home| editing| writing| blog| contact

Meghan Ward

I'm a freelance writer and book editor represented by Andy Ross of the Andy Ross Literary Agency. You can read an excerpt of my memoir, Paris On Less Than $10,000 A Day, and visit my website for more info about me.

Categories

Archives

Why I Hate Princesses

AntiCinderella
My three-year-old daughter refuses to wear pants. She will only wear dresses, and they almost always have to be pink. She adores Cinderella, Beauty (what she calls “Belle” from Beauty and the Beast), and Tinkerbell. Her favorite pastime is to dress up in a tutu and dance around the living room to the sounds of Swan Lake and the Nutcracker. In other words, Cinderella Ate My Daughter.

The funny thing is, I don’t allow princess toys, clothes, or books in our home. So how did my daughter become so obsessed with fairies and princesses? Through the slow, insidious infiltration of gender socialization into our household. Here’s how it happened.

When my son was born, our bathroom and bedroom were painted green; the rest of our house was yellow. I couldn’t bear the thought of another green or yellow room, so as much as I hated the idea of pushing traditional gender roles on our children, I chose to paint our son’s bedroom blue. Fast forward, and after dressing my son head to toe in blue for two years because it was so difficult to find little boy clothes in anything BUT blue, I reluctantly painted my newborn daughter’s room pink. Purple wouldn’t have matched any of the bedding available for baby girls, and blue, green, and yellow were, well, taken.

My friend Sarah, who has so generously been lending her daughter’s clothes to my daughter for the past three years, divided her hand-me-downs into two categories—gender neutral for her nephew and pink for my daughter. Between her pink room and her pink clothes, it didn’t take long before my daughter was obsessed with pink to the point that she refused to wear any other color, or eat out of any bowl of any other color. Yeah.

Then there were the pull ups. Our preschool wouldn’t allow cloth or Seventh Generation pull ups (which are beige except for a faint Lorax printed on one side) and wasn’t happy with the Winnie-the-Pooh Pampers either because they didn’t open easily at the sides, allowing the teachers to change the kids’ pull ups without taking off their shoes and pants or tights. That left us with Huggies, the kind that open easily on the sides but which only come in two designs: Cinderella and Lightning McQueen.

Determined to keep our home Cinderella-free, I bought Lightning McQueen diapers for my daughter. She was okay with that until the day she accompanied me to Costco and saw that they also sell Cinderella diapers in her favorite color—pink. She begged. I acquiesced. When that box was depleted, I bought another box of Lightning McQueens. She begged again for Cinderella. I reluctantly gave in. Feeling guilty, I made my next purchase a big box of Seventh Generation pull ups. Now that she only needed them at night, I didn’t have to worry about preschool rules. The result? Bed soaked. Pee everywhere. Seventh Generation pull ups don’t work.

Tired of changing wet sheets and fighting with my daughter, I ordered two months’ worth of Cinderella Pull-Ups, making it clear to both of my children that I didn’t like Cinderella because Cinderella is “a silly story.” I routinely recycled any princess books that make their way into our house (except The Paper Bag Princess and The Paper Princess, which are great books) and let our babysitter know that princess merchandise was forbidden.

When my daughter turned three last fall, I knew that what she wanted more than anything in the world was a princess dress. I broke down and bought her a ballerina dress with matching fairy wings and a wand. She was in heaven. I gave up trying to get her to wear jeggings and T-shirts and bought her more dresses, so she wouldn’t have to wear the same two day after day. I even stopped arguing with her when she insisted on wearing a dress to gymnastics, stipulating only that it be a comfortable dress and that she wear leggings underneath.

We still don’t allow princess costumes or Disney products in our home, but I can’t help feeling that I’ve steered my daughter wrong, that by painting her room pink, dressing her in pink clothes, and agreeing to let her wear Cinderella Pull-Ups, I’ve set her up for a lifetime of depression, underachievement, and promiscuity. I’m only on Chapter Two of Peggy Orenstein’s book, but page 16 horrifies me:

“There is … ample evidence that the more mainstream media girls consume, the more importance they place on being pretty and sexy. And a ream of studies shows that teenage girls and college students who hold conventional beliefs about femininity—especially those that emphasize beauty and pleasing behavior—are less ambitious and more likely to be depressed than their peers. They are also less likely to report that they enjoy sex or insist that their partners use condoms.”

Yikes!

People tell me that my daughter will grow out of it, that all little girls go through a girlie-girl phase. I hope they’re right. In the meantime, I’m going to buy some Dora the Explorer “Easy Ups” and pay a visit to Benjamin Moore. Maybe a purple bedroom will snap her out of the spell her evil Disney stepmother has cast upon her.

What about you? Has Cinderella eaten your daughter? Have you witnessed any of the negative effects of the Disney Princess culture on any of the girls you know?

Be Sociable, Share!

33 comments to Why I Hate Princesses

  • andyrossagency

    Meghan, I put my daughter Hayley in Park Day School. It's so progressive I practically had to become a lesbian to get her accepted. They are tolerant of everything except traditional gender roles. Where most 2nd graders come home and show you their Halloween art, Hayley came home to tell me they were celebrating Gay, Lesbian, and Transgender Freedom Day. — No matter. She still likes princesses. It's destiny.

    • Meghan Ward

      Ha! That's funny that she still likes princesses. I had no idea Park Day was so progressive.

    • Kristan

      This comment cracked me up!

      Yeah, Meghan, I understand your own personal distaste for princess stuff, but I think it's really common for girls to like that stuff without irreparably damaging them. Furthermore, I don't think you want to swing too hard the other way, either, because it's probably just as damaging in other ways for them to associate "girly" things with being insignificant or terrible.

  • Trebambini

    We had a lot of princess gear and tons of Disney princess books. We went to Princesses on Ice and Disneyland. My older daughter was obsessed with it all, and wore sparkly ruby slippers and dresses until she turned 5, at which point she started wearing jeans, boots and a black velour sweatshirt exclusively. We've been through all kinds of crazy clothes since then, but neither of my girls will touch a dress. At 10 and 8, they're strictly jeans and Converse girls, and they can't stand anything princess or girlie, including anything pink. I really think you just have to let them go through it. As long as you're not acting like a princess, I think they'll get that those are just stories, just like all the other crazy stories they have read to them as children.

    • Meghan Ward

      Trebambini, All these stories make me wonder what Peggy Orenstein is so worried about. Isn't there a difference between tween girls dressing like sex kittens and three-year-olds wearing princess costumes? Maybe I need to read the rest of the book before I repaint the bedroom :)

      • Kristan

        Ditto what Trebambini said, except that I am the daughters in question, not a mother. I wasn't SUPER girly as a kid (always hated baby dolls), but I loved Barbie and Polly Pockets and purple and sparkly things and tiaras and having my hair done beautifully, etc. Then at some point I realized, my mom (and all the women I love/admire) aren't really into those things, and I started to look elsewhere.

        • Kristan, my son even went through a sparkly phase when he was three, too. He wore one of my daughter's tutus and fought her for the pink cereal bowl every morning. But once he turned four he learned from the other boys at preschool that pink tutus are for girls (he didn't learn it from us), and now he's lost interest. I think kids are just naturally drawn to beautiful, sparkly things.

      • Alina

        Well, when you get to the end of the book, you'll see that Peggy changes her mind to some extent too!!!

        I just figure that struggling and battling against it can't be all that healthy either.

  • Give her a credit ;) sometimes princesses are better than ohter creepy things surrounding us.

  • melissa

    I really think it depends on how you model feminine behavior more than anything. My daughter is in a princess phase too, but I can see her beginning to grow out of it. I have a feeling that if I spent a lot of time preening in front of the mirror or placing a huge emphasis on my clothing and appearance, she would model that behavior.

    I allow Disney movies in the house, but we don't have cable TV, so she is unexposed to commercials. That helps a lot. :)

    I hear you on the Princess pull-ups though. We once spent an hour at a doctor's office, with her screaming naked in the corner because the only diaper they had in her size was Winne the Pooh. You'd think I'd just told her she was going to be wearing a burqa.

    Hang in there!

    • meghancward

      Thanks, Melissa! I wear jeans and tennis shoes every day, spend about ten minutes putting on make-up, and let my hair air dry, so I'm definitely not modeling princess behavior :) I bet the day she wants to wear ripped jeans and combat boots (I went through that phase when I was 18), I'll be nostalgic for her princess days.

  • Sierra Savela

    Meghan, I was raised without a princess filter. I went through a princess phase and I really loved Cinderella. But I also went through a tomboy phase. Kids go through phases. I was really excited that you posted about this subject because I have been thinking about it a lot lately and I'v been actively resenting my mother for raising me on princesses and pink but now that I think about it, I shouldn't be so angry because in all honesty, I turned out just fine. I'v become so anti gender roles within the past couple years that I'v already planned to raise my kids in the way that you set out to do. I can now see that it isn't as easy as I thought it would be :) But I understand your concern. I think as long as you teach her those values as she grows up, she will turn out just fine. In fact, she will be one step ahead of me. My parents never talked about this stuff. It wasn't until I was an adult that I became a raging feminist which, despite what my parents think, is not one of my phases :)

    • meghancward

      Sierra, I'm hearing more and more than feminist friends of mine were into princesses when they were little. I'm so glad to hear this is probably just a phase! And I'm glad to hear that being feminist is NOT just a stage :)

  • Kristan

    I've commented a lot already — b/c this is an interesting, amusing, and thoughtful post! with comments to match! — but I just wanted to add, b/c I think it's really important to say and realize and believe, that "girly" girls and women can be feminists too! There's nothing inherently UN-feminist about princesses or the color pink. It's all in the attitudes we have and the choices we make, not the titles or colors we wear.

  • Oh, my, I feel your pain. Well, not completely, because lucky for me Peggy Orenstein hadn't published her book yet when my girls were deep in the throes of princess mania, or I would have been in full panic mode. My first daughter turned up her nose at her tool kit and blocks and ride-on motorcycle and yearned for the pink and sparkly, and by the time #2 was a toddler, we'd completely capitulated. But it really was just a phase–in a way, a little bit of the "girly-girl" stuff is just them instinctively trying to make sure that they're a girl, just like the tweens feel like they need the same stuff as their friends to fit in–they're figuring out they're place in the world.

    I think there's something to be said for respecting your daughter's opinions while helping to put things into perspective. Like, if you say, I think that that princess is awful and silly, it might hurt her feelings, but you can go with a more neutral, gosh, she's sweet and pretty, but I get frustrated that she lets mean people boss her around and doesn't stand up for herself. And then you're acknowledging and respecting her opinion but still making her think beyond the satin and sequins.

    I'm sorry–I've gone into a random ramble when I've never even commented before, and all I really meant to say was that, at ages 8 & 10, my former princess wannabes call themselves feminists and avoid pink & sparkles, would preferring to rock their Pigtail Pals t-shirts and athletic gear. 8-year-old likes to display and kiss her (substantial) biceps and 10-year-old has done a critique of Barbie and a report on child brides in Africa at school this year.

    Oh and my link goes back to a list of some of our favorite girl-power picture books (http://www.capitaldistrictfun.com/2010/05/14/girl-power/), if you need some more.

    You'll both come through this eventually–hopefully soon!

    • meghancward

      Katie, I replied to you by email, but thank you for the great list of girl-power picture books. I'll definitely keep that as a reference. And I think that's a good suggestion to not make my daughter feel bad for liking Cinderella. My kids will say to each other, "Mom doesn't like Cinderella," but they don't fully understand why. For lack of better explanation, I tell them I think it's a "silly story" since we don't allow the word "stupid," which is what I really think :)

      • Alina

        Meghan, you've seen the massive amount of "boy" toys left over from Ben at my house. I have offered them all to her. She has NO interest in cars, blocks, legos etc. Even the animals have to be pink or furry and soft. Aaaagh!
        I used to think it was all "nurture" too. Now I know it is mostly "nature" with some percentage of "nurture" thrown in.
        Pretty sure I will have to break down and buy those new pink, girly Legos they just released even though I have a crate of perfectly good regular legos right here!! Not giving up. I do think her tastes will change soon.

        • meghancward

          Alina – ha! I'm curious to know what you learned from Orenstein's book, since you've already read it. Oona LOVES doing puzzles but won't do the pirate puzzle you gave us (too scary) and prefers Dora and cute animal puzzles. Otherwise she's very much into her dolls, her stuffed animals, and dressing up. No interest in Legos at all. I think she'd be more interested in trains if there were more female trains. Molly and Emily just don't cut it.

  • Beth

    Thanks for such a thought-provoking piece. My daughter is a freshman in college; I wrestled with these same concerns 15 years ago. Like Kristan, I finally started wondering why I was telling my little girl that the colors and textures and dolls she wanted to play with were bad. Were they? Or was it my unexamined conclusion that a girl who likes pink and prefers dress-up to baseball can never be president?

    Feminism 2.0 (if there is such a thing) must allow us to embrace femininity and all of its strengths, not suppress part of our core identity so that we can more resemble the guys. All of us ache with the desire to see our girls grow into confident women who succeed in the world. My hope is that our girls can define success intrinsically — in terms of their own likes and dislikes, not in terms of cultural ideals rooted in an unexamined belief that masculine is better than feminine.

    My daughter went through a long phase of wearing pink, in spite of my having spurned it when she was a baby. She preferred dolls to trucks, preferred narrating stories with her plastic Winnie the Pooh characters to watching TV or playing baseball. When I finally realized the problem was my anxiety, not her preferences, life became more joyful at home, and I think I became a better mother. Eventually she grew out of her extreme girly phase, as most do, and she is now comfortable wearing dresses and heels or jeans and boots.

    If our goal is to help our children build emotional capacity for life's challenges, it seems we must logically begin with affirming who they are — as long as they're not being imperious or destructive. If we want to develop intrinsic motivation in our children, they must learn to discern between the passions and desires they should pursue and the ones they should suppress. Choosing to look feminine — even at the most extreme end of that spectrum — doesn't seem to me to be a desire that deserves to be suppressed.

    I've read and reread the quote from the study you put in your post, and am dismayed by this supposedly scientific conclusion that letting our little girls indulge their unsolicited passion for princesses leads inevitably to their emotional demise. What a burden for a mother to bear. I believe a more likely culprit is the voice telling our girls that wanting to look pretty and twirl in a sequined gown is bad. Learning at an young age that you're not supposed to want what you want — when what you want is not hurting anyone else — seems to me to be far more likely to foster depression than does choosing to wear a pink tutu to the grocery store.

    We all want the best for our girls. I think we have to consider the possibility that we unwittingly perpetrate a misogynistic ideal when we refuse to allow them to indulge their love of frills and tiaras. When we can look at a 3-year-old in pink leotards holding a sparkly wand and think, "Look – the next president of the United States!," perhaps we will be on our way to healing this wound.

    • Beth

      I don't mean to suggest that princesses = femininity. If anything, they're a caricature of it. But I think that's part of exploring something — taking it to its ridiculous extreme, immersing ourselves in the experience. That's how I view the princess phase — as well as many other phases kids go through. You gotta try it on all the way before you decide what parts of it you want to keep.

      • meghancward

        "When we can look at a 3-year-old in pink leotards holding a sparkly wand and think, 'Look – the next president of the United States!," perhaps we will be on our way to healing this wound.'

        Beth, I'm so glad to hear you say that! You left us with so many great quotes:

        "Learning at an young age that you're not supposed to want what you want — when what you want is not hurting anyone else — seems to me to be far more likely to foster depression than does choosing to wear a pink tutu to the grocery store."

        And you're right. Why should being masculine be superior to being feminine? Why SHOULDN'T girls (and boys for that matter) wear pink? The truth is that if my son hadn't learned from other boys at school (it only takes one to spread the word) that pink and frills are for girls, he would prefer to wear them, too. Kids like that stuff. For his third Halloween he wanted to wear a sparkly purple mermaid costume. Now, he wouldn't dream of it. It's a shame, in a way, that we're trying to weed out the feminine in both our boys and our girls.

        • Beth

          They're tough questions, Meghan, which is why I appreciate your willingness to wrestle with them so transparently. Letting our girls wear pink frilly princess clothes is, I'm afraid, a much easier task than letting our boys wear the same — at least after the age of 5 or so. Our girls' princess crushes trigger our own deep-seated fears of subservience and submission– our boys showing up to school in pink can trigger everyone else's homophobia. What's cute at 3 or 4 begins to be ridiculed at 6 and 7. My instinct to protect my kids is too overwhelming to pretend that societal prejudice doesn't exist. My son, too, internalized the culture quickly enough that he never wanted to wear pink — although he did have quite a purple Barney obsession for a while, and insisted on getting a Mohawk in 5th grade (which he made stand straight up with bright blue gel).

          • meghancward

            Someday I'm sure I'll look back and think that the Cinderella days were the easy days. I'm not looking forward to the mohawk days, or the days my little girl hates dresses and will only wear black.

  • Jenny Talavera

    Despite the fact Yannick never wears pink, he seems to have developed an obsession for princesses as well and more recently, Arial of the Little Mermaid. Not sure where that came from. He even insisted we buy the Minnie Mouse pull-ups rather than our usual Flash McQueen style. I am hoping he grows out of this phase as well!

    • meghancward

      Jenny – that's cute! As I mentioned in my comment above, until Shea learned from a boy at school that pink and frilly things are for girls, he preferred them, too. I was torn at the time because it was such a cute phase when he wanted to wear tutus, but at the same time I wasn't totally comfortable with his being the only boy wearing a sparkling purple mermaid costume for Halloween. My own issues, I guess.

  • Alina

    Brave is awesome. She is a strong, kick-ass kinda girl.

  • Kayla

    My six year old went through that mega girly stage too. It started about age two and balanced out last summer. We didn’t paint her room pink, just plain old white, but had some really cute frog and bug decorations. She never wore exclusively pink, but when she began wanting to express her style with dresses and princess stuff, I didn’t interfere. Doing so, I feel, would have made it seem taboo and made her want it even more. I’m not a girly girl. I rarely wear makeup and have super short hair. I make sure to gently remind her that beauty and self worth don’t come from our appearance. As she has gotten older, we have exposed her to gender neutral sports: skateboarding, gymnastics, soccer, and horseback riding. We also really encourage her passion for art. All of this has helped her even out. She still wears dresses more than me, but she is willing to don pants without a fuss when needed. She loves her ballet class, but is just as happy on her skateboard or a horse. Everything in moderation.

    Before I go, I want to suggest a great story book called Princess Grace by Mary Hoffman. It’s a great story about a little girl discovering there are more kinds of princesses than the pink floaty ones

    • meghancward

      Thanks for the book suggestion, Kayla. My daughter is very athletic. She loves to climb and is working on learning to ride a bike. She takes gymnastics and LOVES swimming, but when I asked her if she wanted to sign up for soccer, she chose ballet instead. She's a little young for soccer anyway. Maybe next year she'll want to do both.

  • My daughter went through that stage as well when she was between 3-6, although she was never actually a huge fan of pink. When given the choice, she often went for something more interesting like aqua blue or green lol. Anyway, she went through the WANT TO WEAR ALL THE DRESSES stage, and Halloween was always 'I want to be Barbie peacock princess' or 'I want to be a faerie princess' or 'can I wear this dress if I still wear leggins underneath?' (during the winter). She spent time every day considering which earrings to wear and loved getting new ones.

    Now she's ten. She has forbidden her family from buying her anything pink (she asks for black instead), and the only time I see her in a dress is at her school concert. It's jeans and t-shirts all the time. She still wears earrings and she's a pro at painting her nails, but that's about as girly as she gets. I don't mind–she's free to express herself however she wants. It's just annoying how outside influences can too often shape their opinions. I was incredibly irked when she had zero interest in pop culture or boys until kindergarten (kindergarten!!!) when her friends went on and on about High School Musical and Zac Efron and suddenly she began caring about these things she never would have otherwise. Fortunately, she's grown out of that as well. She's very much her own person now, which I think bodes well considering she hasn't even hit puberty yet. Who knows what'll happen then! lol

    But the point is–I think your daughter will grow out of it. The things she likes in five years may very well be completely opposite of what she likes now. The great thing about children is that they are still growing and changing and learning, and it sounds like you're doing a great job making sure she knows she's not restricted to certain colors or styles or behaviors just b/c she's a girl.

    • meghancward

      Lori, I feel reassured by all the commenters here that my daughter is going through a phase. In fact, I think I'm going to miss her cute girly days once she's wearing T-shirts and jeans every day. I'm about halfway through Cinderella Ate My Daughter, and one thing I've learned is to encourage boy-girl play dates. I also need to be careful about not buying them gender-stereotyped toys. In the beginning, they both played with blocks and trains, but as her interest in dolls has developed, and his interest in Hot Wheels has grown, their toys are becoming more and more gender stereotyped. I need to work on that.

  • I came across your post when I was searching for daughters' obsession with frilly things. Thank you for sharing your own experience and reading the comments has made me feel somewhat relieved that we aren't alone. My husband and I are really concerned over my daughters' obsession with wearing dresses. We both disapprove of those silly princess stories and Barbie stuff aren't allowed in our house. Now we do have the classic fairy tale stories to show them how ridiculous the stories really were. We've talked with them how there is a time and place for everything, such as dresses aren't really the best thing to wear when you do athletic or outdoor activities. They even seem to agree sometimes. But it doesn't seem to ease their obsession. They have friends that do wear frilly things and friends that don't do that. We are seriously thinking of banning dresses/skirts for a week to see what happens. I'm not sure if this will help or make it worse.

Leave a Reply

  

  

  

You can use these HTML tags

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>