Tuesday, January 29, 2013

More Princesses and Punching

Three weeks ago, I wrote about how I had the whole "princess" thing under control at our house, and how my new hobby of Mixed Martial Arts was really no big deal--just a new approach to fitness.  Well, there have been developments since then.

A few days after I posted the aforementioned claims, I wrote a piece for The Atlantic chronicling my struggle to keep Disney Princesses from taking over my kids' lives.  I wrote it under the influence of some frustration and quite a bit of self-inflicted pressure to make a strong argument; and then, after submitting it, I actually tried to get the editor to kill the piece.  She talked me down, though, and we changed it a lot, getting rid of some of the more contentious aspects.  What was left was kind of my standard rant on princess culture, and I didn't think anyone would pay attention to it, since that stuff has been hashed out a million times before.

Not surprisingly to me, since I have accepted that I will never figure out the internet, the princess story got more attention than anything I've ever published before [see also: the spoof video I spent all of 20 minutes shooting and editing], getting hundreds of (often irate) comments, and thousands of shares on social media.  A writer from the snarky feminist website Jezebel even wrote a response to my article, and so did a bunch of other bloggers.  Most of them told me to chill.  I was interviewed for Canadian public radio.  I appeared on HuffPost Live with a bunch of smart people.  Who would have known?

The only meaningful upshot of becoming known as the Dad Who Hates Princesses is that I have grown much more conscientious about providing my girls with alternative fuel for their imaginations, instead of buckling under the weight of my own laziness and accepting the default "girl" toys, books, videos, etc.  While they still wear their princess costumes often, and play with their princess dolls daily (rarely adhering to the prescribed Disney narratives, I'm happy to say), I don't think we've read a princess book or watched Cinderella more than a couple times in the last three weeks.  That is a dramatic lifestyle change for us.

I received plenty of positive feedback about the princess article, of course, but the rebuttals were much more passionate.  As they tend to be.  Of the myriad criticisms, two of the most common were: "You are a mean hypocrite to not allow your kids to follow their own interests in the name of protecting them from societal and commercial coercion," and "You're the parent--don't act like you have no control over what they're exposed to."  Those are both valid points, I guess, although I think a careful reading of the article would not leave the impression that I was trying to implement a total princess ban: I just want to stop the princesses from taking over completely, so that there's room for other ideas in the girls' heads.  As for the "parent up" advice--fair enough.  Ultimately, I've got no one to blame but myself for letting the princesses run roughshod (glass-shod?) over us.  But if this episode has done nothing else, it's strengthened my resolve to expose my daughters to as many different areas of interest as I can.

My wife and I have been doing a pretty good job of redirecting their princess obsession lately. I'm especially excited that they love their new books about the planets and dinosaurs, and that today we sat on the couch and read straight through the 80+ pages of my favorite childhood book, Fantastic Mr. Fox.  [Which, I realized upon reading for the first time in years, is pretty grim and casually sexist.]

While I admit that people who said I overstated both my powerlessness against the ubiquity of the princess culture and the danger of its gender-normalization have a point, I have talked to a number of parents (many online, and one I just happened to meet at a shopping mall, of all places) whose experiences suggest that my concern isn't totally misplaced.  The mom I met at the mall had a story similar to several I've heard before: Her preschool-aged daughter has no interest in princesses or anything pink or frilly, and is socially isolated because of it.  Other little girls say that she's not really a girl because she wears the wrong kinds of clothes and plays with the wrong kinds of toys, and they won't let her hang out with them.  This little "tomboy" is happy to play with boys, but her mom--an engineer who is all about raising kids who don't hew to traditional gender norms--has been encouraging her to wear more pink just so she won't be ostracized by the girls.  I have absolutely no fear of my girls being shunned by their peers for not being girly enough.  They play almost exclusively with girls at preschool, and have even started making generalizations about boys ("there are bad boys at school"..."we don't like boys").  They are fitting in well in that respect, which is comforting to some extent, but doesn't make me feel any better about the kids who don't conform to gender expectations.  As much as I resist believing in the "mean girl" trope, which posits that even the youngest girls are genetically programmed to be catty, I can't deny that, even in our enlightened, bully-conscious times, children who don't perform gender "correctly" pay a price.


To read about my dubious progress as a mixed martial artist, check out this post on DadCentric.        




  1. I think we can all agree (well, that's not accurate for the internet EVER) that you're doing IT right. You're thinking through parenting and you're not cutting off your kids' intake for anything. You're merely limiting it, just as some parents limit other things like violent television or salty snacks.

    Anyway, keep it up.

    1. Thanks, dude. Oh yeah. I guess I should try to limit the salty snacks too.

  2. Our twins (just turned four) know about princesses, and have some princess stuff, but aren't obsessed with them. It helps that they're boy/girl, but still I find it odd that so many people find it odd that our girl isn't totally into princesses, as if we're favoring her brother's interests, or some other sexist bullshit like that. It sounds condescending and elitist, but I like to think that guys like us - who are conscious of what the princess culture has done to girls, and will continue to do to girls - are just a little bit more evolved. . .

  3. I think there's trying to limit the princess paraphernalia and keep it from taking over like you said, and then there's eliminating it completely. Disney and princesses in general are such a big part of kid culture, I think the latter would be really hard to do, and you'd end up working harder to avoid it than you would just to try redirecting them somewhere else after they've had a little fun with it. My older 2 (age 4) are not so much interested in princess culture, but do enjoy a fairy tale movie and often play Rapunzel and Eugene (characters only -- not the story at all). They play dinosaurs, cars, and trains, and their princess gifts have gotten minimal attention. The youngest however, is so different, declaring herself a princess every time she wears a dress and is much more into girly things like tea parties. I have done nothing, or minimal things unconsciously, to steer them in any of these directions. I don't really know what this means other than different kids like different things, and if they really like princesses, let them have their fun, but be there to teach them that life isn't necessarily a fairy tale, and follow up with a good reading of Fantastic Mr Fox.

  4. I think it is just this kind of reassessment of our own parenting that ultimately serves our children best. By not digging in our heels on any subject and allowing ourselves to constantly evaluate what is the right course, we are teaching our kids to be adaptable to new ideas and considerate of their inherent value. Princesses will come and go (though, I look forward to that day), but critical thinking will hopefully stick around. I really enjoyed reading this post.

    Also, I bought a Roald Dahl anthology for my girls because I loved his stuff so much as a kid and can't believe how harsh some of it is. Love it and am continuing to read it to them, but, MAN, it is brutal at times. Brilliant, but brutal. Especially Fantastic Mr. Fox and Matilda.

  5. Hi Andy,

    I am an Associate Producer for the Huffington Post's online show, HuffPost Live. I came across the piece you reference here, in the Atlantic (and now this blog post), and we would love to have you join us for a discussion on this very topic TOMORROW (Jan. 30) at 6pm PST/ 9pm EST.

    The conversation would stream online, last 30 mins, and you would join via video chat. Given your 2 pieces, we think you'd be a great addition. Please let me know if you are interested and available at your earliest convenience.

    I can be reached via email at flavia.casas@huffingtonpost.com

    Thank you,

  6. My daughter recently received a Disney Princess play castle with little Disney Princesses who sing their trademark songs when the right button is pushed. Addison loves it.

    I take solace in the fact that when Addison sings kids songs about our happy family, she expresses great happiness for everyone but replaces "dad" with "Buzz Lightyear." I'm kicked out, but for a role model I can get behind. Could be worse.

    And she still loves the Princess stories, but at the end of "and lived happily ever after," we always add "and then she went to college." And she accepts that.

    I just recorded Fantastic Mr. Fox on the DVR. Looking forward to screening it in anticipation of an alternative story-line for my daughter.

    I can't drum up the passion for it you do, but I totally get where you're coming from.

  7. You should prepare yourself for 'monster high' starting right now ;)

  8. My 7 yr old boy occasionally wants me to paint his nails and tromps around the house in my high heels. It's whatever.

    Good post.

  9. I think the thing that gets me about the Disney Princesses today is the almost faceless nature of it. I liked Cinderella when I was young, but that came from watching the movie. There was a darkside to those movies as well. Being a Princess wasn't all dresses and balls.

    Also, they were separate entities and characters. I haven't seen any new movies since the originals, but the marketing seems to make them all interchangeable. And better yet, everyone is a princess. Only with out any thoughts to the downside of life as a princess. And then if princesses are all interchangeable and faceless, does that mean all the little girls are? And that's where it makes me queasy.

    And that's what I see when I see everyone assuming all girls want to be a princess and wear pink. I get that a lot of girls would love it either way. But Peer Pressure at 5? And yet that's what it seems like it's become. I have nothing against little girls liking princesses (who grow up to be queens and sometimes wield great power there). I have issues with the peer pressure and the way it's marketed...if that makes any sense.

    I have a boy. Disney thinks they should all like cars or toy story, preferably cars. Disney says those are their choices, until they are old enough to be bad boys...uh, I mean pirates. (ok, I like pirates, I just think my son should have a choice.)

    Anyway, I like the way that you said it. That there needs to be room for other things in their imagination. I think that's exactly the point.


Don't hold back.


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