Thursday, 6 February 2014

Why I hate princesses

Eleanor and I were eating lunch yesterday when she launched into a little monologue (as she often does). "Have a bootiful face, think bootiful thoughts, dance like a fairy." Oh great, I thought. That's that awful bit from Sleeping Beauty. And my two-year-old daughter has it stored in her brain.

In case you don't know what I'm on about, we have a Ladybird Books version of Sleeping Beauty. I got it second hand when I was pregnant, because I had fond memories of Ladybird books as a child. I'd clearly blocked out the awful messages it gives young girls.

What Eleanor was reciting was the part of the story where the good fairies give the baby princess her gifts. As well as the gifts Eleanor listed above, she is also given the gifts of being kind and loving and singing, "like a nightingale." We are not told all the gifts, but apparently these are, "everything in the world one could wish for."

Really? So girls, beauty, dainty dancing and a pretty voice are what you ought to aspire to. OK, being kind and loving and thinking beautiful thoughts is better, but how about also being brave, determined, confident? What about innovative, courageous, problem-solving thoughts? (I tend to add my own lines, such as, "The sixth fairy said, 'You shall do well academically.' The seventh fairy said, 'You shall be daring and adventurous.'" How long until she can read and realises they're not there?!)

I didn't think much about the princess culture before I had a daughter. But when I started to think about it, I realised I don't like what these stories are telling, or will tell, her. I mean, let's have a look at some:

Sleeping Beauty - if a man kisses you when you are asleep and therefore unable to consent, that's fine. In fact, go ahead and marry him.

Cinderella - you can escape a miserable life by dressing up and pretending to be someone you're not, thus bagging a man.

The Princess and the Pea - a 'real princess' (therefore the most desirable wife) is so delicate the tiniest discomfort is too much for her.

The Little Mermaid - to gain independence you must lose your ability to express yourself. And to get the man of your dreams you must give up your former life entirely. Or, in the case of the original, give up your life.

Beauty and the Beast - if a man is aggressive and threatening towards you, don't worry, you can change him. (Err ...)

I could go on. The point is that princess stories aren't the innocent, twee little tales they seem to be. They have a common theme that beauty is all-important, the main aim of a young woman should be marriage, and if life is hard, the best thing to do is wait around for a man to save you. Oh, and once you're married, it's happy ever after.

Now, I'm a married woman and I do believe that marriage is important. But it's not the only important thing a woman can do. Nor is it a ticket to everlasting happiness - yes, it does bring happiness, but sometimes things can be hard, and successful marriages require work. And beauty is not all-important - at least, it shouldn't be. Girls and women are equipped for far more than looking decorative, giving a nice twirl and humming a pretty tune.

As Eleanor gets older I know the princess culture will become less and less avoidable. Eventually she will see the Disney films. She may even ask to buy the dolls, and if not, she'll probably come across them at a friend's house. I'm not sure how I'll handle this. At the moment I can limit her exposure to the handful of Ladybird books she has, and I can interject my subversive comments. But as she grows up with these fictional role models all around her, how do I keep her feet on the ground and help her to believe that she is complete in herself without a 'prince' and that she can aspire to be more than eye candy?

I'd love to hear from parents of girls who feel the same way. How do you deal with the whole princess thing? How do you keep it balanced with messages that this isn't all there is to being a woman?


2 comments:

  1. Thank you so much for directing me over to this!
    You probably know I agree with you, since I wrote such a similar post myself.
    I'm not in the same place on Beauty and the Beast, though - in my memory of it, he wins her over by being kind to her, and they get to know each other without any thought (on her part) of romantic involvement. He then enables her to leave him, knowing she probably won't come back, and she nearly doesn't, but then she has that wonderful "he is my beast, and I love him" moment, which is how I often feel about my husband :)

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    1. That's a really good point actually. I suppose the important thing - as you said in your fantastic post - is that we talk through the messages with our children so they come away with the positives, rather than the more surface message of 'a good woman can change a bad man', which I think is a dangerous idea.

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