A few days ago, Natalie saw a neighbor in a princess costume. When she got home, she pulled out her largely ignored pink tutu, put it on, and announced, “I’m a princess.” We sighed at a little bit of oblivion lost, but went along with her game. Today a neighbor is having a princess tea party birthday celebration, and Natalie is invited. She is thrilled at the prospect of dressing up. I even took advantage of her enthusiasm to french braid her hair–something I’d been wanting to try for a while anyway. She picked out her outfit, and she looks adorable, if rather…pink.
However, there’s a part of me that’s unsettled by all of this. For months I have laughed as my daughter announced to people that pink is her favorite color and joked, “but we dressed her in blue as a baby. I don’t know where we went wrong!” I’ve mostly accepted that glittery, shiny things draw her attention, and that she idolizes big kids (especially the girls) and wants to do exactly what they do. But we’re entering the age where princesses and gendered marketing are so damn hard to avoid. And while I don’t mind Natalie playing princess sometimes, I want her to do it in her own way (not Disney’s) and I don’t want her to think it’s all she can be.
Right now, Natalie is just as happy to wrap herself in her lion towel and “Roar at mommy!” She proudly tells us and demonstrates how strong she is (the kid can lift and carry a full gallon of milk). She is thrilled with the new blue hippo light fixture I just installed in her room, and proclaims herself a crocodile in the swimming pool. She loves her sneakers and her tricycle, and tries to do soccer tricks like the boys next door. We will never buy her princess underwear (which is damn hard to do these days) or other clothes that label her as “princess” or “hottie.” The only “TV” she watches consists of Signing Time and bits of old Sesame Street DVDs. We can control the messages she gets about gender in our household. But we can’t control the rest of the world.
How do you help a child keep an open mind about gender when the rest of the world preaches otherwise?
(I should add the disclaimer that the party consisted of boys, as well as girls, in princess dresses, and that the princesses did run around like maniacs and drive cars. But still. It was a princess party.)