Wednesday, March 23, 2011


I have wanted to write this post for awhile but I am finally getting around to it thanks to Clueless But Hopeful Mama's post (Do you read her? You really must. She is wonderful. Thoughtful. Insightful. Funny.)

I have a confession to make.

My daughter is a girly-girl. She likes Barbies. She loves tutus. Princesses are her favorite topic to talk about. She even loves Ariel, the dimwit who gave up her voice for a man and then left her family to be with that man (although she's never actually seen The Little Mermaid).

When I first found out we were having a girl, I panicked a bit. A girl is a big responsibility for a mom. I felt I had to be the best role model ever. She must be Strong. Independent. Never let a man control her. All princess shit must be banished. BANISHED. (Insert picture of me flexing my muscles with a bandanna on my head.)

And then I had a girl. I decided to let her choose her path. If she wanted pink and sparkly, she could have it. If she wanted trucks and tools, she could have it too. I did try to steer her away from Disney princesses and pushed Tinkerbell more. She's at least feisty and independent. She's not waiting for a man to save her or giving up her voice for a man she's never met (I'm looking at you, Ariel.)

That worked for awhile. And then someone gave her a sleeping bag with the Disney princesses. It was like a gateway drug. Before I knew it, we had princesses coming out of our ears.

So here we are. She loves everything I hoped she wouldn't. I ranted against Disney princesses in college. Those insipid twits just sat around waiting to be saved. How stupid. And how stupid was I to watch them as a child and believe in happily ever after. Pfft.

I know it could be a phase. I also know it could shape how she thinks of herself. But how much?

I keep looking at the book Cinderella Ate My Daughter and thinking I should read it. Part of me wants to but I think it will make me mad (and perhaps feel a little guilty.) I'm not sure dressing my daughter in pink now will lead her to become an oversexualized teen. (I know I am simplifying the concept.) But since CBH Mama says it is a must, I think I will.

So how do I let my daughter (who by the way loves to dig for worms, play in the dirt, act like she's fixing her Tinkerbell tricycle with tools, etc.) be who she wants to be without possibly damaging her future self esteem?

Who knows. It's not something I can answer in a blog post or maybe even in this lifetime. For now, we are careful about what books she reads and try to find ones where the girl is a strong figure. I avoid dolls that look like they belong on a street corner. We try offering alternatives to the princess shows just so she knows there is something else out there. She loves Super Why! on PBS and Curious George. (I do love PBS and the Disney channel because of the lack of commercials for every plastic toy under the sun - yes, I know Disney is basically one big commercial but I don't hear "I want that!" all of the time.) We keep things age appropriate - music, television, games, clothes, etc.

The scary thing is, now won't be the hardest part of dealing with this. I shudder (and the husband swallows his tongue) when thinking about our little angels as teens.

It's not perfect but I hope that I am a good, strong role model for her, not to mention the other women in her life. Together, we can teach her that a girl doesn't have to wait for her prince to come to live happily ever after but she can dress like a princess while digging for worms.


Erin said...

I think we, as parents, look at the world in ways kids don't. They don't see subtext. They don't understand it. Hell, even the high school kids I teach have a hard time picking up on the nuances and underlying messages in ANY text. Many girls who liked Disney princesses as a kid are healthy, independent (and single) young teenagers who still like Disney princesses, but I think only for the mythology behind them. And the ones I know take school seriously and plan to attend college for a BA or an MD, not a MRS.

So on that note, I think you can relax. And I also think you are going to raise a girl capable of critical and independent thought, so one day she'll know that all those Disney princesses are imaginary, not practical, and certainly not what the real world is about. Keep doing what you're doing -- paying attention to her media choices, encouraging variety, and nurturing her -- and she will turn out to be as strong and as independent as her mom!

Because, let's think about it. What grown woman in the world still looks at Ariel as an ideal woman? By the time we're in college (if not sooner) we realize the best role models are the women who gave birth to us, no matter how many Barbies we played with when we were kids. We know they're the best role models because those women gave us the freedom to follow our own paths, even if it wasn't quite what they wanted.

~she~ said...

I don't see anything wrong with a little girl wearing princess dresses and enjoying feminine things. I do, however, have a big problem with Bratz dolls, Miley Cyrus, and television shows that teach our daughters to dress and behave inappropriately. I have been contemplating writing a blog post about this for some time. I think you just encouraged me to do so.

Michelle said...

Thanks, Erin. I agree with you. I think sometimes we get caught up in analyzing so much that we project and the kids have no idea. That said, I agree with you, she. No Bratz and no Miley Cyrus.

k said...

I've been sweating it too--at least a little bit because Iris is still kind of teeny.

I finally came to the conclusion that I loved Disney movies growing up and totally loved Cinderella (poofy dress! a prince!). I also loved the Karate Kid and remember wanting to kick someone's ass for a little Mexican street justice because that scene was awesome. I also made some really shitty choices in boyfriends for a myriad of reasons until I started valuing myself more.

So while Miley and Bratz and a host of things can thwart positive messages, becoming strong-minded and independant and assertive is a lifelong pursuit.

d e v a n said...

A thoughtful post. Definitely something to think about.

clueless but hopeful mama said...

First of all, thanks for the shout out! Glad you like my post!

I'm not sure I gave you the clearest impression of the book. It does NOT tell anyone not to buy pink or princess things. It is one mother's search for the underlying issues in the girlie-girl culture that is marketed to us all.

The real problem with all the pink and all the princess is that that's pretty much it - the choices are SO limited for girls to express or explore what being girlie even means. Who decided that girls should only wear/buy pink things? Yes, of course there are a few other options and yes, of course, I like pink, glittery things myself. But what are we teaching our girls when every toy meant for girls is pink? And what are we teaching our girls when so many toys and characters meant for them are all about (narrowly defined) beauty? What Ms. Orenstein does very well in her book - and I repeatedly fail to do in talking about it! - is talk about how she doesn't want to deny her daughter's desire to explore all the options, she just wishes there were more, better options. She, like us, doesn't want to keep her daughter from loving and appreciating her own girl-ness. She just wishes that the cultural ideas about what it means to be a girl weren't so narrow.

Erica said...

Great thoughts, thanks.

Amanda said...

OMG. How timely.

I dropped Q off at my MIL's house today and she excitedly told me she had bought Q a ball.

"Great!" I thought.

She pulled it out of the plastic Meijer bag and there it was. My daughter's first bit of Disney Princess paraphernalia. I was thisclose to reminding my MIL that there are to be NO DISNEY PRINCESSES to enter this house until she can request them by God, but bit my tongue and was thankful the ball will stay at her house, not mine.

I am "okay" with the Princess fantasy. I think that girls, regardless of whether or not it's brought home or purposely introduced, gravitate to that anyway. It's the Disney shit I can't handle. It grosses me out, gives me hives, it will NEVER set foot in my house. Q can play princess all she wants - just without all of the licensed character bullshit that tends to go along with it.

End rant.

Cupcake Mama said...

Sigh, I am struggling with the Disney princess thing myself. I classify all Bratz, Barbie, etc as Disney nonsense. It is hard to tell people not to buy that stuff as I want my daughter to choose it, not have it forced upon her. I played with Barbies but I also felt that I didn't have a lot of other choices in toys beyond dolls and barbies. We have a no technology rule in our house as well.

At the same time, I worry that I am handicapping her. I don't want her to feel left out or weird but I don't want her to be overly influenced by this nonsense either. My heart aches for her already as I know that girls can be vicious if you are not in the "know."

How do we raise self reliant and confident girls instead of commercially targeted clones?

Stephanie said...

I don't even have kids yet and I struggle with this! My niece is 3. I try to find her presents that aren't licensed with Barbie or Disney princesses. That aren't pink. That encourage development of her mind and independent play. It leaves so few options! I'm not sure my husband agrees with my vehement opposition to commercialism, but he goes along with it.

I often end up buying presents on Etsy because they're "independent." I don't know a better solution for this... And I think licensing is bad for boys, too. Everything I wanted to get my nephew for Christmas had a Cars logo.

I'm not saying I'll *never* buy something with a princess or Barbie, but I'm definitely reluctant.

Jane Mc said...

This is old, but I just did a google search and it was my first result... I am pregnant and was SURE I was having a boy. I just don't connect with my princess-loving nieces and their girliness. I was more of a tomboy, but I also had dolls and liked barbies.

So I was in shock when I found out I am expecting a girl. The same way you described it. I even had a couple of panic attacks about it. It feels like so much more pressure, raising a girl. There's so many more societal expectations to protect her from, and so many things about the world I will want to teach her so she doesn't get hurt. I'm dreading the day she wants princess everything and pink sparkles. That's going to be really hard for me. And I do feel that overwhelming pressure, that I will be her role model. I just don't feel like a good enough person for someone to model themselves after. Ugh!

Anyway, I just wanted to let you know that it was comforting to see someone else has the same feelings about this as I do. My sister is a born girl mother and decorated the nurseries in pink and crystals. I shudder... I'm still scared.