Is It Time to Rethink the Pink?
At the age of four, my son was running around with a pretend guns shooting everyone in his path. I was panicked and asked his wise nursery school teacher what to do. She explained calmly that kids at the age of four play with archetypal gender roles as they learn to define themselves in a complicated world.
But she didn't say it like that; she said not to worry, all kids do it -- boys are superheroes and girls are princesses.
I think of that often as I see my daughter dressed up in her full princess regalia, as I have to fight with her over my blush and lip gloss, as she tells me that when she is grown up that she is going to be married to a prince.
I don't really encourage the princess, girlie stuff. I have never been a good consumer of princess gear. I change the wording of our princess books so that princesses are not just beautiful but are also smart problem solvers with great senses of humour. They don't usually get married at the end but are friends with the kind prince.
But it is a losing battle. And it's not just princesses, it is everywhere: the girls on TV; Barbie and Polly Pocket's trampy wardrobe; and the swath of sparkly pink that floods the girl's section of every store. The influx of pop culture messages that focus on girls' looks feel insurmountable, and even worse they feel normal.
Peggy Orenstein has written a book called Cinderella Ate My Daughter: Dispatches from the Frontlines of the New Girlie-Girl Culture. I haven't read the book (yet) and I have a hunch I wouldn't agree completely with Kate Fillion's take on it. I can see that Orenstein is asking some pertinent questions about the cultural emphasis on being pink, pretty and princessy.
This is especially relevant to me as we have just been in the princess mecca of Disney World (more on that in a future post) where my five-year-old daughter had the pleasure of meeting each and every princess. She was in awe, she giggled, she lifted her skirt and she posed for pictures. She wore her bedraggled Cinderella dress and crown and smiled shyly when people bowed to her. She loved it, and so far I see no permanent damage.
Her fascination with princesses has tip-toed into our lives. I try to walk the line between emphasizing the values that I appreciate such as kindness, and downplaying the ones I don't such as passivity or selling your voice for legs to get a man. It's not just Disney, of course, it is most consumer goods aimed at young girls. When my daughter received Vet Barbie we wondered why she was missing her pants and whether wearing a such a short skirt was a good choice. I am vocal about what I see as negative role models and I do not allow high heels in the house, glass or not.
But a part of me loves the fairy tales, the songs and the magic, the sheer unabashed girliness of the toys. My husband laughed at me as we walked up to Cinderella's castle at Disney World; it's so easy to be amazed. The girlie-girl inside me remembered the desire to sing to the birds and marry a prince. I too played with Barbie and I painted my room pink.
Like most of parenting, this is not black and white, I appreciate that there is a lot of grey (or at least pink) involved. And I continue to try to walk the line between accepting pink culture as part of a normal childhood and wondering if the messages will affect my daughter long-term. Orenstein pushes it further, wondering if "Cinderella culture" protects our girls from sexualized culture or primes them for it. I know I am not alone in asking why the emphasis on girlie-girls feels like it is increasing at a time when women are increasingly in the public and political sphere. I seem to have these anxieties at the same time as dismissing the concerns and acknowledging that believing in fairy tales is not a political stance.
I remember when my daughter's favourite colour was orange. And then one day when she was four, it abruptly switched to pink with purple running a close second. What happened to orange? Will she return to it? I hope so.
What do you think? Do you think the girlie culture is steering girls in the wrong direction? Or do you think this is over-analyzing?
Want more? last year I wrote about our visit to Great Wolf Lodge.