The latest article making the rounds of my Facebook feed has all my feminist friends in a fury: a new study claiming to prove that princess culture reinforces gender stereotypes. All of my gender-equality peers (many of whom do not have children) are shouting from their social media rooftops, "See, we told you, this is the problem, it's those vapid princesses waiting to be saved by a man! That's why we're being paid only 70 cents on the dollar!" I consider myself a feminist and I'm all for gender equality, but I can assure you that blaming Ariel or Jasmine for the ills of our girls is not the answer.
If you've ever taken a psychology class, you probably remember that one of the initial lessons is the question of nature vs. nurture; essentially, whether we are genetically programmed to behave a certain way, or whether the way we behave is learned from our parents and environment. As a purely intellectual concept, the idea is something I find fascinating: Am I completely neurotic because of my DNA, or did I learn to be that way simply by living with my mother? Only my therapist knows, and she's not telling.
Now that I have two children of my own, one of whom happens to be a boy (Noah, 3½), and the other of whom is most definitely a girl (Rose, 2), I've watched the nature vs. nurture debate play out right in my own home. Newsflash: Boys and girls really are different, and I don't mean just physically.
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Due to the fact that my first child happens to be a boy, my daughter was born into a very boy-centric environment. I'm not a girly girl by nature, and while I did cave and paint her nursery a soft pink, that was the only concession made for our female offspring. Rose's choices of toys were as follows: tools, tool bench, cars, trucks, trains, and a gender-neutral play kitchen. Even her play mat and teethers were boyish, because hand-me-downs are free, and Momma is cheap.
We did have one doll when she arrived, which we'd given to her brother at one point because I read some article about the importance of allowing boys the chance to nurture. Do you want to know what Noah did with that doll? When he wasn't throwing it across the room and screaming "I don't want that!" he was trying to drill into the baby's skull with his electric screwdriver, which I can only hope presages his becoming a neurosurgeon and not a future Dexter.
When Rose first arrived, I hadn't fully lowered my parenting standards yet, meaning that I still believed in having no screen time and in not letting my children be babysat by PBS. As a result, neither of my children watched gender-specific TV (or any TV for that matter), and while I've certainly caved to reality and now appreciate the peace and quiet that a good hour (or three) of Daniel Tiger can bring, we've yet to see Frozen and have remained princess-free.
So one would assume that this gender-neutral, Disney-free environment would mean that Rose is totally awesome and not into princesses or dolls or makeup, right? That she's content to use one of her brother's power tools and to race cars and trains. She's definitely awesome, and she loves to use the toy jackhammer, but she wants to do all of that while wearing a crown, sporting a cape, and calling herself Princess Rose.
I assume that some of my detractors are going to say that her propensity for princess-ism is due entirely to the traditional gender roles in our home, so before the derisive comments start flowing, let me point out a few things:
- I am a proud owner of power tools. I use them; my husband does not.
- My husband cooks. The kitchen is his domain and I celebrate that.
- I work. I'm an independent woman with my own job and my own bank account. If you're laboring under the delusion that I'm some sort of wilting violet who stays home with her kids all day, bends to the will of her husband, and has no life of her own, I'd like to disabuse you of that notion by showing you my resume and letting you read my blog.
- I don't wear pink, I can’t apply makeup to save my life, and I’d rather be waterboarded than shop for clothes.
So, no, I don't think that my daughter's desire to be Princess Rose is because our family looks like Leave It to Beaver, unless June Cleaver had a secret job and drank a lot of wine. (Hmm.)
Maybe princess culture is bad for our daughters, but until some scientist figures out how to make girls, well, not actually girls, I think we're going to be singing "Let It Go" all the way to our therapists' offices.
Girls and boys are different, period, point of fact. I personally think it's just as harmful to expect our girls to stuff down their inherent predilection for "girly" things because it's not "good" for them. Let's honor our daughters' interests and passions, whatever they may be, while also teaching them that they are strong, smart, beautiful, and healthy, just like their favorite princesses.
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Perhaps instead of pointing out what's wrong with the princesses, we need to point out what's right: that Elsa is an independent woman who lives in her own castle; that Mulan struck out alone to save her father; that Belle is brave, loves to read, and didn't want to marry the creepy Gaston even though he was the most eligible bachelor ... and how those traits are inside our daughters as well. Even Cinderella, perhaps the most traditional of all the princesses, never became bitter and angry -- she was always kind, which, ultimately, is what I want both of my children to be.
Rose can use an electric drill with the best of them, but she's doing it while babywearing that doll of hers. In the end, isn't that what we want our daughters (and sons) to be -- strong enough to take on the world while simultaneously nurturing it?
Image via iStock.com/mrundbaken