Sunday, March 11, 2012

“Well-meaning members of your own families may have even called you young ladies “princess” and never realized how deeply problematic that sort of thing is for moral, conscientious people.”
--My Professor, Winter Term 2012 

Is it?  Is it really, though?  Because trust me, I understand how problematic the focus on princess toys for young girls and the exclusion of other types of toys can be, and I understand how the gender gap is expanded when “girly” toys are relegated exclusively to girls and “boyish” toys exclusively to boys from infancy to adulthood.  I understand how problematic it is to teach a young girl that the ideal woman is a damsel-in-distress type, thus setting a precedent for the thought/expectation that a woman should put aside her own abilities, confidence, and even individuality in favor of relying on a man to create her happiness.  I understand that the sort of mentality set up by such thoughts and expectations provides what is essentially a blueprint for abusive relationships, dangerously dependent relationships, negative stereotypes, and, of course, a situation which is ultimately self-perpetuating.  I’m one class away from a Women and Gender Studies minor, so trust me, I understand this.

But my parents called me princess.  In fact, my mother still calls me princess.  My parents called me babydoll.  My parents painted my room pink and gave me Barbies and American Girl dolls and princess dresses and let me play at cooking and cleaning and never questioned the way, when my brother and I played house, that my brother would go off to work in his “inventor’s workshop” under the piano bench while I stayed in the blanket fort with our large brood of dolls and stuffed animals and played housewife.  They let me pick all the petals off all our geraniums so I could make ink because I was playing princess and needed to keep up correspondence with the royal families of nearby countries.  My parents enrolled me in dance lessons and piano lessons and the most pointless Girl Scout troop ever and let me read princess books and watch Disney movies and thought my obsession with fairies was cute. They humored me.  They attended my tea parties.  My mother taught me to sew and my grandmother taught me to make biscuits from scratch.  My brothers were taught to change a car’s oil and whittle while I burned my fingers with a hot iron and polished the candlesticks with harsh-smelling Brasso and experimented with scrapbooking and planned sleepovers.  And my parents put me in dresses and hair ribbons and twisted up my straight hair into foam rollers from time to time when I asked.  They let me have a terrifically messy kiddie makeup set.  Oh yes, I was the princess.  My bed had a canopy and my grandfather built my dolls a wardrobe, and, as the only girl in the family (for twenty years, anyway, although that’s no longer the case) I was thoroughly spoiled.  On the surface, it sounds like a feminist’s nightmare.

But you know what?  This princess has done all right.  This princess loved learning how to clean and cook and sew, and she appreciates those skills today when her friends (who were tomboys as children) are squicked out by cleaning the drains and scrubbing the showers and carting out the trash, and she appreciates those skills when they come to her for such simple questions as “how do I know if I’ve overcooked the pasta?” and “how much water should I boil for rice?” and she appreciates those skills when they sheepishly approach her with popped-off buttons and torn-out seams and a sort of desperate plea for help, because, for all of their drive and intelligence, she has this weird practical advantage sometimes.  This princess?  Yeah, she learned how to sew and not how to fix tires.  But the patience and persistence she used teaching herself how to crochet, how to knit, how to embroider, how to spin, how to weave, how to follow a pattern, and how to sew without a pattern have served her well in figuring out the instructions for the Fix-a-Flat, in figuring out the road system in central North Carolina, in figuring out how to plan and enjoy a two-week solo expedition around the UK.  Know who babysat for ten years and is more comfortable with little children than any of her friends?  Yeah, that’s this girl.  There’s definitely a relationship to be drawn there between being comfortable with girly childhood activities and taking care of little girls.  Know who learned a tremendous amount of American History from her dolls?  Yep, you guessed who. 

And this princess, the one whose mama called her babydoll, yeah, she played for hours and hours with baby dolls and Barbies and AG dolls and Polly Pockets.  For the record, though, although there were plenty of marriages and births among my Barbie colony, my dolls were all smart and strong and adventurous, and liked fairytale adventures in which they carried swords and wielded magic and pioneering tales in which they dealt with hunger and illness and social problems every bit as much as they liked the galas and tea parties I also routinely threw. 

Maybe this princess here is just special because, sure, her parents treated her like a princess, but they also gave her every educational opportunity and nurtured her interests and encouraged her to read and write so that it was years before she realized that not everyone considered the translation of words on a page into beautiful images in a mind to be an effortless miracle. So that she thought tests were fun and loved projects and assumed that everyone was horrified by anything less than a 95% on a paper and took getting into college as a junior with a scholarship as a simple matter of fact.  Maybe.  This girl’s parents, after all, gave her the gift of intelligence and, more importantly, the gift of loving to learn.  

Additionally, she was blessed with two younger brothers who taught her how difficult it can be to live with other people but also how very worth it compromise can be.  Those brothers of hers used to play house with her and dress up with her and bring her fairy-spy-princess-warrior-house-castle games to life.  They wrestled with her.  They cheated at games and called her out when she cheated and messed with the stuff in her room and told on her even when they’d made deals to not tattle.  They whined about attending her dance recitals, but they came anyway, and gave her flowers.  They didn’t hate her even though she sometimes beat them up, and she brought them their stuffed dogs and bears and lions when they cried.  And, in fact, they still do these same things, just dressed up in more adult disguises.  So these brothers and she, they’re close.  That counts for a lot in a woman’s positive self-image and all, I know.  I’ve read the books and the articles that talk about how it’s important for male family members to have solid relationships with their sisters and mothers. 

Have I lost my train of thought here?  Because what I’m trying to say is that yes, maybe this princess wasn’t harmed too badly by her pink-and-purple upbringing because the upbringing also included a loving family and an emphasis on education and imagination.  (The complete aversion to sexuality when she was in her formative years probably helped too.  No popular television, Bratz dolls, PG-13 movies until the age of sixteen, R-rated movies until college, understanding of makeup extending beyond the concept of mascara, negative body image based on anything beyond ballet capabilities, revealing clothes, or any interest at all in grinding on other people at school dances.  In fact, the majority of these disinterests hold true today despite the prevailing opinion that she is technically an adult and that the formative years are more or less over.  She has figured out eyeliner and television.)   Perhaps that’s true.  But really, I don’t think it’s the pink and the girly toys and the dressing up that messes girls up and has to be negated with other things.  It’s when parents teach that you can’t be anything but the glittery supermodel, that your worth is based on looks, and that your interests aren’t worthwhile.  That’s when girls get messed up.  It does a lot more damage to tell your child she can’t read something she picked out because it’s “above her reading level” or “too long” (heard both of those before while babysitting, and they broke my heart) than to forbid her reading a book about sparkly unicorns or writing stories about the Disney princesses meeting each other (not that I ever did that.  *Cough.*  Early fanfiction experience for the win?) because they’re “too girly.”  I believe that firmly.  Yet I know a lot of people who would hate for their daughter to do such things because it “sets them on the wrong track” towards a big slap in the face of feminism.  

It doesn’t set them on the wrong track.  Deciding that that’s not the track for them—that you know the right track for them—is what sets them on the wrong track.

And yeah, sure, this princess has spent the past three weeks in a terrible funk of sleep, internet surfing, homework, and pacing fretfully while panicking about the future, but I can guarantee that none of that is related to her parents’ decision to call her a princess when she was growing up.  If they’d called me grasshopper or cupcake or slugger or, heck, anything else, I would still be pacing fretfully and chipping the polish off my nails because graduation is approaching so rapidly and it freaks me out. 

So people?  Lay off the pink-bashing.  It’s just a color, and nobody’s freaking out about blue.  Quit acting like Barbies are responsible for every eating disorder in the world.  That’s ridiculous.  Call your daughters whatever you want, including princess, so long as they like it.  I promise, it’s not going to ruin them any more than it ruined me. 

And I'm not very ruined.

Friday, November 18, 2011


"There's a lot of fantasy about what Scotland is, and the shortbread tins and that sort of thing."
--Sean Connery

Only like, one of my favorite places I went, and I forgot to include those.  They go actually first of all, before the Alnwick pictures.  After London I went to Edinburgh, then St. Andrews, then Alnwick, then Newcastle, then York, then back to Brighton.  I should be ashamed!

Edinburgh is the nicest city I think I've ever visited.  It's clean and historic and Scottishy and, well, the light was just perfect when I was there.  Feast your eyes:

And, if you venture further north, to the widely-acclaimed school Prince William and Kate Middleton attended where my lovely friend Kate spent her fall abroad, here's St. Andrews!  I liked St. Andrews--it's right on the North Sea and there are some really interesting castle ruins and a completely gorgeous graveyard...the school is SO old and so quaint.  It was quite a contrast to Sussex, which was built in the 1960s and looks it.  Also, there was a cupcake shop.  I definitely liked it there--but honestly, the main attraction was seeing a friendly face from home.  I think I hugged Kate for five minutes nonstop when I finally found her.

October/November 2010

"November's sky is chill and drear,
November's leaf is red and sear."
--Sir Walter Scott

Honestly, I have no idea exactly which pictures go in which month.  I mean, I know the order, but I don't have my planning notebook with me here!  So, take a conglomerate month this time.  And I'm sorry; it's terrifically long and that it's kind of tedious to look at them in such a long, boring line!  But...I was abroad.  And going a lot of places.  And I can't figure out how else to position the pictures on the page because Blogger and I don't always agree about how basic things (or pretty much anything) should work.  Although I do have to say the new user interface is nice.  Maybe I should give this thing a facelift if I'm planning on dusting it off and using it again?

Not this weekend.  But maybe over Thanksgiving.

Anyway, back on topic.  Here's up with...oh, gosh, this is early October.  The spectacular Alnwick Gardens in Northumberland.  The water features and plants and scenery were fantastic.  There was even a gated, spooky-looking garden devoted to poisonous plants.  But these were my two favorite shots:

Right across the street but amazingly difficult to find considering that it's a MEDIEVAL CASTLE and HUGE is Alnwick Castle.  It's privately owned and the family still lives there part of the year (you get to see their TVs and baby pictures and everything in some of the rooms, just like they're regular people, even though they're clearly not because they live in a CASTLE), but the cool thing about this place is that it's Hogwarts in the first two Harry Potter movies.  Not kidding.

After I visited the castle, I went for a little jaunt in town to see the largest secondhand bookstore in Britain, Barter Books, which I had heard via the Internet was fantastic.  And it was.  There was a fire.  There was tea.  There were thousands and thousands and thousands of books.  There were words everywhere.  The whole bookstore is built inside a renovated, very grand train station, and it keeps a lot of that opulent Victorian flavor without being at all cold--there's even a little train chugging along the tops of the bookshelves, where the quotes are running down in the picture below.  I loved Barter Books.  It was my favorite stop of the day.  

After my stop in Northumberland, I visited Newcastle-Upon-Tyne.  I had high hopes for Newcastle, mainly because it's such a lovely name--sounds like a fairytale.  The town does not, however, much resemble a fairytale.  What it resembles is gray, yucky, modern city with not very much magic in it at all.  And I found that, in all my travels, Newcastle had the most smokers, the most disabled people (it seemed like nearly every third person was missing fingers or a leg or something), and the most hopeless-seeming people.  The northeast coast of England is really not very nice, you know.  It's pretty cold and dismal and gray.  However, I did find that when they were not outside being cold and damp and disabled and cigarette-holding, most of the people were perfectly lovely, cheerful and warm, and ever so willing to help or chat.  Which I appreciated.  Turns out that they keep all the magic in Newcastle inside where it's warm--such as the Children's Literature Museum, which had completely gorgeous exhibits on the artwork of children's book artists and a lovely cafe and an arts-and-crafts area and a dress-up/storytime area and an extremely comprehensive and altogether fascinating exhibit on Puffin Books which pretty much made my life a better place.  

Also inside and completely spectacular was the city's ship/sailing museum which is definitely called something more appropriate and grander than that.  It was rather empty the day I went, and it was warm inside, and there were films about ships and films about sailors and lots of literature on all of it and, most thrilling of all, models of real ships which sailed out of Newcastle in the past.  These ships have been Newcastle's primary business for basically forever, you see.  I loved them.  The brass gleamed and the threads were taut and the paint was shiny and all the details looked right and it reminded me of home--going to the lifesaving station, and going to the lighthouse, and seeing the ships docked at Norfolk, and hearing about my relatives in the Coast Guard and Navy, and living with the knowledge that my hometown wouldn't be there if people for generations hadn't understood and appreciated boats.  I kind of wished my father and grandfather could've been there to see this museum--they would have gotten a kick out of seeing these things.

And at the end of my stay, Newcastle decided to give me a little glimmer of how pretty it might be if the sun ever bothered to come out, or at least how pretty it might've been a few hundred years ago when the sun was out.

I went to see the ruins of Hadrian's wall specifically in honor of my high school Honors World History/AP Government teacher, who had said that I really ought to see it.  And honestly, it's not very impressive anymore.  But still, the museum was excellent, and it's cool that the stones are even still THERE nearly 2000 years later.  I could give you a history lesson about the wall, and part of me wants to just in case you don't already know about it, but that is not the point of this blog entry and you would probably get bored.  Suffice it to say that it was a wall built around 100 CE by the Romans for use as a military fortification at the edge of the Roman Empire (read:  to keep out those crazy warriors in Northern England/Scotland).  It also probably had something to do with deterring cattle thieves, or so Wikipedia tells me.  I find this significantly more interesting two semesters later, now that I'm a classical studies minor and have spent entirely too much time studying ancient Rome.  

York was my last stop on my early October trip.  And I loved York.  Really, really loved it.  It was charming, it was sunny, it was cute, it was colorful.  It had a Beatrix Potter store, for heaven's sake.  Just look at this road and tell me it's not adorable and doesn't look just the tiniest bit like a street Belle might walk down in her village in Beauty and the Beast (which, yes, is supposed to be French, but that's not the point).

Went to the National Railway Museum while I was in York (the National Quilt museum, too--but you couldn't take pictures there).  It was splendidly Dickensian and had fantastic exhibits and I loved it muchly.

The crowning stop in York, though, was Betty's Tea Room.  Betty's is very well known and quite posh...and even though I was there all alone in dirty jeans and a sweatshirt and sneakers, carrying everything I had with me in a backpack, with a bedraggled braid and no makeup on, the waiters treated me as if I were the equal of all the neatly-suited ladies brunching and the wealthy socialites catching up over scones.  The lighting was low and there was stained glass and marble everywhere, and every table had a silver tea service and white china, even though it was only around eleven o'clock in the morning.  I had a perfectly divine cup of tea and a scone with clotted cream and jam (I do wish they had proper clotted cream in the US.  I miss it sometimes, along with Yorkie chocolate bars and the type of chocolate mousse they served in the union shop on campus) and wrote in my journal and wished my mother and grandmother could be with me and closed my eyes and listened to the tinkling music and realized that, really, this pretty much fulfilled a childhood dream completely and perfectly.  Oh, but it was thrilling!

This is the window in my dorm room.  My festive window thanks to my Mama's care packages :)

I know Brighton is in some of the posts I actually did put up while abroad.  But, well, this is a good picture from the time my friend Erin and I went to the famed Brighton Pier.  You can just see in the pictures below how the whole waterfront goes for a sort of vintagey-tourism kitschiness.  

Erin and me having tea in the next town over, Lewes.  Lewes is charming and very historic (yup, there's a castle.  They have castles in this country like we have signs that say FAMOUS POLITICIAN SLEPT HERE in our historic houses which barely even register on the historic scale compared to British historic houses.  Anyway, our tea was lovely.

Oh, and we went to the farmer's market while we were there and bought produce...

Then tried to make caramel apples.  It didn't work, but was fun to try anyway.

Our pumpkin experiments did work, though.  They apparently don't sell canned pumpkin in the UK.  

Homemade (all the way) pumpkin bars!

One weekend in mid-November, Erin and I up and jaunted off the London for a Saturday.  First we stopped in Leicester Square to buy tickets for a show later on.

Then went to the British Museum of Natural History!  I had actually been here before with my group in high school, and that was fun, but we spent more time there this time and it really was a blast.  Their geologic exhibits are very well-done, and the specimens of, well, everything the museum has are top-notch.  

Then we saw our show--Wicked!  I'd actually never seen it (though I knew the story), but it was fantastic, and I can't imagine a better place to see it than in a historic theater in London.  Staging was amazing.

Ok, this is the point at which I stop saying something about every picture.  Without further ado, ladies and gentlemen, I give you:  Wales around Cardiff!

Wales was really one of my favorite places, and I had a wonderful time there with Erin.  However, there is something to be said for meeting up with people you know from home.  The picture below has been on this blog before, but it's one of my very favorites--Paris, with wonderful people from Elon.  You would not be crazy for not liking this picture, frankly, since two of three people aren't even looking at the camera and the background isn't spectacular, but I like it because it's true to everyone's personalities.  Jess is a little away from the rest of the group, soldiering on, but looking happy; Anna's fashionable, cheerful, hamming it up for the camera; Kate's smiling while she explains something, because Kate is always explaining something; and I'm taking the picture.  Yes, we had a good time in Paris.

Top of the Eiffel Tower

After our long weekend in Paris, Kate was set to go on a longer trip down to Spain (which ended up horribly, but that's a long story and it's her story to tell, not mine), Anna was going back to her regular classes in Paris, and Jess and I headed back to Sussex via ferry (third picture down) across the English Channel.  These next two pictures are of Dieppe, France, which is the place from which we caught the ferry.  It was very cold.  It was very damp.  We ate Indian at a tiny restaurant by the docks and used garbled French to get directions to the ferry.  It took forever and we got back late and had to wait in 30-degree weather in light jackets for a late-night train to take us back to campus--and every minute of it was worthwhile and even a bit fun.  It's amazing what you are willing to deal with when you are truly determined to get somewhere.  

The next several pictures are from Ireland.  Erin and I went to Ireland at the end of November, and Christmas decorations were everywhere, with lush, gorgeous displays in the shop windows in Dublin.  It was my favorite place of all--I loved everywhere, but in Ireland not only was everything historic and beautiful, but the people were genuinely helpful and friendly, and it just felt good.  And, yeah, we saw people shooting up on the trolley thing that takes you around the city and yes, Erin got carsick on the van tour we took of the surrounding countryside, but my overall impression of Ireland is, like my impression of Scotland, one of the highest, highest regard.

This is the tree outside my dorm window.  I took a lot of pictures of it simply because it was right there and it did such a very fine job of documenting the seasons.  This day I thought it looked particularly nice--no other reason for the photo.

In November several of us went to see Harry Potter 7 Part I, dressed as vaguely Hogswartian characters.  

After the movie (which was excellent, as always), we wandered through the streets of Brighton looking at the holiday decorations and contemplating ice cream.  I do not remember if the ice cream ended up happening or not.  But I know we talked about it.

And, for my last November-related picture (finally), here's a snippet of our American Thanksgiving in England, as prepared by the international students in our little isolated dorm at the top of the hill in Sussex.  Some of it was good and some of it was quite awful, but it was nice to celebrate no matter what.

December will be much shorter, and will have to wait a few days because I have several papers to write over the weekend.  See you next week!