Monday, November 12, 2012

Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor Explains that Being a Princess is not a Career

Justice Sonia Sotomayor recently appeared on Sesame Street to talk about the importance of careers.



Sonia Sotomayor: Hi I'm Sonia Sotomayor
Abbey Cadabbey: And I'm Abbey Cadabe
Sonia Sotomayor: And we're here to tell you all about the word career.
Abbey Cadabbey: yeah career
Sonia Sotomayor: A career is a job that you train for and prepare for and plan on doing for a long time
Abbey Cadabbey: Oh I know what career that I want to have
Sonia Sotomayor: What's that Abbey?
Abbey Cadabbey: I want a career as a princess - career (Abbey transforms into a princess)
Sonia Sotomayor: Abbey pretending to be a princess is fun but it is definitely not a career.
Abbey Cadabbey: It's not?
Sonia Sotomayor: No. Remember a career is a job that you train and prepare for and that you plan to do for a long time.
Abbey Cadabbey: Well gee you're right. I guess a princess really isn't a job.
Sonia Sotomayor: No, it's not.
Abbey Cadabbey: Well then, what kind of career can a girl like me have?
Sonia Sotomayor: Well, you can go to school and train to be a teacher, a lawyer, a doctor, an engineer, and even a scientist.
Abbey Cadabbey: Wow. Do you have a career?
Sonia Sotomayor: Yes I do. I am a United States Supreme Court Justice. I went to school and studied law and then became a judge.
Abbey Cadabbey: Wow, well that sounds important.
Sonia Sotomayor: It is.
Abbey Cadabbey: Okay then I know what career that I want to have.
Sonia Sotomayor: What's that?
Abbey Cadabbey: Career (Abbey changes to a judicial robe that matches Sonia Sotomayor) Order in the court.
Sonia Sotomayor: Oh Abbey, I think you'll make a great, great, judge
Abbey Cadabbey: Oh thank you
Together they say: Career
I am sure that this video will be making the rounds with a lot of squee.  It's not often that we see on television girls being encouraged to seek out a career, which can provide subsistence, rather than dreaming of living happily ever after in a castle with their true love.  It stands out in particular because the woman giving this message, is the first Latina judge on the United States Supreme Court.

I think that as a role model for WOC this is excellent.  I however have a problem with a young girl being told that she is not going to be a princess.  The truth of the matter is that if a child is negotiating a marginalization other than gender, and is between the tender age 3-7 (the focus group of this particular bit) she already knows that princess is not on the agenda for her. Childhood is always treated as a monolithic experience but it most certainly is not. Things like race, class and ability greatly effect the degree to which a child is able to experience a so-called innocent childhood. The world tells these young girls at a very early age that they are not special.  Consider for a moment the movie The Princess and The Frog.   Tianna is Disney's first African-American princess and unlike all of the princesses that went before her, Tianna ended up owning a restaurant and working with her prince, rather than living happily ever after in a castle.

Marginalized girls know that they are not princesses and are not going to grow up to be a princess. What this message does for them is to affirm what they already know.  It shatters absolutely no illusions. What it does do is encourage them to seek out a career which is a message that parents are already doing because they know that from a very early age the deck is stacked against a marginalized girl. There is a part of me that wishes that marginalized girls could have the same sort of innocence able bodied White girls of class privilege receive.  I wish they could have time to believe that the world sees their worth at face value, without them constantly having to fight for their humanity to be recognized. 

I am however glad that they get so see someone like Sotomayor in a position of such power.  It will help to encourage them to dream high and to work hard.  It will help them to believe that they can achieve their goals.  Unfortunately however, Sotomayor is the exception to the rule rather than the norm because we all know that meritocracy does not grant power or position socially or economically. In it's own way, this message is filled with fallacy's that a child will not be able to process.

I'm not sure what the correct message is to give.  Though I have boys, this is something I struggle with everyday as a parent.  I want my children to dream but I also want them to be realistic.  I do know without doubt that this short conversation is far more complex than it appears and I worry about the round of squees it is going to get without in-depth thought and analysis.