We do not do Disney Princesses. Growing up a tomboy and then into a student of social justice, I thought I had enough reasons to keep princess culture at bay. But I recently realized another one – the idea of a One True Love (OTL).
There are the standard arguments centered around race/ethnicity and gender. Most Disney princesses are either White or Anglicized versions of other ethnicities which can be very harmful for the self-image of non-White young girls (remember the Clark doll experiments?). Princess culture also teaches our girls that their main fulfillment comes from meeting a man, and encourages them to focus on their appearance at the expense of other attributes. And why, oh why, should my three year old be interested in fictitious romantic relationships?!
But I also realized that the Disney (and other media) rhetoric brainwashes many of us into believing that we each have One True Love. Growing up in an Indian family and watching my fair share of Bollywood, I think I used to believe it as well. I have since been “cured.” However, this rarely diagnosed problem has very profound ramifications.
Firstly, too often I have seen young Muslim women, talking to potential spouses, scared to make a mistake in choosing the right one. Buried underneath some of this fear is the worry that perhaps they will choose someone who is not THE OTL… in which case their marriage and life are inevitably doomed.
Perhaps most importantly, the idea of the OTL also focuses one’s efforts on the search for the spouse, rather than the maintenance of the marriage. There is no OTL, in my view. There are several people with whom one can be compatible. To change that compatibility into strong “romantic” love does not happen through a magic kiss, a magic rose, nor a magic slipper. It comes from sincerity and hard work, and is a gift from Allah (swt). This paradigm – that love and marriage are hard work – is rare in our American culture. But it is a valuable one that we, as Muslims, must teach ourselves and others if we are to improve the condition of our families and our society.
Bhawana Kamil lives in Santa Clara, CA with her husband and daughter. She teaches Ethics at San Jose State University, and is the president of the Bay Area chapter of the Muslim American Society – but only on the side. Her real job is watching (and hopefully helping) her little girl grow up!