When my daughter wants to play princesses, we play princesses. I’m not against girly things today even though I grew up pushing away more typical feminine concepts. I hated the color pink. I never cried. I cursed. I stayed out too late. I went too far. I hung with “the guys.” In fact, I aimed to out-do men most of the time. I wasn’t a tomboy. I just wasn’t ever going to admit my arm hurt when I played punch-each-other-in-the-arm with the boy who outweighed me by 100 pound. And I’d have the bruises to prove it.
Over the years, I let myself be the woman who wears pink but prefers red. The woman who cries at Hallmark commercials and with friends but still hates romantic comedies. I understand that I can be who I am even if it’s hard and doesn’t fit neatly in a box. So when I became a mom to a daughter who loves tutus and purple, I became a mom who wears princess dresses.
But when my daughter says to her brother and me, Let’s play Mario and Luigi, and I’m the princess in the tower, I shudder. I don’t want her to be a bystander in her story, and I know enough about girls and culture and princesses to know this is fear-realized of allowing so much tulle in my home.
She’s a princess, but she’s powerless in this story. She is locked away, and her brother and I have to save her. The gentle, loving, sweet princesses must be rescued. This story isn’t just in video games like Mario Brothers. It’s told over and over in bits and pieces, in books and movies. It’s why I fought so hard against pink and tears and romantic comedies and anything typically girly. I didn’t want to get trapped so I believed if I was the exact opposite, I would be free. I didn’t realize that doing the opposite of something made me just as imprisoned.
But after a few minutes of running around attacking bad guy Koopa Troopas, I walk over to her and whisper: Come on out, Princess. Fight the bad guys with us. Save yourself.
And she runs forward all arms and legs and giggles and karate chops.
Because it’s not the dress and the crown and the jewels and the shoes and the movies and the games and the makeup and the shaving and the colors and the emotions that keep her in tower. It’s us not learning and teaching there are alternate endings and middles and beginnings to every story. It’s us not fighting for the right to fall wherever we are on that gender spectrum.
My daughter is a princess, but she will not need rescuing.
To learn more about the Damsel in Distress trope, which is particularly popular in video games, check out Anita Sarkeesian of Feminist Frequency’s blog post and youtube video on it. Video games will never look the same and that’s a good thing. I don’t know if I would’ve seen the opportunity if I hadn’t been following her blog.