My family isn’t all that large. Mom, dad, two sisters, five aunts, two uncles, two nieces, a passle of cousins my girlfriend, her daughter, and last, but certainly not least, my daughter. I am surrounded by women. I am surrounded by women and, for the most part, I am used to it. Let’s face it, this female environment wasn’t a difficult thing to get used to, as my parents didn’t raise me in an environment laden with gender stereotypes. Oh, I played with boy toys, my sisters played with girl toys, but along side our gender specific toys we had selections that violated the societally proscribed norms. I housed my My Buddy buddy (look it up, that wasn’t a typo) in a Strawberry Shortcake house, and my sisters loved their trucks.
Now that I have a child, I’m looking at gender roles, play, toys and values in a different way. In fact, this is the first time I have ever had to examine them. That’s different…right? Well, it’s different to me.
The girls and I were visiting some friends who also have kids yesterday, and as I sat on the patio with our friend (let’s call him Ted), we got to talking about kids, in particular, having daughters. Somehow, our conversation got onto the topics of critical thinking and princesses in the space of about two minutes. Not a discussion of our favorite princesses and the qualities of each that make them special to us (if pressed, I would have to pick Ariel…that’s all I’m gonna say), but rather the way some girls fancy themselves princesses.
As a play choice, I don’t have anything at all against the princess. I mean, which girl (young and young at heart) doesn’t want to feel beautiful, radiant, special, sparkly even? When you get right down to it, who doesn’t want to feel special, sometimes, regardless of gender? I know I do. I’m just not likely to assume the identity of a princess to achieve that. (I might pretend to be Harry Potter, however)
My problem isn’t with a girl/woman’s desire to feel beautiful, but with society’s princessification of girls at a young age. That is, feeding them the ideals of princess-hood, promoting a particular image of beauty, telling them that their worth and status as a special little girl is derived from them looking a certain way.
It didn’t take a lot of searching to see this and the resulting behaviors when many of these girls grow up. Those girls (you’ve seen them), scurrying around so worried about how their appearance is going to affect their social standing, searching for the “fairy tale romance,” where the prince arrives and showers her with gifts and happily ever after just because she’s beautiful, complaining about men when they don’t find what they have been consciously/unconsciously told they should have (and that they are a failure if that isn’t how their life unfolds).
There are many reasons that I know I am lucky to have the parents that I do (and I will post more about that in the future – stay tuned), but as it relates to this, it’s because they allowed me a healthy level of control through choices and promoted critical thinking. Because of them (and reinforced by a small collection of teachers through the years), I believe that I am well prepared to raise my child in a way that is open and accepting of her as a person, not just a gender, as they grow.
This is important to me. We still live in a society that pays women less for the same jobs, on average. We live in a society that still finds ways to justify rape (“she was asking for it! Just look at the clothes she was wearing.” Sound familiar?). We live in a society where it’s okay for our daughters to play with boy toys, but god help the boys who want to do something feminine; it’s as if the feminine things are of a lesser value, while it’s okay for the girls to express masculinity. Is that really the message we want to send our children?
Yes, my parents gave me a gift, alright, and it’s one I am going to do my level best to pass on to my daughter and perhaps to my girlfriend’s daughter as well. I am definitely not going to discourage princess play, but nor will I discourage play choices simply because they aren’t girly. If she wants to pretend to be Cinderella, I will dance with her as if we were at the ball, but I will not forget to teach her about her own worth, as a person and a girl; that her future and fortunes do not hang solely on her looks or her gender. I can’t control how society draws it’s gender lines or how it views those who don’t conform to those lines. All I can control is how I think and how I raise my daughter to view herself and her place in this global community. If the society of the near future hasn’t come to evolve its gender sensitivity, I will be somewhat sad and disappointed, but I will be comforted by the knowledge that my daughter will always be able to readily find a safe place to escape the gender judgement she may face simply because she happened to be born a princess.