Rebecca Hains has posted a call for chapters for a scholarly anthology about princess culture
. We had a quick Twitter exchange about possibilities and somehow She-Ra popped into the conversation. If you never heard of She-Ra, Princess of Power, you were not a preschool child or the parent of a preschooler in the mid-1980s. Here's a taste:
My three-year-old daughter was heavily engaged in He-Man and She-Ra play for about a year, and owned not only She-Ra and the horse and the castle and a sick-kick or two, but also a She-Ra outfit. The later was a mix of items that were purchased (shield, sword and mask) and homemade (dress from an old slip, silk scarf turned into a cape). For a brief time, trips to the Mall were transformed into "shopping with She-Ra", as she walked a few steps behind me, narrating an imaginative adventure and waving her pink plastic sword.
So take a look at She-Ra. Consider the Playboy Playmate proportions, the girlish voice, the horse, the clothes. If you were a fan, what do you remember being so attractive about She-Ra? What impact, if any, did she have you, as a child or as a grown up? Would you be happy or appalled if your own child fell in love with She-Ra today? Is she the mother or grandmother of the Disney Princesses? A distant cousin?
Curious minds want to know.
I spent some time this week looking over more baby and toddler clothing in Sears catalogs*, and have confirmed one of my theses about the patterns of gendering. The dressier the occasion, the more gendered the clothing. This is clear in these images from the 1983 spring catalog. The play clothes include a page each of fairly girlie and definitely boyish outfits, plus a page that are pretty much neutral. The dressy clothes are pull-out-the-stops feminine and masculine. compared with the 2000's, there was much less pink in the play clothes options.
This aligns with what many adults do: more neutral styles for leisure, more gendered for special occasions. The sharpening of the gender binary for some situations, while it is ok to blur them in others, is part of what I am mulling over as I develop my next book.
*Sears catalogs are among my favorite resources for studying mass-market fashions. If you live near a Sears store that is over thirty years old, your local public library might have a complete run of the "big books" on microfilm. If not, the best source is now Ancestry.com
, which includes online access to Sears catalogs as part of their basic membership. I wish Sears had donated them to a museum or library that could allow free public access, but alas, they are struggling financially and I guess this was the best they could do.