Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Happy National Princess Week

Did you know that's a thing? Well it is. Apparently it's always the last full week of April. In honor of Princess Week:

These fantastic images from Dina Goldstein:

On pink princesses, and missing the point

The princess and the dragon

The other princess problem

Princesses and cowboys and knights

Princess pros and cons

And finally:

Keep them little

Certain people who spend too much time on Amazon may have come across this book:

The counterpart for boys is this:

Interesting, no?

Monday, April 7, 2014

On pink princesses, and missing the point

Over at Slate, Allison Benedikt is piling on to the latest trend of admonishing parents of little girls who take issue with the non-stop pinkifying and princessifying of everything having anything to do with little girls. We all need to stop expressing our contempt for the pink and the princessy and just chill out already.

Advising parents to just chill out already is a popular meme these days, but if you take the central claims of this particular chill out argument, what you find is a complete failure to deal with the actual underlying issues. It's a fabulous exercise in missing the point. So let's take a look:

1. Benedikt writes that disgust for the pink and princessy "has always struck me as some weird sort of female self-loathing." The writers she quotes also assume that underneath the rejection of the pink glitter there's a profound dislike for and devaluation of femininity.

Little blond girl in pink princess costume
The thing is, nobody here stops to ask where this version of femininity came from, why it's so astonishingly dominant in every item that will ever be marketed to or for girls (from diapers to prom dresses to school supplies to power tools to assault rifles for the love of god), or what other, more serious, gender messages might accompany it. The sheer ubiquity of the pink princess crap in itself should give one pause. The monolithic vision of what femininity amounts to (and how it's valued, and how flexible it is, and how it fosters - or not - a sense of autonomy and an open range of viable choices for girls...) in this view should give one pause. The very act of equating the massive princess marketing machine with "female culture" is absurd. And damaging.

2.  Benedikt et al scoff at the idea that girls who play at being princesses will grow up to be princesses. As if this is what we're worried about. As if it's just as simple and straight forward as that.

Adult blond woman in sexy pink princess costume
But you can grow up to be a princess.
Here's a little more subtle look at the dynamic here. Girls (and boys) who are taught to mindlessly embody the prefab identities and scripts that are provided for them by the princess marketing machine are internalizing a whole range of gendered attitudes about themselves that will become much more damaging as they grow up. As parents, modeling a mindless engagement with and internalization of these identities and scripts sets the stage. As the pink princesses grow up and begin to navigate their developing sexuality, explore their career and life options, etc. this habit of mindless engagement will not serve them well. Which leads us to the third (implied) claim here.

3. Parents of little girls can either roll their eyes in disgust, or embrace the pink princess phenomenon. Make your choice.

This right here is the biggest issue. The pink princess dynamic in our culture needs to be addressed. Girls need to understand that they will be presented with problematic versions of femininity their whole lives, and the best thing they can do is learn to habitually engage with these hypotheses on what it means to be a girl/woman in a rational way. By the same token, boys will be presented with problematic versions of masculinity their whole lives, and the best thing they can do is learn to habitually engage with these hypotheses on what it means to be a boy/man in a rational way. Seeing yourself as having options, trying out different activities and roles, embracing the things that work for you and letting the rest fall by the way... these are all a part of growing up to be a functional, thriving adult. For a girl or a boy.

Mother and daughter, talking
Talking with kids - a parent's superpower
As we all know, there are more options for parents than mindlessly rejecting or embracing the prefab roles. Parents can actually (are you ready for it?) talk to their kids about these things. They can talk about how fun it is to play dress up, but how hard it is to really be a princess (or a superhero, or a ninja, or whatever) full time. After all, princesses and superheroes and ninjas don't get to play soccer, go camping or biking, do messy crafts like finger painting, engage in rough-housing with their siblings and friends, have sleepovers, bake cookies, etc.  They might get their dress/cape/ninja costume dirty. And lord knows a princess would never get her dress dirty, or break a nail, or try to run in her absurd little plastic high-heeled shoes.