The Problem With Princesses

Or — “If you call my daughter Princess, I assume you will refer to me as Your Majesty or optionally Your Highness” but that seemed like too long a title.

So I’m a dad raising two girls, one is 7 months old and the other is 3 years. As the internet will tell you, this is an interesting thing for dads to be doing. Recently I read a piece on allowing girls to be princesses by Sarah Chipps who I’ve unfortunately never met, but everyone I know who knows her speaks volumes on how great she is.

I was super interested in what she had to say and found myself fundamentally agreeing with her writing. This was — at least superficially — at odds with the fact that I’m most definitely trying to shield my daughter from princessification. I intercept presents from well intentioned gift givers, I’m distinctly off Disney movies (well all movies, but especially Disney — not because they’re bad, indeed many are fantastic and rightfully loved — but simply because the princess virus is strong in them), and I generally try to change the subject when princess comes up.

In the intervening days I’ve spent time thinking about this seeming contradiction, but realized it’s not that at all. In fact it aligns exactly with my belief that you only get to guide your children and show them the things you think are cool, they get to decide what is actually great. There’s a fine line between showing and telling that parents need to walk (and it is a tough as hell line to walk).

I also do not subscribe to the idea that kids are the same and gender differences are societal — from early days I could see young boys (on average) being quite different from young girls (on average). So I get it, but here’s the thing, the princessification process begins before birth and is very much a subtle, but ubiquitous and pernicious societal construct that prevents girls from seeing beyond it.

Walk into any mainstream children’s clothing store and wander into the boys section. You’ll find that boys are prepped to be rock stars and astronauts and presidents and surfers and mvps and ride tractors and boats and dinosaurs. Stroll over to the girls sections and you’ll see they’re Princesses. If you look hard, maybe they can be daddy’s little girl, too.

Boys learn (because they are told repeatedly from early days) that you can be whatever you make yourself, even the sky is not the limit. Girls are told, you are already all you could hope to be — a princess. When’s the last time you called some boy “prince?” Let me tell you, “princess” is what everyone calls girls they stop to coo at.

So it’s not that I want to prevent my daughters from being a princess if that’s what they want. I bow to the fact that there is a certain inevitability to it. It is also most certainly not that I put girly and science at opposite ends of the spectrum, they are completely orthogonal. I rage at the fact that society has made it such that every last one of its girls will go through at least some time (and usually an extensive period of time) where they believe that their value comes from their birth and not from their actions. Why is it that there is no equivalent phase for little boys?

It’s because when your value comes from your actions, there’s no single avenue that every boy wants to walk down — your actions define you. That should be the message we all tell our girls as well. It’s what I’m telling mine and would greatly appreciate it if you all would too, otherwise, “Your Majesty” does have a nice ring to it.