I don’t mean to suggest there is no room for improvement or that I think for profit toy companies are best qualified to teach our children about gender roles and their relative value. Objecting to proscribed, enforced, narrowly defined genders and the needless gendering of things is good. Providing kids with variety of aspirational options and adult skills practice toys is good. Allowing gender nonconforming children to safely express themselves is crucial.
But somehow all those good things sometimes twist in bad femme phobic ways. When we discourage girls from liking princesses or wanting to be one, when we rail against girls media while leaving boys media unchallenged, when we obsess over the plastic curves of a doll and seriously debate and if they’re to blachoices, eating disorders but don’t give a second thought to how He-Man might encourage steroid use some day, we betray the real problem.
We don’t trust girls to grow up, to discern between fantasy and reality, to have humility. We think their interests are inherently bad and that it’s our job to teach them not to like these girly things. Somehow we do trust boys and their media choices, and you’d be hard pressed to find widespread critique of a toy for being too boyish. In my circles a boy princess would be more accepted and even praised than a girl princess.
As a culture we exclude girls from much of life by default, and only reserve a few colors and fashion styles for girls. Then we scorn any girl who dares to like what’s left. I still think of women’s media as a “guilty pleasure” while men’s media is just TV and movies. The shame of girlhood is contrived and imposed all our lives, in everything we do.
We’re encouraged or even required to don makeup to work, then despised for being so vain. We’re excluded from baseball, then called dykes for choosing softball instead. We’re judged on our fashion, including the crime of being fashionable. Our roles are limited and once we’ve been jostled into them, society will unleash its hatred.
I want better for today’s little girls. Of course I want them to have more options – more colors, more features, more roles to play pretend. I don’t want girls told they can only be a princess or ballerina or fairy. But I also don’t want us telling girls it’s wrong to be those things, to have those dreams, to exist in this world while feminine. If the whole world is shoving them into a box marked girl, the solution cannot be to declare that the girls in that box are bad and wrong for being there.
If a girl in your life loves princesses, don’t be scornful. Don’t be a jerk to a child. Talk with her about a princess’s real duties and obligations, like having a clean bedroom and brushing her teeth. Play pretend battles where she defends her castle or leads troops into battle to secure new lands. Explain why a queen regnant will always have more power than a queen consort and encourage her to dream big.