Before my daughter was born in 2010 I had all sorts of ideas of what I would and would not do as a dad. I had expected some big instantaneous change the second I saw her. However, when the moment came and I held her for the first time I honestly didn’t know what or how to feel. There was no parting of the sky or fireworks or anything like that. I was obviously very happy given the way I looked in the pictures someone took at that moment. One thing I did feel was a love that I couldn’t understand but has grown more and more every moment since then. It was the first of many examples of what I had expected and planned on happening before she was born that was blown away in the reality of being a parent.
One of the things I had mentioned to many people is that I didn’t want her to do the whole princess thing. I was against it because I didn’t want her to become one of those girls who think that they are somehow entitled or have her become some kind of brat. I didn’t want her to have the Disney-ish idea of “some day my prince will come” or waiting and relying on a guy to make her happy or feel whole because when the image of “princess” came to mind that is what I thought of. For a while I kept this idea even though some people told me that it would be inevitable. Well, they were right. Over the past year my daughter did develop an interest in pretending to be a princess. To her every time she had a dress or skirt on (both of which she calls tutus) she would automatically become a princess. At first this was annoying and frustrating because I was not ok with it. Then Merida happened.
In case you were not aware, Merida is the name of the main character in the 2012 Disney/Pixar movie “Brave.” Merida officially became the eleventh Disney Princess in mid-2013 but unlike what I, and I believe many people, think of when they think of Disney princess-type characters Merida was not waiting around for a prince. I don’t want to say too much and give away the story but she was quite the opposite and went to great lengths to avoid getting married. I had watched the movie by myself before I watched it with my daughter because some friends had suggested that she would probably like it. My daughter fell in love with the character the moment she first saw the movie. The movie’s name really does define Merida’s character as does many of the stereotypical traits of a redhead such as fierceness, stubbornness and being independent.
A while after that I decided to watch the movie Tangled which was based on the old Rapunzel story. Again, I watched it without my daughter first to see what I thought. Again the main character did not fit the princess stereotype. This Rapunzel was much like Merida in that she was strong, smart and determined. Again she was not looking for a prince but she does find love along the way. Unlike Merida, in the end Rapunzel does fall in love, gets married and lives happily ever after…with a convicted thief.
Still, I was not ready to give up my anti-princess stance just because of a few exceptions. Then one day while she was playing she said the words “daddy, you be the prince and I’ll be the princess.” Immediately the song “Love Story” by Taylor Swift popped in my head. I soon after played the song for her and she got up and danced around and she now calls it “the princess song”. That’s when I came to this conclusion: the whole anti-princess thing is stupid. To my daughter, and most little girls I’ve seen, being a princess is mostly about dressing up and playing pretend. All of that stereotypical princess stuff is in the mind of the adults around the child.
So why do I now think that the anti-princess idea is stupid (no, I won’t use a nicer word because it is stupid) when I once felt very strongly that it was a good idea? As others have pointed out a princess is not necessarily all that wimpy and passive. Like I said before, all of those ideas come from the adults and are not from the children themselves. If a parent tells their daughter, as I do, that she is smart, strong, brave, beautiful and all those wonderful things what difference does it make if she wants to dress up and twirl around? Why should there be any difference between pretending to be a princess or pretending to be a president? Both are pretend.
To be completely honest I think that making a big deal out of people calling their daughters princess or little girls wanting to pretend to be a princess is sexist. How often have I heard about parents complaining about their sons wanting to pretend to be a prince? Unless it is in relation to the whole ant-princess thing saying that it reinforces the negative stereotype of a boy saving a girl I can’t remember ever hearing that sort of complaint. How often do parents complain about boys (or girls) pretending to be pirates? I haven’t really heard anything like that. If there are a lot of people complaining about it I doubt it is for the same reasons that they complain about girls and princesses. Obviously real pirates were (and are) nothing like Disney pirates just like real princesses were (and are) nothing like Disney princesses.
Kids theses days have enough crap thrown at them that shortens the length of time they really get to be a child as well as a lot of things that diminish their imagination, especially girls. Why should parents take away one more thing that lets them imagine and play that doesn’t involve a lot of expensive things (many dollar stores have good dress up stuff) or hours in front of a screen? If it makes them happy why complain? I often tell my daughter that she is smart and brave and beautiful and even point out times when she does things that are examples of these things. I love her no matter what she wants to pretend to be and no matter what she grows up to become and that will never change. If a girl grows up to be a brat or weak willed or dependent on men it is not Disney’s fault but it could be the fault of the parent who was too busy complaining about stereotypes to personally encourage their daughter not to be one.