My daughter Maya recently turned 4, and Sweet Baby Moses, I thought I'd drown in the pink.
Her party netted her puzzles, markers, books -- and a mother lode of "girl" items: a pair of Cinderella mules, a Disney Princess purse (complete with sunglasses and faux camera, which emits such phrases as "you're pretty as a picture!"), a "lipstick," brush and mirror set, not one but two fairy dresses, and three arts-n-crafts sets that are, it goes without saying, pink. The tissue paper? Pink. The gift bags? You know it.
It's not that I begrudge the child her girly things. Her wardrobe is full of flowers and butterflies, and she lives for her dolls. Indeed, we were made aware very early that she could make a "baby" out of anything -- down to and including rocks -- and we've been happy to provide her with any number of cuddly creatures, humanoid and other.
It's just that, for four years, her father and I have held at bay the combined forces of the Disney juggernaut and the relentless American effort to turn little girls into mini-women, and pink has come to symbolize it all for me.
And so, bags and bags of gifts and hand-me-downs have been hand-me-downed further because they were tainted with pink. The girl's poor grandmothers are now afraid to give her anything that falls anywhere on the rose-to-blush continuum -- "but it's coral!" my sainted mother once protested when I announced (ill-naturedly) that her gift would be returned.
As we sat among the rosy/bubble-gum-y leavings of the present-opening, I asked my 8-year-old son: What does a princess do? Understandably, he was a bit bemused, so after a moment I said, "Pretty much just sit there, right?"
To which he replied: "And look beautiful. I guess."
There's the rub.
For all that my girl likes skirts, playing mommy and putting her dolls to bed, she also likes building bookshelves, playing firefighter and giving soccer balls a good, hard kick. She is, in the parlance of literary analysis, a fully rounded character.
And what a character! We took early to calling her Maya Warrior Princess, because she commanded respect from the earliest age. Ask her what a princess does, and you'll get a very different answer.
"Help the animals get back to their homes," she told me one day, "like in the jungle." She paused. "And fight witches."
But as she moves further into the world, we fear that the mainstream consensus regarding the central pursuits of a "princess" will flood past us, and she will learn what her culture wants most in its women: Sit there. And be beautiful.
Be beautiful -- not in your own curly-headed, twinkly-smile way, but in a grown-up way, a way that says that even grown women are not, in fact, beautiful enough. We worry that the lipstick is only the first step to a life of being told to do something about herself, and the mirror the first step in a life of double-checking her own worth.
Of course, we can't know what's going on in that head, and on the day after her party, Maya made an enormous show (in a lavender top and pleated skirt) of demonstrating her muscles and explaining her regimen for staying "so, so, so strong."
So I do not despair. But I do wish that we could show greater creativity as a society as we try to shape and teach our girls. They bring many more colors to the table than we are encouraging them to show.
Emily L. Hauser is a freelance writer living outside of Chicago.