I was a whimsical six-year-old, preferring to inhabit the elaborate realms constructed in my imagination instead of the real world. During playtime I’d become whoever I wanted to be that day. Sometimes that was fairly simple: I’d play ‘teenager,’ which solely involved pretending my chocolate milk was coffee. More often, however, I’d fashion myself into a much more elaborate character, usually inspired by a favorite story or movie. Depending on my mood, I could be Eloise ruling the Plaza Hotel, or Angelina Ballerina sashaying across a stage.
Disney films offered an especially seductive world. I relished the chance to be beautiful, to be in love, to live happily ever after, tropes that delimited female fulfillment as branded by Disney. Snow White, Ariel and their cohorts were happy and successful—and really, that’s all I wanted to be. So I’d become a princess.
When I was in first grade, my mom brought home a new book of bedtime stories, Girls to the Rescue. This collection of folk tales edited by Bruce Lansky, recounts tales of heroines succeeding without the intercession of fairy godmothers and dashing princes. Its varied protagonists rely on wit, instead of magic or beauty, to overcome obstacles.
I hated it. The stories left me unsatisfied. To me, none of the main characters got truly happy endings: they’d achieve their goals, but not the passive marital bliss I had anticipated. Because in my mind, “happily ever after” defined female success. I could not sever the girls in the stories from the established archetype I cherished. I felt sorry for the stories’ protagonists: they’d been cheated of a true happiness.
But my mom kept reading, and soon the stories started to grow on me. I became comfortable with these new female characters, and with them a novel appreciation for their tenacity. Subconsciously, my simple six-year-old mind reoriented itself towards female protagonists. Girls to the Rescue told about heroes unqualified by their femininity. These adventurers, uninhibited by proscriptions along gender lines, opened up an unprecedented, exciting window in my imagination.
Girls to the Rescue altered my perception of other girls, which catalyzed a change in my expectations for myself, of those faraway dreams I could achieve through my own action and determination. And so I thank you, Bruce Lanksy, for coaxing me into taking that first step towards empowerment. Without my realizing it at the time, Girls to the Rescue helped me develop an inchoate feminism that redefined not only my imagination but my sense of self.
Later that same year, I watched the original Star Wars trilogy for the first time. I proceeded to watch it every day for the next several years. I adored Luke Skywalker, the noble, light-saber wielding hero. I began devoting my daydreams to Jedi training and X-Wing maneuvering. I disregarded Princess Leia entirely.
Princesses were boring.
Thank you Bruce Lansky,