It’s crazy how after you have a child so many things change. Prior to kids I probably wouldn’t have flinched an eye lash noticing someone refer to another little girl as a “princess”. But now that I have my own daughter, well it has opened up my mind in ways I never thought possible.
I’ve been questioning the way little girls are raised in western society. At night, I am kept up wondering how female gender stereotypes will mould her into the woman she is destined to be. I guess most mothers want to raise their daughters to be strong independent women, not constrained by their gender.
So, a daily occurrence that gets under my skin is when people refer to my 21-month-old as “princess”. Good intentioned family members buy her gifts, like tutu rompers branded with the word “princess” across the front. She gets given tiaras and other useless fairy-tale gifts.
What exactly does princess mean? Personally, when I think of the word princess I think of a spoilt and gentle girl in need of saving. I think of an attractive girl, maybe from royalty, who is treated with special consideration. My perception is probably influenced by Disney movies like Snow White and Cinderella. I know that now there are a few princesses that save themselves like Mulan and Tiana, but I feel like the helpless princess stereotype is still out there. It’s not realistic and sets our girls up for failure.
I want my daughter to be able to compete in the workforce against the strong male competition. I want her to have leadership qualities, be assertive and be able to ask for what she wants, and get it. I want her to know how to work hard to get what she wants and have grit and persistence. I want her to be independent and not rely on others. The world is a harsh reality, and she needs to be able to tackle life's obstacles herself. She doesn't need saving because she's got it handled herself.
Sure, I want her to be confident in her abilities and appearance, but I want her to know it’s not about how she looks, it’s about how hard she works and the decisions she makes in life that lead her to success.
I’ve come to the realisation that I cannot control what someone says to my daughter. It’s taken me 21 months to not cringe when someone calls her a princess or buys her a pink tiara. I’m finally at a calm place. I know that I cannot control what she is exposed to in popular culture and in society. It’s my job as her mother to teach her the skills she needs to get through life. If I can encourage her to be curious and question everything around her, including gender stereotypes, I feel satisfied.
My approach is I do not push anything onto my daughter. I do not go out and specifically buy her “girlie” toys, in fact, I often don't even categorise toys based on gender. There is nothing I love more than my daughter playing with dinosaurs and train tracks. I love dressing her in blue, red, black and green (not at the same time!). She has hardly any pink in her wardrobe, and I only buy that colour because it actually suits her, not because she is a girl and is expected to wear pink.
If she happens to like something and ask for it herself, then I am OK with that. As long as it is HER decision. I do not feel it is my role as a mother to push her in a particular direction.
What I also contemplate is, if I had a boy, would I treat him the same? Would I be open to him exploring tutus and tiaras? And honestly, I do not know the answer to that. I guess it seems OK to want to encourage our girls to be strong and not constrained by their gender, but when it comes to males exhibiting female traits, we may not have the same standards.
What’s your experience? Is this something you have battled with since having a girl? Or do you think I’m overthinking things?