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Friday, 11 March 2011
I am not a fan of princesses.
And neither was my daughter until about 4 months ago.
She loved dinosaurs.

But at age 5, the pressure to fit in is already alive and well~ all the girls play princesses (ok, some eat, sleep and breathe princesses) ~ and Rowan is succumbing...  and having had a very difficult adjustment to school and the social currents, the question of being in step with the rest of the girls or marching to her own drummer is a particularly loaded one.
My resistence to the whole princess 'thing' is not some counter culture tomboy contrariness. It isn't being prude-ish or moral. It is about letting girls be girls. Girl children.

At a recent Sparks event (little girls Brownies), the theme chosen by the girls was, yep, princesses. My daughter wanted dinos but was outvoted.

One of the activities was watching a princess movie~ and I think, honestly, it was the first time my daughter had been introduced to the idea of a princess needing/ wanting a prince. Or kissing one.
But out of the group of 7 little girls, she was the *only* one for whom this was a new concept (her sensitivity to any strong emotions or scariness on screen means she doesn't watch many movies and so has heretofore not encountered the love story aspect of the Princess tales).
The others were well aware that a princess must look beautiful to catch a handsome prince.
That is her job and purpose.

More than once recently my daughter has expressed her chief virtue and skill as 'being pretty'.  This is not a message we have given her. Yes, we think she is beautiful, but never more than we express our love for her compassion and kindness, persistence or silliness.

And this genuinely worries me as a mother.  For as much as we try to strike a balance at home, and resist the commercialization and yes, sexualization, of our daughter... as much as we try to let her be a child in a grow-up-too-soon world, the forces seem overwhelming. And I feel sad, angry and frustrated.  None of which are terribly helpful. So I went searching for some tools to help me look forward to this new stage of childhood where outside influences begin to take on a greater role.

A recent Redbook article hits the nail on the head for me and has sent me off to purchase my own copy of Cinderella Ate My Daughter.  Hopefully a greater understanding of the forces in play will help me to sort through the confusion and concern and find tangible, helpful ways to keep my daughter out of the belly of the beast. 
There is also an interesting article on this at Brazen Beauties: Critical Commentary on Representations of Girlhood in Popular Culture.

What are your thoughts?


Liz said...

I am going to order this book too-my 5 year old daughter has just been introduced to Princess movies/books by her classmates, and although she always kinda liked Sleeping Beauty for "the same gold hair" as she has, there was never before any Prince or being beautiful worries me too, even over here in Scotland :) I don't want her to be a mini-adult,I want her to be imaginative, clever, funny Savannah!

Unknown said...

LOL Rowan likes Belle because she has the 'same brown hair'. I agree with you whole heartedly about being themselves!

Dreaming Monet said...

thanks for writing this. the whole princess thing really does bother me. i am trying so hard to keep cinderella from 'eating' my toddler, but it seems the world is set on that happening. i will soon be mother to two girls. i appreciate posts like yours, & wonder how we can possibly combat the forces already in motion and keep our girls strong and happy and yes, beautiful, without succumbing to the jaws of princessdom.

Katrin said...

Maybe I can ease your fears a bit. My daughters are now 6 and 8 and we too resent the whole princess thing and everything around it a lot. We too kept it from them as long as we could, but daycare introduced them to princesses anyway. For parties there was a princess theme, the loot bags were stuffed with Disney Princesses stuff, my girls know/know all their names etc.
So in order to keep them in reality, we refused to buy anything themed, no Dora, no Princesses, no Spongebob etc and eventually they stopped asking for it. We also always told them in terms they could understand that this is not reality, that the values the princesses represent is not what we are living nor is it reality and that there is a machinery behind it all geared towards taking mommy's and daddy's money.
When the issue of prettines came up, we always told them, that yes it is nice to be pretty and that they are, but mainly it is important what they have in their brains and that it is important to learn and use the brains given to them.
Also we did take them to Disney once (didn't buy anything themed still) but it helped them to understand and wonder why there are so many princesses about in different places when there is only supposed to be one?! Money!!!!! - We all did have a great time there but we will also not take them back to Disney.
For Halloween both were princesses for a couple of years and then all of the sudden school started and they stopped worrying and thinking about princesses. They don't matter to them anymore.

So what I want to say is, keep doing what you are doing, pointing out what this princess business is about, offer them other things to take interest in, but also let them live out their princess phantasies and then hopefully one day it will be over and if they still like them, they will most likely still have a good set of values.

Unknown said...

I'm looking forward to reading the book, i am also working on a Princess Proofing Post LOL

I have to think that moms just being *aware* of it is some help, right? Offering alternatives?

Pegs said...

As a Sparks leader myself (with no kids of my own) I always try to keep Princesses out of the mix. Personally, I find a lot of what they stand for contradictory to the values/purpose of Girl Guides. And really, I'm not volunteering my time to promote the Disney brand.

But it's tough trying to balance steering the kids in a good direction, while still letting them have input into the program like we want them to.

Pesonally, if the girls ask questions/request princessy type things (or Hannah Montana, gah. etc.) I tell them that we're there to try new and fun things - and they can have plenty of fun with princesses at another time.

If you do have to "go princess" check out the "self-rescuing princess" t-shirt over at ThinkGeek

Dria said...

I think the best way to deal with these things is to say out openly why we (the mother) do not like the princesses. It is possible to explain to them the concept of merchandising and that a company is using the girls to buy their stuff by making them year to be like the princess in the movie.
Girls this age still look up to their mothers and value their opinions. What to do when they are teenagers - I have no clue as I haven't got there yet :-)
Forgive my grammar, you get my drift.

Unknown said...

LOL I do get your Dria! Excellent point! (adding it to my notes... ;))

And Pegs, I agree about Sparks, the funny thing is the head leader *does* know better ~ she is my main support in our counter cultural childhood choices... so it surprised me that they went that route for the event!

Rossellastra said...

Here in Italy is even worse: in the malls we have toys physically separated in based of genres. Toys for boys are in a different place from toys for girls boys who play with dolls or girls who play with robots and cars are considered weird by a vast majority of people (and parents)!
Then we have a lot of problems with children clothing: I have a lot of problems to find clothing for my little one in order to dress her like a child like she is and not like a mini-vamp! Also with colors: you can find only pink or purple, maybe white or pastel colors for girls.
Just to let you understand how much big is the problem here, a big company of children clothing has this slogan "children dressed like children" in order to differentiate itself from the other companies.
Then we have the messages passed by tv movies or cartoons: girls must be always rescued by somebody else, of course they must be rescued by a boy, a prince etc. Or girls must grow to do some jobs and not others, like housekeeping is something related to girls/women only!!!
If you knew Italian language, you could find interesting these books:

they are related to the influence of social conditioning in the training of the female role in the early years of life.

I hope my English isn't awful ;-)

Unknown said...

Your English is awesome!
Thanks for sharing your experience... It is interesting how this feeds into stereotypes we have worked so hard to get past! In Canada, too, there are boy aisles and girl aisles in the big stores but smaller stores are much more mixed.

So is there a matching counterpart for boys? Superheroes? Are they taught to rescue girls?

Rossellastra said...

Thank you!
Well, boys are trained too with superhero cartoons and what a shame if they try to look at Tinkerbell related movies!
I think that girls are trained to some sort of feminine role they should have when they grow (housekeeper, stay-at-home mom etc) while boys are trained to avoid homosexuality as some people still think that letting the boys play with girly toys could make the boys gay °___°
In disney movies the prince is the one who help the princess, like a princess couldn't do on her own!
I think that Shrek movies or "the princess and the frog" tried to be different (in the princess and the frog, the girl wants to open her own restaurant and she isn't interested in marrying a prince!
In the disney movies there's also the ethnic argument, an important issue for my little one who is Cambodian and who couldn't identify herself in a white and blond haired princess ;-)

As you do, I try to do my best, letting my little one play with whatever she chooses: she has toys of any kind, handmade by me and the plastic ones.
Waldorf schools are a good choice but in Italy there are few schools and they are really expensive!

Ok, I admit: I'm quite sensitive abouth these arguments.
I'm quite boring about this masculine culture...

Unknown said...

I suspect it may be still very strong in Italy, compared to some regions over here~ it still exists but is not so dominant as women are in more and more roles.

The Paper Bag Princess is, of course, a Princess I can admire (Robert Munsch). LOL

Rachel said...

My favorite book when growing up was "The Practical Princess". I wish it would be republished. It's a story of a princess who was given common sense by one of her fairy godmothers at her birth. Nobody thought that was a very practical gift for a princess; but, it turns out to be the best one of all. She saves herself and, in the end, a prince by using her common sense.

I admit that my toddler daughter does like playing the princess thing; but, we've been trying to downplay the necessity of a prince. It IS difficult in this culture.

Unknown said...

Sounds like a great book!

Princesses are a fine option for play... an option~ it is when it is all there is that gets to me most of all, so limiting!

RhondaLavender said...

I struggle with this as well. I think about how long some of these fairy tales have been told . . . way, way before Disney and I know there is an intrinsic value and something that nurtures the soul in these old tales. I have had some luck in finding older copies of fairy tale books at thrift stores and yard sales. I look for beautiful illustrations (not cartoony) that give another dimension to the story. I look forward to reading more at BTRT on this topic.

Terri said...

Fab post...I will look into that book at a later stage. We were just given the first Barbie type doll at Christmas and it takes all my effort not to throw it away each day! I linked to this post in my Sunday Surf -

Unknown said...

Thanks for the link up Terri!
I think you are right Rhonda, they persist for some reason, some truth, some appeal... which is maybe why the commercialism is even more 'icky'~ taking archetypal stories and branding them/ owning them.

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