How is "princess culture" working out -- for our sons? Blogger Dresden Shumaker says it leaves boys behind for all the wrong reasons. Moms may love the female empowerment messages girls are getting now: You can be anything! You can be frilly and pink, and you can be strong and adventurous. It's an exciting message for girls to get -- but are we giving boys the same breadth of possibilities?
"Within modern girl power, there seems to be a message that girls are better than boys," Shumaker says. "Boys are BAD. Boys are MEAN. Boys are silly, weak, stupid, clueless, rough." But her son is none of those things -- and these messages confuse him. When it comes to boys, apparently you cannot be "anything you want to be." At least, not if you want to be a tutu-wearing Dora the Explorer.
I agree with Schumaker that this is a major limitation of raising a boy. We've written about little boys who like to wear dresses before, and of the awful social stigma they face. But there's more to it than that. (And anyway, isn't wearing pink kind of a shallow measure of gender equality?)
While we encourage girls to be strong and powerful, do we also get to encourage boys to be emotionally expressive, sensitive, and caring? I don't necessarily agree that this new power-princess culture is bad for boys. And here's why: Because I think boys are starting to relate to these exciting female characters.
I've practically raised my son on Hayao Miyazaki movies (Ponyo, Spirited Away), which often feature strong female protagonists. And of course he's seen other movies like Brave. At first I liked these movies because I hoped my son would learn to see girls as equally adventurous and powerful as boys. Like he needed to get that from movies! He's surrounded by empowered girls.
But here's the surprising thing. In identifying a little with these female characters, he's also picked up some of their more traditionally feminine characteristics, too. The way these characters care about others, the way they form alliances, the way they get to express a whole range of emotions, including hurt and weakness -- that's a part of the new princess culture that's benefited my son.
Now I have a little boy who will readily admit, "I'm sensitive." And even though he cries easily, I treasure that. I'm so grateful he feels free to admit that he's sensitive without feeling like that makes him less of, well, a boy. Would I love to see more male characters express fear, sadness, vulnerability, loyalty, dependence, stylishness, and compassion? Of course! But I've been surprised at how readily my son will identify with certain female characters.
In the video below, "I'm a Princess" (okay, it's a Disney commercial, but I love it), you see all kinds of girls and all the amazing, powerful things that girls are. I want my son to identify with all of those characteristics, too: Brave, scared, loyal, trusting, kind, generous, compassionate, tightly bound to family, and yes, even beautiful. I watched the video and imagined my son saying the same things -- and it took my breath away. We're waiting for a new kind of Prince Charming -- one for our sons.
Do you feel like "princess power" is harmful to boys?