By Erik Missio
Last week, I was buying groceries with my three-year-old daughter when a beaming woman approached us.
"You must be daddy's princess," the woman said to L, who was happily sitting in the race-car shopping cart.
Being a shy-in-public sort of three-year-old, L said nothing until the stranger walked away. And then, "Am I a princess?" she asked.
"Let's go get peanut butter," I answered.
Here's the thing: with the exception of a certain paper-bag-wearing heroine
, our house is a princess-free zone. Until that moment, I wasn't even sure my daughter knew what those creatures were. Then Valentine's Day hit and about half her cards featured one of the holy trinity (Cinderella, Snow White or Sleeping Beauty). L identified them all as the generic "Princess Girl." Sigh.
My wife and I were anti-tiara even before we knew we were having a girl. We want our daughter to be strong, ambitious and independent - pretty much the opposite of the princess ideal aimed at preschoolers. Pick your favourite princess, from Belle the Beauty to Ariel the Mermaid, and Google will direct you to many a scathingly accurate critique spotlighting the misogyny hidden behind the beautiful animation and catchy songs.
Yes, princesses are selfless and sweet, but too many are naive, co-dependent, well-meaning damsels in distress waiting to be saved by a man (usually one they don't know beyond the fact he's kind of hunky). In most cases, princesses don't really "do" anything, unlike the majority of other fairy tale protagonists who overcome obstacles to conquer their conflict.
The differences in their individual personalities are negligible because ultimately it doesn't matter. They just need to be a young, pretty girl with nice hair who is very kind to animals, dwarves or children. And they end up rich, loved and able to wear nice clothes for the rest of their lives.
Not all princesses are passive ciphers, of course. Princess Leia Organa of Alderaan, Wonder Woman and Nausicaä
are all great, proactive heroes. But these are role models who just happen
to be princesses, not princesses who are de-facto role models. (The picture book, Not All Princesses Dress in Pink
, by Jane Yolen, Heidi Stemple and Anne-Sophie Lanquetin, also has refreshing examples.)
Given L's collection of Valentine cards (to say nothing of the toys lining store shelves or sparkly gowns hanging on racks), my wife and I know we're in the minority when it comes to our distaste. We have smart, progressive friends who are pro-princess, and no doubt think we've gone overboard. Not that it's ever actually said. Discussing parenting techniques is even more of a minefield than debating politics or religion. And my mom just rolls her eyes.
Princesses are harmless fun, and they're everywhere, people argue. And besides, it's a rite of childhood passage without any lasting effect, right? Well, maybe. I played GI Joe as a kid, and now I'm a gun-fearing pacifist. Of course, pretending you're a solider is assuming the identity of someone who does something. Playing princess essentially involves emulating a trophy wife. Why would I want this for my daughter? Why would my daughter want this for herself? And how will I tactfully explain my rationale when she wants to know why we don't want her dressing as Princess Jasmine for Halloween (if she one day asks)?
The morning after the grocery store incident, I decided to get L's take before Montessori drop-off. As she stood on the bathroom counter, brushing her teeth and pirouetting, I asked her point-blank: "Do you know what a princess is?"
"Yes," she replied, locking eyes with me in the mirror. "They are girls who are sooo beautiful."
"I think you're pretty beautiful," I said. "Are you a princess?"
She handed me the toothbrush, smiling.
"NO!" she thundered, jumping up and down while grabbing my shoulders. "I am a gorilla who likes pancakes!"
is a role model I can get behind.
||Erik Missio used to live in Toronto, have longish hair and write about rock 'n' roll. He now lives in the suburbs, has no-ish hair and edits technical articles. He and his wife are collaborating on a three-year-old girl who may already be smarter than both of them. He received his MA in Journalism from the University of Western Ontario.
My kid loves comics. Yours could, too!