I was glad to recently receive a guest post commenting on Caitlin Moran’s new book, ‘How To Be a Woman’. I’m looking forward to reading it myself, particularly as Moran addresses our increasing obsession with princesses – something I’m currently wrestling with. A number of my friends have young daughters and I can’t help but notice the “princess effect” in their lives. This isn’t something that sits comfortably with me.
I was a young girl during the 1970’s and I don’t remember an obsession with pink, sparkles, crystals and princesses while I was growing up – at least not to the same degree as we see today (although a friend tells me she remembers several little girls with Princess Diana haircuts at school…). There were certainly stereotypes for boys and girls when I was growing up, but I honestly think assumptions around how we expect boys and girls to look and behave is far more defined nowadays.
I’ve heard a child described as “such a little boy” or “such a little girl” because of their behaviour so many times recently that it’s frightening (a typical little boy being someone naughty who likes cars and a typical little girl being someone who likes pink and pretty things that are generally associated with princesses). I was asked recently why being defined by gender is a bad thing. It’s hard to explain, but, in short, it’s a form of stereotyping, and that can only be a negative thing. If “normal” young girls and women are only seen as loving all things pink and wanting to be princess-like, what happens to the little girl who likes cars and bikes? Is she made to feel different to other little girls and what effect does this “difference” have on her? Is she called a “tom boy”? What if she likes bikes and princesses? And what about little boys who like playing with dolls and tea sets? I’d like to think that we don’t want to make our children feel that they have to fit into behavioural boxes or, even worse, that they don’t fit in anywhere at all. I want to live in a world where we let children develop their own interests without feeling that they have to explain or justify any choices that are perceived to be different to the norm.
In terms of tackling the princess paradigm, I guess it’s important to recognise that, while an obsession with princesses perhaps isn’t all that healthy, we still live in and generally want to be accepted in a world where being princess-like is desirable to some degree. For example, as popular as they are, I don’t own a pair of pink GHD hair straighteners. My GHDs are plain and black. While I have nothing against pink as a colour, I just don’t see why it has to be gender defining.
With this view in mind, the feminist in me just can’t get my head around the growing demand for pink products for adult women. It should be noted, however, that I do own a pair of sparkly shoes studded with crystals. Evidence that I too have succumbed to elements of the princess paradox. Great! I’m trying to rage against the machine, but still want to have pretty shoes like all the other girls at the same time.
I mentioned ‘the feminist in me’ above. Another stereotype? Do I have to label myself a feminist to not identify with girlised products for adult women? Do other women who don’t usually consider themselves to be feminists feel the same way? Oh dear, where does it stop.
No doubt, we all agree that it’s important to prevent cultural stereotypes from restricting our children (and our adults), but it’s also important to let them live comfortably in the everyday world. However, no one wants their child ostracised or considered to be the “weird kid”, and isn’t there a danger that our children will end up feeling like, and possibly behaving like, outcasts if they believe their genuine likes and interests aren’t normal anyway?
The national organisation for women (NOW – see link below) sum up one of the main issues with princess culture perfectly: “It’s just a fantasy, right? What’s the harm? The harm is that through this narrative, gender roles and expectations are sold to little girls every day – girls who could be encouraged to go after so much more and to discover their true selves.”
All we can do as individuals, I think, is to have an awareness of what is going on around us. We can choose to walk through life with our eyes open and to acknowledge the bigger picture when we make statements about “typical” child-like behaviour or when buying products that fit firmly in the princess box.
If you are interested in further reading on the topic of Princess culture I’m told Caitlin Moran’s book, “How To Be a Woman”, is a good place to start:
Further blog posts on the Princess Paradigm:
http://www.now.org/news/blogs/index.php/sayit/2011/04/29/the-princess-paradigm-lives-on - quoted in the above blog post