I’m Trying, But I Just Can’t Get with Princess Culture

You know, I’m just trying to live my life. Under no circumstances do I want to be that parent who has a problem with everything, buuuuuuuuut I kinda have a problem with everything. Ok, not everything, but a lot. Case in point: princess culture. I’m fine with frilly dresses and the like, but my daughter is not some doll whose purpose is to be dressed and paraded around to someone else’s liking. She won’t be anybody’s sexy damsel in distress, and she won’t be anybody’s eye candy whose hair and makeup are fixed just so–at the expense of her mind and soul. Nope. Can’t do it.

Maybe it sounds like a big leap from tutus and tiaras to mindless, objectified shell, but my eyes are open. I see how even cartoon characters are drawn to be seductive. I see adult-ish children’s shows whose 12- and 13-year-old female characters look straight out of New York Fashion Week. I see how young girls are often steered toward things related specifically and exclusively to appearance. Is it wrong to want to look good? No. In fact, I wouldn’t mind if my daughter wore pink and purple glitter and sequined shoes 24/7, but what she’s not gon’ do is think that’s all there is to life, all there is to her. So, when she’s done accessorizing, done putting on her sixth coat of crackle nail polish, she’s going to read and think and pray and create.

Little Mermaid's Ariel rises from the water.
Little Mermaid’s Ariel rises from the water.

Princess culture and boys

I’ve done a lot of talking about my daughter, but boys are affected to0. In fact, I’d argue the affect is worse on boys because, while girls are being taught to treat themselves poorly, boys are being taught to treat girls poorly. What happens when little boys watch movie after movie and TV show after TV show about pretty girls looking for handsome boys to fix their lives and love them? What happens when they see girls caring only about looking good and getting a date? What happens when they are covertly and overtly taught to be sexist? The message then becomes, “Girls are here for fun and folly.”  I can’t let that type of message go unchecked in my home.

My son is 3, but he’ll be in school soon enough, surrounded by other boys who may or may not have been socialized in a way I agree with. And if I were a betting woman, my money would be on their not being socialized to value girls wholly. I say this because I’ve been a kid before; I remember the things boys said and did to girls back then. I also hear the things boys in my neighborhood say and do to girls now. Not much has changed.

Schools are notorious breeding grounds for sexual harassment–everything from 5-year-old boys engaging in butt-pinching behavior, which they probably don’t even understand yet, to high school boys committing rape on (and off) school grounds. Sadly, its not uncommon for boys to think girls are just for looking and touching. These messages start young.

It’s not just about princesses 

I wish princess culture was the only issue. If so, it would be relatively easy to combat . Most girls are over princesses by their tween years. Problem solved, except it doesn’t end there. By about age twelve, princess culture is most often replaced by airbrush culture and “I’m nothing if I’m not sexy” culture and “I’ll only eat every other day so I can be waif thin” culture. This idea, that women are but a collection of poseable parts, is so pervasive and inbred that many refuse to acknowledge it. Instead, they break the internet by getting bucket naked in a “tasteful” photo shoot. Instead, they make Instagram porn and wait for the likes to roll in because, you know, it’s artistic. Instead, they Jedi mind trick you into believing it is an empowering form of feminism.

Clearly, Yoda's been reading Malcolm X's autobiography.
Clearly, Yoda’s been reading Malcolm X’s autobiography.

Action steps and solutions

So, what’s an aware mother to do? Me, myself, I just lock my kids in the closet and only let them out for 30 mins a day to watch a pre-screened episode of Arthur. But you probably aren’t as hardcore as me. Here are some more-politically correct options for anyone else who just isn’t feeling princess culture.

  • Create your own narrative– Since my daughter loves princesses, I just go with it. I wouldn’t dare try to fight it. But I tell her being a princess is not about being cute and dainty. It’s about being confident, strong, and kind to others.  Disney is aware of the backlash, so they’ve created a string of commercials like this one to cast princesses in a different light. I can dig it.
  • Find the good- I have little use for Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, and Cinderella (even though I love the music in the Brandy and Whitney version), but I love Mulan,  Merida (from Brave). and Tiana (from Princess and the Frog). They are all strong, take-charge, capable characters. I have no problem with my daughter wanting to be like them.
  • Point out messages that counter yours– If the kids are watching a show that rubs me the wrong way, I’ll tell them. Even if I turn it off, the message has already been delivered. I can’t just let it seep into their subconscious. I have to highlight it and mark it as wrong, invalid. So, if we’ve been watching a show for 10 minutes and all they’ve talked about is boyfriends and girlfriends and how so-and-so is devastated because she doesn’t have a date to the 5th grade dance, I’ll say something like, “Guys, I’d rather find another show because this one keeps talking about having a boyfriend/girlfriend, which shouldn’t be a focus in 5th grade.” My kids know their mother, so they rarely protest.
  • Find something to say yes to- When you’re a socially aware parent, you find yourself having to say no to a lot of things. That’s no fun for the child, and it makes them more likely to want to sneak and do it anyway. Instead of saying no all the time, I’ll offer up an alternative. “No, we can’t watch that show. I don’t think there is anything on there that would benefit you, but you can…”
  • Show your daughters how capable they are- When things break around the house, I don’t call maintenance or the hubs, I call the kids. I bust out the screw drivers and YouTube how-to vids and get to work, letting my daughter take the lead whenever possible. We’re not always successful, but I still think there is value in making an effort.

I want balance in all things, so I’m not anti-princess. But I know anything that goes under the radar cannot be examined. That’s risky, too risky. I want my kids to learn how to decipher and discard messages that won’t add to their development. This is just one thing they’ll have to deal with. I know there are many more. I want need them to be ready.

That said, if my daughter wants a princess-themed party, she can have it. If she wants to see a princess movie, she can watch it… if I one day decided to let them out of the closet for more than 30 minutes.

~Nadirah Angail

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