Thursday, February 6, 2014

The War On Princesses: Please Just Let My Little Girl Be A Girl

Nearly every morning this winter I’ve had to convince my daughter that wearing a summer dress in forty degree weather is not a good idea. I’ve had to tell her that yes, her sparkly sandals are pretty, but they’re probably not the best choice for playing outside.

And she does enjoy playing outside. She doesn’t mind getting dirty in the backyard and loves ‘going exploring’ with her brother. She’d just rather be doing it in a frilly floral dress.
I was a tomboy as a kid, so I can’t really relate. Wear a dress? No thanks, how am I supposed to climb trees in that? Her propensity for sparkles and pink certainly did not come from me. I’d have chosen Batman & Robin over princesses and fairies.

This is how I know that her love of ‘pretty things’ – which was specifically what she asked for at Christmas – did not come from any encouragement on my part. I’m still that way – I don’t spend much time on hair and makeup, I’ve never seen much use in ‘bling’ (other than my wedding ring), and, apart from undergarments, I can’t think of anything off the top of my head that I own that is pink. And I think my daughter notices because she seems particularly excited when I wear anything other than tennis shoes. “Ooooh, you look so pretty, mama!”

Yet, despite my lack of girlishness, here I am with a child who sleeps with a stuffed pink unicorn (named Vanilla-Pea, which we think is her take on Penelope) and absolutely wants to be a princess. At first I wondered – should I discourage this behavior? And then I wised up.

As I see more and more about ‘gender neutrality’ popping up everywhere, I can’t help but wonder where this obsession with trying to squelch natural tendencies comes from. Why is it wrong for a girl to be girly? To prefer the pink and purple legos over the multi-colored ones?

If there was a gender study conducted in my living room, there is no doubt it would be concluded that boys and girls are inherently different. My little girl would rather tuck her barbies and mermaids into bed and say, “Shhh, they’re sleeping,” while my little boy would rather leap headfirst off the couch and barrel through the house with his trucks, ramming them into walls, all while roaring like a dinosaur.

I realize research in my living room wouldn’t be very scientific, but after speaking with many parents of boys and girls, I believe this scenario is typical in many households. The thing I don’t get is why people have such a dadgum problem with it.

Yes, I want her to learn about all the possibilities the world holds for her, but I don’t think her innate femininity is something to be attacked, as though it would hold her back. I’m not ruining her by allowing her to watch Cinderella. If you don’t think there are good lessons to be found in even the most basic of princesses, you’re not paying close enough attention.

Do you know what is awesome about Cinderella? She was able to find joy, despite her awful situation. She was stuck in a prison of sorts, and yet she woke up in the morning, opened the window, and sang with the birds. That’s epic, right there. That’s Andy playing the opera music over the loudspeaker in The Shawshank Redemption. It’s a rare quality we’ve forgotten about in today’s instant gratification world. And yet it can be found in CINDERELLA.

In the messages we don’t agree with, there are lessons to be taught. Cinderella falls in love with the prince at the ball, and it’s my opportunity as a mother to tell my daughter about the qualities to look for in a husband and tell her how silly it is to fall in love with someone you just met. Boom. Simple as that.

It doesn’t have to be all or nothing. We can’t make sure the world around our children reflects everything we want them to see. There are many types of messages she will face in her life, and it is my job as a parent to help her make sense of them.

Look, I get it. We don’t want our daughters to be bombarded with stereotypes and sexualization that could change the way they see their worth. That’s a valid concern and another topic entirely. And it’s honorable to question what is being put in front of our children, but if our biggest worry is how many legos are in the Lego Princess Castle, or what color they are, then we’re focusing on the wrong things.

My daughter already talks about one day when she is a mama. She values motherhood, family, femininity…these are beautiful values to cherish. But sometimes I wonder if they are falling by the wayside as success and worldly gain take the front seat.

It is so incredibly important to teach our daughters there is more to life than beauty, but sometimes we have a tendency to take a good thing so far into one direction that it becomes complete nonsense. And sometimes I wonder if I might have turned out differently if I hadn’t always been told that being ‘girly’ was stupid.

Part of the reason why this issue bothers me is because I get the feeling that some people out there just don’t like who my daughter is. She’s not supposed to be her gender – she’s supposed to be neutral, and I’m supposed to raise her as such. But it would be too easy for me, as a non-princess lover, to discourage her from her interests that are different from mine and different from others. So instead I’ll raise her to embrace the unique qualities she possesses – even if they don’t fit the mold, even if society doesn’t care for it much.

I think we’re making too big of a deal out of girls who want to be girls and boys who want to be boys. It’s our ability to choose that builds the foundation of our lives, and I will never ask for that to be taken away.