Princess-Free Zones & Fundamentalist Parenting

Muddy TwinsMy twins love playing Princess dress-up. They also love playing in the mud, playing with their brothers’ Legos, counting beads, stacking Tupperware, collecting rocks, throwing said rock collection in the pool, baking, wrestling, making “art sculptures” out of pool toys, painting, bike riding, peeing in the bushes, playing soccer, eating donuts, eating tomatoes, playing hide-n-go-seek and playing Let’s Get Married.

Now that I think of it, they play Let’s Get Married at least once a week. I might need to create a Marriage-Free Zone. You know, because I don’t want them growing up thinking MARRIAGE is THE ONLY option they have as girls. *wink*

Look, I just can’t get worked up about this new trend in enlightened parenting; aka. Banning Princesses. I just don’t see the reason for getting all fundamentalist about it.

If a little girl is an entitled, spoiled brat with a raging case of Princess Virus, it has little to do with pink tulle and tiaras. But it has everything to do with spoiling the child.

Here’s where I confess I’ve also purchased Barbies for my daughters. GASP. GAG. BURN ME AT THE FEMINIST STAKE.

Still, I understand the concern: conscientious parents don’t want to raise helpless little princesses who naively believe Prince Charming will ride up on his silver steed and whisk them away to a Happily Ever After. I get it. We want daughters with pluck, tenacity and courage.

But Banning Princesses isn’t the way to accomplish this. By banning princesses altogether, parents unwittingly create a greater desire for it. There is nothing more delectable than forbidden fruit.

I’m not denying our society is experiencing a glut of spoiled, entitled kids. But I am saying it’s tempting to look for an easy target: ah! Cinderella! SHE’S the problem! OFF WITH HER HEAD. Oh, wait. I’m mixing my fairy-tales.

My point is, it’s far more difficult to examine the ways parents spoil their kids. I’m pretty sure spoiled children existed long before Disney Princesses. And spoiled children will continue to wreak havoc on society long after Disney Princesses have bitten the (pixie) dust.

That said, there’s a difference between allowing your daughter to play Disney Princess dress-up and turning her entire life into all-princess-all-the-time. You know what I’m talking about: the little girl whose bedroom looks like a Princess exploded all over the walls, curtains and bedspread. The little girl whose parents actually call her Your Royal Highness. The little girl who just can’t understand why the world doesn’t come running at her every beck and call? Yes, that’s what we call Princess Excess.

And Princess Excess is just the other side of the Princess Banning coin.

In other words, Disney Princesses aren’t bad; excess is.

Here’s an idea, read The Brother’s Grimm fairy-tales with their bloody-toed step sisters and eye-plucking-out-crows. And then soften the blow with Disney’s Cinderella and all her adorable, singing mice and bibbity-bobbity-boo-ness.

Moderation, friends, is what good parenting is all about. At least, that’s what my fairy godmother told me.

  • KatR

    My mother wasn’t thrilled with Barbies, but I loved them when I was little, and there wasn’t a birthday or Christmas that went by when I didn’t get something Barbie or Barbie adjacent (Barbie horse? Barbie dog? Barbie cat with velcro paws that would stick on the Barbie cat scratching post? Check, check, check). I’ve always appreciated the fact that she let me like what I liked, even if it didn’t make her jump for joy. And you are right, had she made it into something forbidden, I’d probably be scrolling Ebay right now looking for Valentine Barbie in the original box.

    • elizabethesther

      Exactly. Let kids like what they like and one day, they’ll grow out of it. DON’T let them like what they like? And they’ll obsess about it all the way into adulthood. Don’t ask me how I know this. *frantically searches for dolls on Ebay* *ahem*

    • John Backman

      I loved the blog post, but as a sidebar I have to say that “Barbie adjacent” may be the best compound adjective ever.

  • Kayla P.

    It seems like such a fine, hard line to walk. We’ve banned a lot of princess things in our house, I have to admit. Luckily, Lucy is all of 20 days old right now so that mostly just means getting rid of princess clothing and letting close friends/family know that she is not to be called princess. But at the same time, I definitely see what you are saying about banning something and therefore making it even more appealing, as well as the fact that it’s really all about the parenting, not about the objects.

  • Easy going mum

    This was a great read. I have always gone with a very free approach to parenting, my philosophy is trim the wayward branches where needed instead of moulding them into what I want… I only have a couple of rules, I am very intolerant of bad manners and I often have lovely feedback on my kids manners, I also banned guns including toy guns in my house as I don’t condone violence. Other than that, we are a happy family, we talk openly about anything (I mean anything). They are all grown up now and are well balanced happy contributing members of society.

  • Amanda

    No princesses but here, have an iPad.

    We have to steer the conversation with girls. Focus on what makes a princess truly great is her kindness, intelligence, etc., not her looks and her man.

  • Nicole B.

    I thought the anti-princess thing was less about spoiling children and more of a rejection of the message of the importance of status, beauty, and having a prince “rescue” you. Either way, I tend to ignore it and consider it developmentally appropriate for little girls to explore being a princess. My 4 year old daughter is going through a princess stage, which surprised me because she previously has taken a strong stand against dresses and all-things-girly. To my delight, she recently stated…”I’m not a princess, I’m a QUEEN!” I’m not worried about this one waiting around for her prince to make things happen.

    • Nancy

      Ha! My 6-year-old daughter only plays “queen” too . . . “Because they’re the grown-up, and they get to be in charge.”

  • SusanP

    Ahhhh–sanity at last.

  • Lacy Ellman

    Love this, Elizabeth. I don’t have kids yet, but as a feminist and someone who hopes to be a mother someday soon, this conversation has really caught my attention over the past few months. At first it had me saying “yes!” but then when it moved from awareness to banning altogether, I really felt like something was missing but I couldn’t quite articulate it. You’ve said it perfectly!

  • lynn

    For me, the dangers of “Princess Culture” have nothing to do with being spoiled or delicate, but everything to do with being objectified and sexualized at an early age. I don’t want my daughters spending their play time practicing how to present themselves as objects of desire for men. This is a real issue, and while I don’t ban outright playing princess, and don’t discourage “feminine” behavior, I think it’s important to be aware of this as a mom to girls. If you’re interested in a more nuanced perspective on this and why it’s an issue now more than ever, take a look at Cinderella Ate My Daughter.

  • Martha Brady

    i’m with you on this one EE. we only had daughters and it was a challenge. but the idea that we all have to live with the same template just b/c we are christians is just crazy! too bad i couldn’t figure it out during my legalistic days…but then that was all i had ever known!

    when we stop and think about it, the GOD who created the abundance of diversity and variety in nature couldn’t possibly have wanted all christians to look alike…i’m sorry. it screams in the face of logic and wisdom! we aren’t designed to be little zombie people cut from the same pattern b/c none of us is the same…at all! except in the sense that we are human.

    so let’s let our little girls grow up and play with a plethora of toys…the same for our little boys. they will get sorted out in the end if don’t freak out and we love them…yes, guiding them in the way they need to go, but not jerking them there.

  • Kim

    Totally agree with you, Elizabeth. Looking back at my own childhood (I’m 27), it’s clear my parents practiced moderation. I love Disney movies, have been to Disney World multiple times, and played with Barbies…and my brother’s Ninja Turtles, Legos, and video games, and lived in the backyard during the summer. We watched Disney, but it wasn’t the only thing we watched, and princess stories weren’t the only ones we read. I’m getting married next month, and while I will refer to my fiance as my Price Charming, it’s not like I sat around waiting for him to “rescue” me before my life could begin. Am I excited to continue my life with him, though? Undoubtedly.

    Two weeks ago, several of my girlfriends and I were spending the evening together and decided to watch The Little Mermaid. We sang every song (perfectly, I might add), quoted lines, got scared by Ursala, and pointed out all of the plot holes and “strike one for strong women!” moments. But we also discussed how we didn’t notice those things as kids, and the only reason any of us were surprised our parents let us watch it is because Ursala is seriously creepy. The group was all educated, independent women, supporting themselves in various careers, with and without boyfriends. Maybe that makes a difference, maybe it doesn’t. I guess the point of this whole ramble is that liking princesses doesn’t have to mean a girl grows up to be a fragile, weak, entitled creature.

  • Teresa

    I totally agree. We overthink these things. I had Barbies as a little girl and it never even once crossed my mind that she was an ideal and unreachable standard of feminine beauty. She was just this plastic thing whose shape made her pretty awkward to get clothes on. The toys are just toys. What makes them dangerous is what Lynn in an earlier comment called “Princess Culture” and that is something that people, not plastic, cause. Your daughter won’t know that she’s “supposed” to look like a Barbie doll and be as wussy as Aurora and as sexy as Jasmine (I hope I’m using the right names, I didn’t watch a lot of Disney as a child) unless someone tells her that.