There is one of these onesies, however, that we avoid completely. It’s the one that says “Princess.”
There are plenty of reasons we don’t like this slogan. First of all, unlike the statement about her kissableness, the “princess” statement is patently false. My daughter is not a princess; she is undeniably a commoner. Her parents are not a king or queen, and she’s still many years away from being old enough to marry a real prince. And, given that we intend to raise her in this great democracy of America, I think her chances of marrying a real prince are pretty slim.
Of course, I’m being silly. No one in America is a real princess. There are very few real princesses anywhere in the world. So it begs the question: why would “princess” be an ideal that we would present to our little girls? What’s so great about being a princess, anyway?
The contemporary cultural meaning of “princess” is much different than the historical reality. Of course, there are more princesses in fairy tales than there are criminals in Elmore Leonard novels. The story of the princess is usually this: beautiful girl of humble background wins the affections of a wealthy royal prince who marries her so that she lives happily ever after. Obviously, no parent would object to having their children of any gender participate in the “happily ever after” part of this. But do I really want to raise a girl whose only accomplishment is marrying a wealthy prince? The stereotypical princess narrative values two things: beauty and wealth, from which comes assumed happiness.
This is a decidedly un-feminist narrative. Hard work and accomplishment are not encouraged; in fact, they are discouraged – that is the realm of men, who have power and wield it to fulfill their sexual fantasies of physical beauty. Respect is offered to women based on their position in society (their attachment to men), not because of their values or inner selves. This leads to an attitude of entitlement – I am royalty, and other people should treat me as such. Why? Because that’s just the way it is.
You probably don’t need me to point out examples in popular culture. Just turn on the TV and dial into any reality television proclaiming to document the doings of a “real” housewife. In fact, you probably don’t even need to look at popular culture; you may just have to look across the street or down the aisle at church. Little girls are learning very young to expect to be fawned and fussed over, for no other reason than that they’ve been told that’s what to expect. Why are parents teaching this to their little girls?
My theory is that we have taken the Jungian archetype of the princess and focused on its shadow side. Are there positive aspects to the princess narrative? Sure – self-esteem being the most obvious one. What parent doesn’t want his or her daughter to look up to a role model who is poised, self-assured, beautiful, and successful? There are princesses in stories who fit this image (Princess Leia is my princess of choice). But the shadow side is self-worth connected to external circumstance at the expense of compassion. A royal princess need not be concerned with the feelings of other, lesser people. Of course, the princess narrative I listed above – a young girl of humble origins being elevated to royalty – assumes that the girl isn’t born with a sense of royal entitlement, and usually brings into the royal palace a remembrance of what it felt like to be humble. Cinderella was poor and humble, patiently suffering the torment of her step-sisters, even forgiving them their cruelties after marrying the prince. Snow White is actually born into royalty, but cast out by the jealous queen. Snow White then lives with the seven dwarves, social outcasts with physical defects. Even in the Bible, Esther remembers her people and uses her position to intercede for them (I know, Esther was a queen, but the archetype holds).
So it seems important to me that a little girl not be raised with a princess mentality. If a young girl is taught to think and behave like royalty, it will instill ugly characteristics: selfishness, vanity, arrogance and disdain for others. And these girls will grow into women, and these ugly characteristics just get uglier. Does that mean that I won’t tell my daughter that she’s beautiful and special? Of course not; she is definitely those things – to me. As her father, she is my princess, but the rest of the world doesn’t see her that way. She will have to find her way in the world and she will have to earn respect from others, through a compassionate heart and thoughtfulness for others. She can learn to do this because she knows she will always have the love of her family, no matter what. But love doesn’t equal getting your way all the time.
There will come a day – probably not too far away – when she will want to dress up like Princess Jasmine for Halloween or wants me to read her books or watch videos featuring princesses and princes and all manners of royal fantasies. I suppose it’s as inevitable as little boys playing with toy guns. Maybe I’ll eat my words, but I do believe that parenting is about working to instill certain values in children, despite the counter-value in the outside culture. No matter what the media (or other families) might say, I want to raise a child who knows her value, but recognizes that same value in others. A girl who can find the beauty in other people because she appreciates her own beauty. A daughter who uses her sense of self-worth to stand up for what is right and be a voice for others, considerate and compassionate, but firm and assured. Just like Princess Leia.