Sunday, February 16, 2014

Keep Calm and Princess On

Our 3.9-year old loves princesses. It started early. She was mesmerized by jewelry before the age of one. Before she knew her colors by name {between 1.5-2 years old} she was consistently choosing pink, yes, choosing. Around the same time, she started asking to wear dresses every. single. day. Then came the discovery of tiaras, and before we knew it we were living with a princess.

You may have noticed that princesses are getting some bad press these days. Some would probably say our daughter has fallen victim to the gender specific marketing of toys and so-called "Princess culture," a device of our capitalist society to keep women in the kitchen where they belong. Others might even say we've dropped the ball as parents by letting this happen. You see, princesses send the wrong message to young girls- that they're helpless and need a man to save them. Princesses don't really send the message that girls should focus on their education or a career either since they generally dance around a castle all day, helpless and waiting for a man. Worst of all, princesses tend to be pretty, wear pretty dresses, and have lots of jewelry {so as to attract a man}. This leads young girls to believe that their value lies only in their physical appearance. 

I don't entirely disagree with those concerns. And yet, we let her play princesses to her heart's content and let her choose pink toys, clothes, shoes, crayons, you-name-it, whenever she wants.

Here are 5 reasons we're going to keep calm and princess on:

1. Princesses have come a long way since Cinderella.
In case you haven't seen a princess movie lately, they're not all damsels-in-distress anymore. In fact, most of the princesses in the more recent movies are the heroines of the story. Carsen hasn't seen most of the princess movies, but the ones she has seen have strong main characters. Anna & Elsa are her current favorites, and if you haven't seen Frozen, you should. Additionally, not all princesses are a creation of the Walt Disney corporation! What?! I know, it's shocking. Seriously though, there is still real actual royalty out there in the world and some of them are amazing role models. The obvious example is Kate Middleton, who Carsen knows and recognizes as a princess. She's certainly beautiful and wealthy and married to a prince. But she's also a good person, a mother, and a great role model. I have no problem with my daughters looking up to her.

2. "Princess culture" and the "pink aisles" aren't a device of evil capitalists, and we're not their victims.
They're a device of parents and the other people who buy toys. Quick econ lesson for ya: In a capitalist system, consumers control the production of goods and services through demand. What people buy is what producers will make. If people buy a bunch of sparkly pink princessy stuff, that's what they'll make. If people buy pink kitchens, and pink baby dolls, and Barbies with tons of makeup on, that's what they'll make. A capitalist (a.k.a. "free") market also means we have the freedom to buy what we like and leave what we don't like on the shelf. So, if you want your daughters to play with trucks and dinosaurs, just walk 2 aisles over and there they are waiting for you. If you want your son to play with a kitchen or doll, just buy him one. It's that simple. Show toy makers what you want them to make more of by buying those toys and leaving the rest. You "vote" with your dollars. Our children aren't victims of evil toy makers. No one is trying to keep our daughters down. They're just doing smart business and trying to make their living like everyone else by giving consumers what they demand. Personally I'd much rather live in that society than one where toy makers make what they think is good for kids.

3. The bigger deal you make it, the bigger deal it becomes. 
Just like when a kid says a curse word, you don't want to make too big of a fuss over it because then they'll just keep saying it. She loves princesses. That ship has sailed. If I were to attempt to dissuade her, point her in another direction, or casually phase out the princesses it will just give them power. It's something she's attracted to, so when I start pulling her away from it she'll only want it more. Allowing her to indulge makes it just another thing we play, like sidewalk chalk and doctor, and much less likely to have some dramatic bearing on who she thinks she should be when she grows up.

4. I have no problem with domesticity, as society seems to. 
Why is it that we're so afraid of little girls playing princess or dolls or kitchen? We're afraid they'll grow up to cook and clean and raise children. God forbid! Guess what I do? Yup, I cook and clean and raise my children. I also have a Master's degree. I'm going to let you in on a secret... education, career and domestic life aren't mutually exclusive. In fact, I consider myself to have the best of it all. I'm doing what is more important to me than anything else in the world- raising my children, and I also have a solid education and degree that gives me the option to work on another passion of mine whenever I'm ready to. Sadly, society today doesn't respect domesticity as a vocation. We place value on high-powered careers above marriage, family and just about anything else. That's what I want to protect my girls from- growing up to feel like motherhood isn't a worthy choice. If they're not a highly-paid, highly-educated professional with a demanding, life-controling career then their life's work isn't valuable. Well, they are my life's work, and there is positively nothing more valuable on this planet or anything more worthy of my time, energy, creativity, or passion. I hope that they'll cherish our time together as much as I do, and that they'll want the same for their own children. None of which means they can't have a career and an education. There's plenty of time for that when babies are grown.

5. I parent, therefore it's not a big deal. 
Yes, if you park your child in front of Cinderella from the ages of 2-10 and never bother to cultivate any other interests or be any other kind of role model for her, then she'll probably grow up trying to be Cinderella. On the contrary, if you actually parent then you probably have nothing to worry about. We talk about and do all sorts of things in addition to playing princesses or babies or cooking in her play kitchen. We read together, we visit friends, we go to the library, we play at the playground, we do all types of art, we play music, we dance and sing, we run, we play ball. She loves many other things, she has many other interests, and she sees examples of strong, intelligent women all around her. I'm not even remotely concerned that playing princess is going to cause her to grow up believing she's helpless.

So, to all the moms & dads of little princesses out there: don't worry, you're not ruining them. Let them be themselves. Let them be little girls. Let them dress up, and dream, and imagine. Let them choose their toys and what color they want them to be, and it's ok if that's pink ;) Girls don't have to play with hammers and dump trucks to know their worth. They just need loving parents. Seriously, the rest is details.

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