It seems the best that I can do is just embrace and love his boy-identity while trying to make room for balance. Right now balance means that we snuggle in Star Wars pajamas, encourage him to cry when he is sad, and have a “yes” answer on the ready if he ever asks for a pink bike or a Barbie—two things that I’m pretty sure will never happen. (read the full essay here)
I wrote this essay a few months ago, and things have shifted ever so slightly. My son has fallen in love with the princess-movie Frozen. I won’t go into analysis of gender roles in Frozen. I’m not going to claim that it’s a feminist film, but I am grateful for it. I speculate that my son loves Frozen for the following reasons:
1. Lowbrow Humor: Frozen does a great job of balancing comedy and drama. No matter how many times my son and I watch the film, we chuckle when Kristoff takes a bit of his reindeer’s slobbery carrot, or when Olaf the Snowman sings longingly about a day at the beach. We like that these princesses–or, Anna at least–don’t take themselves too seriously.
2. The Universal Theme of Childhood Loneliness: What kid (or adult) can’t relate to the Anna’s longing for companionship, her continual rejection, and her frustration in trying to solve the mystery of that rejection? Elsa too grapples with a universal conflict: she has a gift that she is told to hide from the world. I love that these princess characters are given meaty conflicts, and I suspect it is one reason my son finds the film compelling.
3. No one Holds Back: When I watch Frozen, I often feel like I am bearing witness to a small miracle of synchronicity that happens when all the right people were hired and cast for a particular project. This is how I feel when watching The Wizard of Oz or The Shining. It feels clear to me that everyone who was hired for this project–the screenwriters, the songwriters, the actors, and the animators–gave it their all. That makes it so infectious, that even my ninja-wannabe son sings along to “Let it go” without self consciousness. Everyone in the world, it seems, sings along to “Let it go.” We just can’t help ourselves.
Frozen has opened a door for my son, and now he’s interested in watching The Pirate Fairy. This might seem like a small thing, but it has larger implications. Some months ago, he dismissed girls as potential friends because they “only care about princesses, not awesome stuff like ninjas.” Now that he’s in on the princess phenomenon his world is a little larger.
So, um, thank you Disney Corporation. (That is a sentence I never thought I’d write.)