In the aftermath of International Women’s Day and the celebration of women’s achievements my parenting dilemma over princesses is again at the forefront of my mind. The princess obsession which has been established in our home for over a year now. As a child I was more of a tom boy so not that into princesses, but on one level I’m happy to tolerate them. They’re usually a bit pink and one or two are a bit insipid, but hey ho there’s plenty of fictional characters I’m not that keen on including Tony Welch who really irritates me (and I’m not even sure why). On the other hand there is something about the whole princess thing that just makes me uncomfortable and I’m not quite sure what. I know I’m not the only parent who feels like this – I recently read an interesting blog on this topic at https://themotherhub.ie/2017/03/01/femininity-vs-feminism-%ef%bb%bfand-when-hair-has-a-gender/#more-4406
I worry about gender stereotypes and will my daughter grow up thinking that beauty and falling in love with a prince are the norm, but then I also probably need to recognise that she is only 3 and lives in a magical fantasy world that just happens to include princesses. I feel frustrated at the illusion of “happily ever after” as that just sounds like a road to disappointment but then I also wonder whether there is much to be learned from princess stories. Jealous women, vanity and petty behaviour are common themes in these tales and a reality of life too. Still being kind and good and “beautiful” despite having faced adversity are a challenge for us all. An “act of true love” in Frozen is not all about a kiss from a prince, but self sacrifice. So what is the cause of my discomfort?
I’m not really any closer to understanding what it is about the whole princess thing that leaves me uneasy. I find the marketing of all things pink and girly as an expectation quite intense, but my daughter loves all things pink and girly (thank goodness for hand me down princess paraphernalia). Intense marketing is an issue for all parts of society, not just in the realm of princess merchandise. Maybe it’s the sense of expectation and conformity that goes with it or the stereotyping of both genders – I’m not really sure, just uneasy. I recently turned down the offer of a free fire engine bed for my son – I still don’t know if this was a good or crazy decision – but I didn’t want him to be expected to like vehicles because he’s a boy. At 18 months old I’m not sure exactly what he likes, although ironically it does seem to be cows, balls and vehicles – arghhh!! I may be stepping into the realm of overthinking here!
As someone who has studied women’s history (my husband is convinced I would have been a suffragette) I am very proud of the pioneers of previous generations who fought hard to get us to where we are now. When writing a dissertation on the development of birth control in interwar Britain I read horrendous stories of what some women endured before contraception was widely available and the battles to get it were hard won. I know that our rights and freedoms as women are not available in all countries and should not be taken for granted, but does letting my 3 year old enjoy a magical world of princesses contradict that? I guess the princess dilemma is secondary to how I teach my children to treat other people, not just in terms of gender, but also ethnicity, sexual orientation, religious belief etc. If they can learn to be wise, thoughtful, kind, individuals who are confident around people from all walks of life then the princess dilemma is probably not a big one!
This is a blog written by a variety of people living and parenting in Gloucestershire today and sharing the ups downs and in-betweens of real family life.