Fairy princesses can be mighty girls, as long as we don't shame them first

December 20 2017 | Guest post by Tabitha Carvan
Feminist daughter: Fairy princesses can be mighty girls, as long as we don't shame them first
Leia self-rescuing princess card from Im Bookish and Bakewell

My two-year old daughter took her first steps in the week following Trump's election.

She literally rose up.

For the previous year, she got around by shuffling along on her bottom. As her peers one by one started tottering, then running, she stayed on the ground.

She wore through a lot of pants.

That week following the election she would have shuffled past her mother sobbing in various locations around the house. Her mother sobbing on the toilet, her mother sobbing as she peeled carrots, her mother sobbing while staring at her phone.

I was crying for her, and also for me, because her life would be no different to mine.

Instead, her future as a woman seemed it was going to be my past, with all the pain and anger that you drag around with you, until it's not just your pants that are worn out.

If Hillary had won, I would have looked upon that shuffling bundle and declared, "The future is yours! You can do anything!" I would have high-fived her sticky little hand and broken out in a rendition of Everybody's Shuffling, sung to the tune of "Everybody's Hustling," which was a family favorite at the time.

Instead, her future as a woman seemed it was going to be my past, with all the pain and anger that you drag around with you, until it's not just your pants that are worn out.

"You can do anything," I told her. "But you will have to fight for it every single step of the way."

So she took a step.

When my daughter turned three, Harvey Weinstein was fired.

She wanted a "fairy princess birthday party," so I was making wands out pink glitter-glue and pipe cleaners and cutting the crusts off fairy bread while obsessively refreshing my Twitter feed for more news about the extent of Weinstein's depravity.

After the invitation went out, I received messages RSVPing to the party, but they also asked a question, the same one over again: "Are you okay with this?"

The invitation to her party was a photo of my daughter wearing a tutu and crown, Photoshopped to make it look like it appeared in the pages of a storybook. She loved it.

After the invitation went out, I received messages RSVPing to the party, but they also asked a question, the same one over again: "Are you okay with this?"

As all I was doing with my phone at the time was reading about Harvey Weinstein, it would take me a moment to contextualize these messages popping up on my screen. They were asking if I was okay with betraying my feminist values with whole fairy princess thing, not Harvey Weinstein ejaculating into a pot plant.

Am I okay with this?

At my local library I hear women groaning when their daughters choose the pink, glittery books about mermaids and unicorns. Sometimes they flat-out refuse to borrow them. At my son's preschool I hear mothers apologizing for the tutus their daughters arrive in.

"She just loves all that stuff!" they cringe. "She definitely doesn't get it from me!"

My daughter doesn't get it from me, either. I watch her doing interpretative dance to "Let It Go" in the lounge-room and I think, who even are you?

I feel the same way when I see my son, who is five, mesmerized by the wheels of his model train, a sight which has had him transfixed for five years now. When he grows up, he wants to be, in his words, someone who works at the model train exhibition.

But when my son had a train-themed party, no-one asked me if I was okay with that.

But when my son had a train-themed party, no-one asked me if I was okay with that. In fact, I recall multiple people commenting that it offered clear evidence of him having developed his own independent interests, since after all he was the progeny of two people who couldn't care less about trains.

No one says anything about his train t-shirts, or the way he moves his arms like an engine's rods when he runs, or his limited train-themed career aspirations.

I expose him to other things, of course, and even ask him if maybe he'd like something other than a train for Christmas this year, but he never does. What can I do? He just really likes trains.

By contrast, as a good feminist parent I am expected to not only expose my daughter to diverse pursuits, but actually limit the "bad" ones, the ones which send the wrong message. I am expected to teach her that her love of fairy princesses is not her own, but a product of market forces and gender stereotypes to which she has fallen victim.

I am not okay with that.

Feminist daughter: Fairy princesses can be mighty girls, as long as we don't shame them first
GRL PWR print from cloudhedd

If I only applaud her choices when she picks the book about fire trucks from the library shelf, not the one about the mermaid, what is that telling her?

When the whole world is sending signals to our daughters that they exist to be belittled and disrespected, I'm not going to denigrate a girl's interests. I'm not going to teach her to be ashamed of what she likes. And if I only applaud her choices when she picks the book about fire trucks from the library shelf, not the one about the mermaid, what is that telling her?

I want to praise her for the very act of choosing, and for having agency. When she's older, I will teach her to interrogate what's driving her choices and to be skeptical of any kind of gender typecasting. I will talk to her about the patriarchy because, honestly, it's practically all I talk about these days anyway.

But she's three years old. Right now, all she hears is "yes" or "no" and all she can read in my face is approval or disappointment. She needs to see me wincing at discrimination and prejudice, not tutus.

At the end of the fairy princess party, after the guests had gone home, my daughter was walking around the house in her pink party dress, toting the little handbag she'd received, and singing. On her head was the spectacularly ridiculous headband my sister had given her, which incorporates a sparkly crown, a pink bedazzled veil, and even shiny pearls dangling like earrings.

If she'd looked up, she would have noticed her mother crying again. Not because of Trump this time, nor even Harvey Weinstein, but because of my pride in her great, big strides.

As she paraded past, I heard her funny voice, so tiny, singing that Katy Perry song, which my daughter calls "The Lion One":

"Cause I am the champion

And you're gonna hear me roar."

And off she went, wafting a trail of pink sparkly tulle behind her.

More advice about feminist daughter choices

  1. My wake up call to stop rejecting traditionally feminine things came I met an online friend for the first time- someone who's face I did not yet know, only her personality, someone I thought of as a "better" feminist than me- and discovered she adored wearing poofy skirts and glittery makeup. She inspired me to own my "girliness" and stop feeling sheepish about it. My skirts and sparkles don't make me a bad feminist any more than I would automatically be a good feminist if I wore pants. I'm dressing the way I want to, I'm engaging in the hobbies I enjoy, and I am doing this for myself, not others. Isn't the point of feminism to allow us to express ourselves and our power as we choose, not trade one set of social restrictions for another? It's to make "princess" one of many equally valid options. Yes, we do need princesses to become less prominent to give equal space and value to those other options, but we don't need to eliminate the idea completely.

    My niece is three and half and head over heels for Disney princesses. When she tells stories, they're about Rapunzel rescuing Flynn or Moana going on adventures. I felt devastated by Trump's election for the same reason you did- I don't want her to have to fight so hard for what should already be hers- but I have hope for her because she's already showing that docile, demure, and waiting on a prince are not the qualities she thinks make a princess.

    16 agree
  2. I feel so strongly about this! I see it happen all too often. If we say that historically feminine things (pink, glitter, princesses, fairies) are bad, aren't we just agreeing with the shitty anti-women propaganda of traditional patriarchy? No thanks. Fairies are cool. Trains are cool. Gender politics that lean so far forward into "progressive" that they loop back around into "oppressive" are not cool.

    38 agree
  3. Yes! This describes exactly how I feel (but more eloquently than I could do it!). I don't like when "girly" things are seen as inferior, and I agree that it all comes down to choice.

    11 agree
  4. I love this article so much! I've got a 12 1/2 month old girl at home and I want her to grow up knowing that she can be as girly or not girly as she wants to be. That has no bearing on her strength or her ability to be a badass when she grows up. <3

    5 agree
  5. This morning I spotted a Wonder Woman doll in the toy donation box at work and it made me tear up. Why? The doll was Diana in her long, blue formal dress from the movie and her sword. Imagining some little girl opening that Christmas morning and seeing that she doesn't have to choose between being "girly" and kicking ass warmed my cold, dead heart.

    13 agree
  6. I had to think about this article overnight to gain clarity to my thoughts. I appreciated the sentiment, but something was off to me. Yes – girls (and boys) should be able to express themselves in a way that feels comfortable and authentic, but every expression in the article is coming from a media source. The Princess Leia card, the faces on the girl power card, the idea that femininity is soft and pink and sparkly. You do mention that being something to discuss down the road, but I'm uncomfortable with the idea that women are first conditioned to hold a singular idea of femininity as young girls, and then defend their desire to do so as they get older. We are seeing some changes – but even when women in the media (real or otherwise) show attributes that aren't inherently "feminine" they're still backed up with lots of the same old same old (Diana from Wonder Woman, for example, is still beautiful, kind, polite, empathetic to those around her and expected to fall for the guy). So at least in my mind – I still dislike the idea that a sparkly tutu can be some form of empowerment, because we've let modern society give us some dredges to make us feel better in a still very one-sided view of being a woman.

    2 agree
    • Offbeat Home & Life always uses advertisements and mass media products for illustrations whenever the author doesn't provide any, regardless of the topic. Advertising is what enables them to stay online. I wouldn't assume that it has anything to do with this article particularly.

      A choice is equally narrowed whether you must be something or must not be it. And why not both?

      2 agree
  7. Thank you for the thoughtful article.
    My reactions were mixed.
    First, I was sad that your generation is wrapped up in politics that you would be devastated over a presidential election. As someone once said, politics is something we engage in to support our personal lives, not what our lives are about. I hope you demonstrate to your daughter that Life is always lived in a context, and that a joyful life lived touching the real people around you is better than a bitter life lived affecting public policy.
    Second, but related, I was sad that you view patriarchy as bad in and of itself. All cultural lives within hierarchy, and it isn’t evil any more than families are evil. Some families are, just like some hierarchies are, and a meritocracy would be no better than a patriarchy because there would always be someone deciding what is meritorious. In the internet age, that is turning out to be the masses, the mindless mob, the bloggers and vloggers and press that comment on everything from their own limited viewpoint without having to take responsibility for the consequences in the lives of individuals.
    Just look at the trail of devastation following Trumps election: Millions of millennials believing the world had ended, experiencing emotional trauma because as a mob they reinforced their own fears and rants and hyperboles until it resembled truth

    1 agrees
    • Setting aside the political controversy (which, I know, the author started) patriarchy, at least, is relevant to the main point of the article. Thank you for being open about your views on that.

      The issue here is whether one chooses a lifestyle or gets it imposed on one. If you enjoy playing the boss with a voluntary masochist/submissive who loves being told what to do, that is between the two of you and not my place to judge or argue. But that's not the same thing as an entire society telling half the human race that they must submit whether they want to play along or not.

      In terms of who's in power, I will agree that somebody needs to take the lead and coordinate efforts–but the appendages which one has on a part of the body that most people don't even see strikes me as a peculiar way to decide who gets to be the leaders and who gets to be the followers.

      5 agree
  8. People seem to forget just how dangerous fairies can be! Before they got Victorianized, people made a variety of charms to protect themselves from fairy wrath. I don't see anything disempowering in a girl wanting to play a fairy princess.

    3 agree

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