The Accidental Princess Culture of Anti-Princessery
Does the world need another article about Princess Culture? Yes, it does. Because sometimes I think we forget why we are anti-Princess Culture — or maybe it’s just not the same for all of us.
For some, it’s probably the fact that endless pink glittery shit is annoying. It reinforces terrible ideas of what a girl should be, or care about. For others — and I’m sure there’s overlap here — it’s about wanting kids to be able to self-actualize, to not be pushed into consumerism so early in their lives.
When I think about the fight against princessy crap, I think about this tough punk mom I knew in Philly years ago. She was a friend of a friend, and she had a little girl at a time when most people in my social world didn’t have kids. She was tattooed and wore shirts with cut-off sleeves but more importantly, she was informed and political. And her daughter loved all things princess.
I appreciated the way this mom was able to articulate what the problem with the Princessery actually was, and give that information to her daughter. Regardless of what her daughter chose to do with it. I have clear memories of her breaking down class and authority structures to this little kid — being able to recognize that the problem with princesses wasn’t pink ruffles, it was the fetishizing of wealth and authority, of power structures and dominion over others, and having so much more than you could ever need.
I try steer my kid toward fairies rather than princesses, but she winds up with trinkets anyway. I dislike the messaging of the Disney princess movies from my childhood, but I actually enjoy the movies themselves for their entertainment value; they certainly aren’t banned in our home.
My daughter also still likes robots and trains and lego and ‘dramatic play’ that is not uber-princessy, so if a tiara slips into the mix it’s not the worst thing ever. And because she certainly likes princesses, I have checked out a few anti- and alterna-princess books for kids. I gotta say it: they have mostly confused the issue and brought more princessy things into our lives.
Not All Princesses Dress in Pink was a hit when I bought it for a kid’s birthday a couple of years ago. Kids and parents alike seemed to know it, and approve. It wasn’t age-appropriate for my daughter at the time, so I only wound up reading it with her recently. The formula is in the title: you don’t have to wear pink to be a princess — you can wear overalls and stinky socks! And use power tools. Cute, right?
But radical? There is a repeated phrase after each “Princesses-can-wear-whatever” scenario, and it goes something like this: “… and a sparkly crown.” Call me crazy, but doesn’t that undo the point?
The big issue isn’t “You Can Be A Princess No Matter What You Wear” but, “You Don’t Have To Want To Be A Princess.” Period. You can be a carpenter who wears a sparkly crown—sure, I guess. You can be an astronaut in a ruffled pink gown—well, pragmatically probably not. You don’t have to be a princess—sure.
Except I think that this book still suggests you do. And given that my daughter referred to it as “the Princess Book” the entire time we had it out of the library, she concurs. Note: If anti-princess books are the only books with princesses in your home, then those are your princess books.
Olivia and the Fairy Princesses was the next book, and was recommended by Bunch over here. I like Olivia and author Ian Falconer, and Kerry Clare who recommended it, but I don’t know about this one. It does a good job of being anti-conformist but the punch line at the end — the moral? — is that you don’t have to settle for being a princess. You can be a queen. I’m not certain if this means “aim higher” or “rule harder” or what.
I get the Don’t Conform part; I too prefer it when Olivia wears stripes and a beret instead of a princess dress. But I’m confused when she puts on a different coloured gown and we’re supposed to be all good and proud of her — she’s a queen among princesses? The book doesn’t get the whole point.
I have a lot to say about the My Princess Boy book, and this is just a small part. General premise: boy likes dresses and princesses, and is loved and accepted by his family. An important message. And a book my daughter references when we’re talking about gender and gendered clothing. It’s also a book my daughter uses against me when I tell her I don’t like princess stuff — “but you like My Princess Boy, right?”
Princess stereotypes are tricky when talking about boys — who are generally socialized against expressing anything perceived as feminine. But ultimately, princesses are not much better role models for boys than they are for girls. Complicated, yes; I like My Princess Boy but not princesses, and a not-really-about-princesses book has been declared a Princess Book by my child.
So, I’ll just be here at home re-organizing my mixed messaging about princesses.
We like Ariel, and boys in fairy wings; we do not like Cinderella when she appears other than in the first Disney movie; we like Snow White and that she woke up, but feel upset the prince took her away from her friends. We can read “princess books” but only ones Mama picks.
And we can dress up in tutus if we are also wearing skeletons in the same outfit.