On Girls and Princesses

Ok. We all know I’m completely fine and totally encourage play outside of “gender norms.” In fact, this weekend, we all painted our toenails. Including my son.

And I’m all for girls playing with blocks and trucks and whatever they want to play with. A lot of my friends are women in traditionally male dominated industries – law enforcement, stage construction, sports promotion. My daughter has great gender eschewing role models. And recently there’s been a huge push on my face.book essentially protesting all things pink and princess-y for girls. And trust me, I know all too well that so many girls are pushed into “girliness” by societal expectations of what girls are supposed to like.

But what’s a mom to do when her daughter actually DOES like those things? What happens when you raise a boy and a girl in the same environment, encourage them each to play with all the same toys – balls, trains, dolls, dress up – and despite all your gender-neutral intentions, you have a boy who likes sports and painting his nails, and a girl who likes princesses, dresses, fairies, all things pink, and, well, pink.

What’s interesting is if I were to post about how my son plays with Polly Pockets and wants his toes painted I know I’d get a ton of support for not holding him back from exploring. I know, because I have posted about it. But what happens when you post about your daughter who could care less about sports, oohs and aahs about tiaras and wants to watch “Say Yes To The Dress?” Then you’re a mom who perpetuates antiquated stereotypes about girls and is depriving her of the chance to breakthrough the glass ceiling.

Why does it have to be one or the other? Why do we have to have websites that are “Princess Free Zones?” because they promote girls doing things like working with tools, reading comic books, and watching Star Wars? Why can’t we assume these things can coexist? Why can’t my daughter like Tinkerbell and Ariel and build with Legos and hammer with the Home.Depot tool kit we’ve had for years? Why does it feel like I have to defend (and no way will I) my daughter being in dance class while my son does T-Ball? Trust me, we’ve asked if she wants to play, and the answer has always been unequivocally no.

The thing is, I have no problem with pushing for places girls can go play and be themselves, whether they choose to play with trains or dolls. And I absolutely do believe that toy makers need to be held responsible for their gender specific stereotypical marketing and toy making. What I don’t understand is the idea that it has to be one or the other. Is pushing girls AWAY from pink and princesses any better than pushing them TOWARDS these things? How about instead of pushing girls at all we provide them with opportunities to explore all the world has to offer and actually (gasp) let them choose.

Please do not misunderstand me, I’m not saying that people who are pushing for non-traditional opportunities for girls, in terms of play, dress, activities, etc… are doing harm or aren’t something I support. What I am saying is there’s an either/or mentality to it that I find really harmful.

Telling a girl she CAN’T like pink or princesses is no different than telling her she should.


4 thoughts on “On Girls and Princesses

  1. I totally, totally agree. I think it is very offensive to devalue things that many little girls are just naturally attracted to during play. Sure, I think certain storylines need some reframing (like a prince always coming to save the damsel in distress) and I am just not too big on makeup and heels for myself but I would never, ever dissuade my child from exploring or embracing these parts of our culture’s definition of femininity.

  2. I’m right there with you. My 4.5 year old loves all things pink, frilly, princessey and girly. I’ve tried to interest her in other things and she will try but if she is playing t-ball its in a dress and she is commeting on the girls shoes or dress who is at her base. LOL. Oh well. I’ve given in. I don’t even care anymore. She likes what she likes.

  3. I totally agree, and that’s why I’ve not “pushed” anything onto my son. He likes what he likes. If he wants a sword or an action figure or a baseball bat, I’ll get it for him. If he wants a tutu, I’ll get it for him. He often asks for sparkly light sticks that glow in the dark. He doesn’t notice or care if it’s pink or blue, if it’s butterflies or Buzz Lightyear. It really frustrates me when people try so hard to keep things gender-neutral or gender-equal that they DON’T buy the things that are socially considered for the gender that the child actually IS. For example, I have friends that have boy/girl twins…they have no problem allowing the son to dance around in a tutu with pigtails. But they try really hard to keep princess stuff out of the girl’s room, despite the fact that she is drawn to it. Doesn’t make sense to me.

  4. My problem isn’t the pink or the princess – its the sexualized piece of it and the “girl needs a man to be happy or to be rescued or has to give up something for her man (like in the Little Mermaid)”. That message isn’t healthy IMO. I also don’t like the “girls need to wear make-up to change how they look” You are beautiful just the way you are – that is the message I want my daughter to know.

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