"Throughout the course of his life, every guy wants to go on an adventure, slay a dragon and save a princess." This was the "truth" offered from a successful businessman who was sharing his story on stage at an industry event. When I looked around to see if anyone else's mouth was wide open in disbelief, I mostly saw nodding (and many balding) heads in the audience. As the speaker kept talking, I understood and respected the core of his message, but I was really rattled from the princess comment.
We had recently celebrated the beginning of 2016, but the statement made me feel like I had been shuttled back decades -- even centuries -- to a time when women were revered for their loyalty, beauty and domesticity.
Perhaps it hit me harder because in my personal life, I'm currently serving as the primary breadwinner for our family while my husband does some side consulting and expertly takes care of our two young daughters. Not only am I working hard inside and outside the home, but my idea of a beauty routine these days is a quick look in the mirror before I go outside to ensure I don't have blood or spit-up on my face. So, no -- I wanted to shout to the stage -- not every woman is sitting in a tower, twirling her hair and waiting to be saved.
Females have been using our minds as currency for years and have demonstrated our talents and capabilities in many ways. Studies indicate that women are trailing in areas like senior leadership positions and salaries, but progress is underway.
So how dare anyone assume I want to be a princess? Well, because maybe I do sometimes.
My husband and I are the kind of partners that essentially split chores down the middle; if he mows the grass, then I weed the garden; if one person takes care of the kids in the morning, then the other will pitch in more during the afternoon. It's more common at dinnertime for him to wear the (NY Yankees) apron and for me to take out the trash.
However, there are times I want to play a more traditional role. I want him to help me put on my coat; I want him to let me go first; I want him to grab a drink for me at a party. Basically, I want him to let me be a princess, but only on my terms.
I still want to be treated as a competent and equal partner. I still want to pick baby girl names based on whether they sound like they could work on a corner office nameplate. And I still want to be asked rather than told. I want to be a tower of strength -- I just want to be able to crumble occasionally.
When I was growing up, I would cringe a bit at the word "feminist." With my very narrow knowledge of the term, I envisioned bra burners shouting crass comments. What I didn't realize until much later is that you can be a feminist and feminine at the same time. To me, that concept is liberating. Just as every human is different, so is every woman. We're allowed to get giddy about frilly dresses and get immersed in political debates -- or both. We can be strong and soft.
Thinking about how I interact with my daughters, I realize I'm sending mixed messages about girl power. "You can be anything you want," I tell them. "Girls are strong." And then 15 minutes later, when my four-year-old asks for a story, I'm reverting to the old standby: a prince and a princess meet early in life, are separated by crisis or happenstance, and are reunited because of the bravery of the prince who sweeps the princess off her feet.
While I don't plan to ban fairy tales from my house anytime soon, I'm trying to reach more often for Miss Rumphius or Madeline. And when my daughter asks me to tell her a story, I put more effort into creating the plot and heroine. Truth be told, I'm prone now to creating stories about kids who are kind and help their parents -- or don't to their own peril.
I want my daughters to understand that strength comes in many forms. Women can like make-up and make believe, but we also can make the world a better place. My girls deserve to feel like princesses sometimes -- and to be confident they can save a prince.