For some reason, the largely mainstream feminist war on pink and princesses has always bothered me. It seems so cruel to critique and disrupt any particular thing that energizes and excites very young girls; who, like most children, are often so sensitive and so impressionable. That stated, I am aware that the social sciences are saying that rigid gender roles are solidifying, out there in the trenches, as early as kindergarten for some of these babies, which will invariably alienate any that deviate from the binary. I dug into those feelings and this is what I came up with.
What is problematic about going hard against princess fantasies?
After some thought, I believe that a nascent hunger for power happens through play in young girls pretty regularly in two predictable forms.
In the first form, the girl becomes a facilitator of play and instructs others in the rules of play. She may correct others, get frustrated when they don’t comply, snatch toys and other such things. This early exploration is usually extinguished with scolding remarks about it being “bossy” or “rude” behavior. While some of this might be rude, and teaching cooperation to children is wonderful, “bossy” is a very gendered term. Boys aren’t called bossy when they facilitate play. Rather than summarily admonishing this behavior, there is a good opportunity here to gently teach young girls to be constructive, commanding leaders. Some of this should actually be cultivated and seen as a sign of success. Just as it is important to monitor young girls for their social cues, it is also important to look for the presence of self-esteem and assertiveness.
In the second form, the girl embraces a female model with expansive influence or ability. Sometimes, this attribute goes unnoticed to others in a wave of hyperfemininity. While we cringe at our daughters’ desire to be bright pink frilly princesses, we somehow miss that she is pretending to be a female head of state, the lack of which we are constantly bemoaning. A fairy or other magical creature, despite flirty gossamer cocktail dress, is also another powerful stand-in here.
What’s the caveat?
While princesses are indeed a powerful icon, if pink and prissy, they are also, unfortunately, an imperialist icon. So instead of balking when our daughters reach for the tiaras, I think it would be more constructive to teach them to be a populist princess. What would a princess of the people really look like? Would she be at the helm of an environmental NGO? Would she be on a platform with a bullhorn, lending words of support to the battered masses outside of the G8 summit? Would she work to end all the wars or hunger? Would she head a vaccination program? There are infinite possibilities. The point is that a princess is free to do these things, and that a princess is important enough to hope to accomplish things. This is what we need to nurture in our children. We don’t want them to preserve the institution, but we want them to take up space. We want them to be brave and assertive. We want them to have self-esteem.