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Fairies and princesses and pixies, oh my!

November 2nd, 2008     by Michelle Schwartz     Comments

When I was a little kid, I hated the color pink and all associated toys with a passion. It wasn’t that I had such a problem with the aesthetics, so much as I hated what that color stood for. The pink toys, the Barbies and the princesses and the baby dolls just didn’t speak to me. I didn’t want my toy to sit around waiting for Prince Charming. I wanted my toys to explore space or faraway lands, fighting evil villains and having glorious and heroic adventures.

Wedding Barbie just wasn’t up to the task, which led to many arguments with my grandma as to why she should buy me “boy toys” for my birthday. Since I was a kid, it has seemed to me that the toys marketed to girls have gotten even more insipid and PINK PINK PINK. The Disney Princess cult and its many imitators have always been the bane of my existence. The idea of a toy that does nothing but wear a sparkly tiara and wait for a man to rescue her didn’t sound fun to me at all. Is this what we want our young girls to aspire to?

So I was happy when I heard a report on American Public Media’s Marketplace podcast about how fairies are quickly supplanting princesses in popularity. A lot of little girls don’t want to sit around and wait for Prince Charming to marry them; they want to lead the adventure themselves, and fairies are nothing if not adventurous. As one little girl says in an interview, princesses

“weren’t doing things for themselves, other people were doing it for them. Like Snow White, she wasn’t as smart. You don’t take food from strangers.” But fairies “are in nature, you don’t have to be watching a movie or, like, wear a fancy dress. They can be more [full of] personality and smart.”

Of course Disney is taking the opportunity to make buckets of money off their most popular fairy, Tinkerbell, but so what? Maybe Tink will be a jumping off point for many little girls to explore the adventurous fairy universe outside of Disneyland. Two things that come to my mind are Holly Black’s Ironside series and Susanna Clarke’s The Ladies of Grace Adieu.

As fellow Shameless writer Stark has said in her review of Ironside, Holly Black’s young adult novels use the world of faerie to discuss addiction, violence, queerness, and difference. Susanna Clarke’s Johnathan Strange & Mr. Norrell and the more female-centric collection of stories that serves as the sequel, The Ladies of Grace Adieu, are adult books that rework British history as if all the fairytales were true. History is thus populated with brave magician queens, collectives of sorceresses that secretly work spells from within their mansions, and strong women that resist the cruel manipulations of the wicked fairies. While I’ve often been frustrated with the sexism common to fantasy writing, I have faith that some of these little girls will grow up to expect more, and bring their own strength and individuality and feminism to the world of faerie and beyond.

Tags: media savvy

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