My oldest daughter, Sophia, went through a MAJOR princess phase from about 2-5 years old. And still, at 7, some of her favorite books feature princesses, unicorns, or some other magical, stereotypical figures.
We tried introducing other play themes, toys, and books to no avail. She naturally gravitated toward pink, tiaras, and princess dresses.
At Target, she would be drawn to those pink-filled aisles, lined with baby dolls, princess dress-up clothes, and Barbies. Like a bear to honey or a moth to light, she was drawn in by it all. I finally gave in to these interests and pretty soon, our toy storage was full of princess dresses, crowns, and accessories.
When you would ask then 5-year-old Sophia what she wanted to be when she grew up, her answer was always a mommy or a princess. I kindly suggested other professions- like a doctor or even a vet. She wasn’t having any of it.
There has been a push for girls to defy these stereotypes, to strive to be more than a princess, and dismiss the notion that a prince will save us. Princesses are modest, quiet, and polite. They are rescued by their prince charming and rendered helpless until their knight in shining armor comes to rescue them. And granted, in movies like Pocahontas and Mulan and many other movies, it is portrayed that a girl’s place is to be quiet and look pretty.
But on the other side, in several of those movies the girls defy the odds. They stand up and fight for what is right. They are BRAVE, STRONG, and COURAGEOUS.
I began to think that if the worse thing my daughter wants to be is a princess or a mom, then I think we’re pretty well off.
I can encourage these attributes of what it means to be a princess and discuss how princesses are kind, generous, brave, strong, and courageous. These are all attributes I can only hope Sophia develops as she grows into a young lady.
I can also comment and reinforce my daughter’s characteristics that go beyond her looks- pointing out traits like her creativity and kindness.
Media can portray and reinforce so many gender stereotypes and yes, most of them I don’t want Sophia to internalize. But as a parent I can use these as learning opportunities and talk to her about these things.
We can have a conversation about why Mulan isn’t allowed to fight in the war. We can talk about how there used to be a time when women and girls were forced to stay home while boys went to school. How women are seen as inferior in certain professions and sometimes, don’t even get paid the same, for the exact same work!
I can introduce her to all sorts of different activities and interests, talk about different jobs that are out there, but at the end of the day, I must follow her in where her interests lay.
I understand women of our history fought hard (and boy, are we still fighting!) for the rights we have today. I will be the first one out there beside them. But, sometimes I think we try so hard to defy stereotypes and fight gender roles that we forget another side.
What are we saying to the stay-at-home moms? What are we saying to the women who are employed in still, female-dominated roles? What are we saying to women who really truly love being at home, and in more traditional gender roles? To the women who are self-proclaimed “girly girls?”
Just because we value one side doesn’t mean it negates the other or devalues the other.
Sometimes though, I think that can happen.
Now that Sophia is a little older, she has stopped playing dress up and Frozen has stopped playing on a continuous loop for several years now. But on the gender continuum, she is definitely more on the female side.
My other daughter, is more near the middle, seeking interests that are more ambiguous. And wherever their preferences lean, I can only encourage and guide, but not force.
So, whether your daughter is a princess-loving junkie or refuses to wear a dress, just go with it. Have fun with their exploration as they find where they fit in and where their interests lay.
At the end of the day, I want my daughter to know that whether she wants to be a stay home mommy or a CEO, I will support her and believe in her. I think that is what we all want for our kids: to grow up, contribute to the world in positive ways, and most of all to find their happy.