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Sarah Stankorb

Don’t Call My Daughter Princess. Call Her Madam President.

Illustration by Kjell Reigstad

Sarah Stankorb | Longreads | February, 2017 | 12 minutes (2,917 words)


My daughter Zoe was about 11 months old. Other strange men with silvered brows had referred to her as princess before. I’d read Cinderella Ate My Daughter during my third trimester, and while I deeply feared how the world would subtly limit her options, I usually bit my tongue over the princess thing. But we were on a trip to Thomas Jefferson’s home, Monticello, and maybe it was thoughts of presidents, or the emotional toll of slipping between the fancy house and its slave quarters, or maybe I was just tired. But I looked at the man who’d just called my daughter princess and said, “Not a princess. She’s going to be president.”

He looked at me like I was talking gibberish—he’d just been trying to be nice to a baby—and walked away. I got used to that taken-aback look, because from that point forward, not-a-princess-but-president became my default. By the time we went to Disney World last spring when she was 4, my daughter had heard the message enough times that as park attendants and characters called her princess, my daughter corrected everyone (except Elsa, because evidently one does not mess with the ice queen).

Zoe would sling a hand to her hip and say, “I’m not a princess.” When they’d ask what she is then, she’d reply “President.” Or “Jedi” on a day spent scouring for and failing to find Rey.

Zoe identified with Hillary Clinton from the start. While I was weighing Sanders versus Clinton, my 4-year-old had determined “Hillary is a girl president, like me.” She made up songs about Hillary and developed a granddaughterly deep, unfaltering affection for her.

Meanwhile, I dug Bernie Sanders’ laser focus on economic issues, his willingness to put words to the crush of student debt that weighs on most people of my generation. Hillary Clinton, it seemed, had almost always been there floating in my vague awareness of the political realm. As a young teen, I respected that she used Rodham—and knew zero women in my own life who’d kept their given surnames, or hyphenated them. I certainly didn’t understand why there was so much hubbub over her lack of interest in baking cookies.

My own mother had set my life’s trajectory, firmly pointing me toward college and a career of my choosing. “You don’t need a man for anything,” she asserted, frequently. Marriage, if I wanted it, could wait. Children, if I wanted them, must certainly wait. Mom launched into informal sex education when I was in elementary school to ensure I would understand and have control over my reproductive choices. Who cared if the First Lady didn’t want to be reduced to lurking in kitchens? Neither did my mother and neither did I.

But years on, grown up and with kids of my own, Clinton’s presidential bid felt about two generational steps removed from me. Her nineties positions on feminism and health care, treated as so radical at the time, were an assumed part of my world. My life was evidence of progress. I didn’t need her anymore. Read more…