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KatGransnet (GNHQ) Thu 13-Aug-15 15:22:36

Why do girls want to be princesses?

Yasmeen Ismail challenges gender stereotypes we often see in products marketed to children - what is deemed an acceptable way for girls to behave, and what girls should like to spend their time doing.

Yasmeen Ismail

Challenging gender stereotypes

Posted on: Thu 13-Aug-15 15:22:36


Lead photo

'Boy colours' and 'girl colours' - do they really exist?

When I was little I had a secondhand BMX bike. I was happy that I knew how to ride it without stabilisers (my sister taught me), and I relished in my independence. The boy down the road teased me for riding a "Boy’s bike." I remember puzzling over what exactly made it for boys. I was riding it, surely that was okay?

True to form I knocked at the front door of his house and told on him. I told his mother that her son was being mean and called my bike a 'boy’s bike'. She conceded and told me that as punishment he wouldn’t get his Kinder Surprise "this week". I suddenly had more pressing injustices to worry about... "He gets a Kinder Surprise every week!"

When my sister was little she had short hair and glasses. She wore dungarees and she was teased for being 'like a boy'. She begged our mother to let her grow her hair long, but (for reasons unknown) she wasn’t allowed. She put up with the cruelty of the other children, but it was hard on her. She is a Computer Scientist and has four children herself now. She is a wonderful mother.

Her two eldest are my niece and nephew. My nephew seems to think the sky is the limit when it comes to imagining his future. He would like to be a scientist, an explorer or an engineer. It changes daily, and he knows that he can do anything.

Why are we telling them that they are different and that their reading material has to be segregated?

My niece would like to be a princess. I don't mind that she wants to be a princess. It sounds great; A castle, jewels, adoration, dresses, carriages and horses. I don't mind that she wants to wear pink, and I don't mind that she wants sparkles on everything. The worry that I have is that the only reason she wants to be a princess and in pink might be because that is the main option that is presented to her.

This might not be true, but when I walk around and see aspiring princesses everywhere, I start to wonder where it's all come from. If I look to the bookstores, I can't move for books 'for girls' and books 'for boys'. Why are we telling them that they are different and that their reading material has to be segregated?

And the funny thing is, is that many "boys" books proffer achievable careers in such things as construction, engineering, and medicine, whilst there is an overwhelming amount of books for girls very focused on being a princess. But being a princess, you can only be born or marry into that.

So what is the message? Marry well? And what does that say about my niece? She can focus on dressing, acting and looking a certain way in order to meet her future prince (because, believe me, she hasn't been born into royalty). It would seem to me that her quest started when she received her first princess book. I love my niece. I am fiercely protective of her, but I need books to help me give her more options; to tell her that she is young and that the world is her oyster, and that she can do anything she wants. I don't want her to limit herself. I don't want her to say, "I don't want to be an engineer because that's for boys."

I want her to be happy and I don't want her to feel that she can't do everything she wants to do. I have full confidence that she will be fine in the future. Her parents are wonderful and will care for her and help her to be strong and smart and ambitious. I have no doubt that she will be happy, but I can't say the same for every little girl. If she chooses to be a princess then so be it, as long as that's HER choice.

Yasmeen Ismail's picture book I’m a Girl is out now and available from Amazon. Post your thoughts on the thread to win one of 10 copies.

By Yasmeen Ismail

Twitter: @YasmeenMay

Nonnie Fri 14-Aug-15 12:58:54

Never wanted to be one myself, wanted to be one of my brothers and not a bit like my sister. Seems like it was noted somewhere as I have 3 DSs and 3 GSs, probably just as well. grin

nanaval Fri 14-Aug-15 14:43:06

I help with a mother and toddler group and noticed that as soon as they can walk the little girls want push a pram with a doll and a handbag whereas the little boys prefer playing with trucks and trains. The girls love dressing up as princesses but the boys just want to be superman. Nature or nurture?

grannyjack Fri 14-Aug-15 14:50:03

When my twin grandchildren were coming up to their 3rd birthday I asked gd what she was as she shared a birthday with her brother. After a pause she said tentively 'a princess?' I agreed - of course she was. Now almost 6 & a bit of a tomboy.

Bagatelle Fri 14-Aug-15 17:12:14

My DGD is two months old and still loves Kandinsky and Prokofiev, but I know it's only a matter of time before all that gives way to Peppa Pig and then princesses.

soontobe Fri 14-Aug-15 17:22:19

The blogger seems to be partly complaining that there are books for girls and books for boys and why are they segregated in this way.

But she has called her own book "I'm a girl".

Maybe I am reading her blog wrongly, and also I cant seem to be able to get onto the Look Inside link of her book.
But it seems very strange to me that she has chosen that particular title.

soontobe Fri 14-Aug-15 17:24:03

I may be missing the point entirely.
Is the point that the I'm a Girl book is supposed to be all in together with boys books as well.
But I dont see that many boys picking up and reading her book.

soontobe Fri 14-Aug-15 17:25:27

But perhaps she thinks they would if it is in the boys section? confused My head is beginning to hurt!

soontobe Fri 14-Aug-15 17:33:40

Having had a further look[cant even manage to make the picture bigger so I can see al the words on the front cover], but now seen a Read More bit, so pressed on that
the rabbit is in blue, and the blurb explains a bit more.

But I cant see why she would have titled it "I'm a Girl", as surely that is not going to be an appealing title for boys to read, thus it is a gender stereotyping title?

It could have been called "See what I can be" or somesuch.

But there again, her target audience is girls.

soontobe Fri 14-Aug-15 17:34:21

cant and all in the first line

JaxKerr Fri 14-Aug-15 21:50:21

I have 3 daughters, and 1 son, all grown up now. The eldest wanted to be a boy called Barnaby because she liked the name. The middle daughter was a tomboy and dinosaur expert. The youngest was not concerned as long as she did not have to make too much effort. None of them liked pink or dolls but they had loads of cuddly toys and eventually My Little Ponies (the originals without the big eyes) and then Beanie babies. Our son wanted to be a girl and wear girls clothes - not necessarily pink - but also loved cars and Ghostbusters. They have all grown up fine. Go with the flow!

Lilygran Fri 14-Aug-15 23:01:19

Love the hair!

Grandma2213 Fri 14-Aug-15 23:41:29

I had 3 sons and made sure they had play experience of cookers, ironing boards, prams, pegging washing out etc (most of which were made or constructed by me). They also played with typical boys toys too. They grew up into typical macho men but when two of them became fathers they were hands on and shared everything. I have to say it was more likely to be their strong partners than me who influenced them!

I now have 4 princess obsessed DGDs but after some subtle work on the 6 year old she has now decided that she would like to join the RAF, or become an astronaut, or be an engineer, or be an author! She has said she might like to do them all on different days of the week but has also said she might be a builder like Daddy!

On the other hand my 7 year old DGS wanted to go to school on 'dressing up day' in a ballet outfit with tutu. His parents refused to allow it as the other children would laugh at him. DGS pointed out, quite rightly, that they would have let his sister go as a cowboy, Spiderman, Batman.. whatever. He has now informed me he wants to be a footballer or a solicitor.

It makes me wonder about the whole 'gender equality' thing!

JaxKerr Fri 14-Aug-15 23:45:57

Thanks Lilygran. Took an extra half hour in the mornings: 10 mins hair brushing each for the girls before school until they were old enough to do their own! Cannot wait to see whether granddaughter will grow her hair or not smile

WilmaKnickersfit Sat 15-Aug-15 00:04:36

Never wanted to be a princess, but did want a pair of the ankle breaking pink sparkly plastic Cinderella slippers for Christmas. My childhood was ruined by my Mum's insistence on sensible shoes grin.

My family and my brothers' families have never gone down the gender line because everyone is too busy trying to be the best at anything. Competitiveness is king, no room for princesses or princes. It's definitely a case of you can do anything you want if you work hard enough. That said, it's a hard life lesson to learn that this is not true.

absent Sat 15-Aug-15 06:52:10

My eight-year-old granddaughter announced yesterday that she wants to be a health insurance sales person when she grows up. No idea where that came from but it's definitely not royal and certainly a lot more realistic than a princess. The three-year-old wants to be Mickey Mouse.

Btw The very young Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon once announced to her family that she was going to be a queen – no messing with second place for her.

Grannyeggs Sat 15-Aug-15 07:42:25

My youngest DGD doesn't want to be a princess, when she dresses up she is convinced she IS one. She is 4, her two cousins who came to play recently also dressed as princesses, they are both boys. It is just imaginative play, she also is a policeman and a fireman. I never went through the princess thing, I longed to be a cowboy.

Leticia Sat 15-Aug-15 08:30:11

I think that people read far too much into it. It is a phase- nothing more - and if left to themselves they grow out of it.
It always makes it sound as if typical 'boy' things are superior or they get the very mixed message that pink and princesses are dreadful for girls but a boy is to be applauded for choosing it!
I was a 'girly' girl and loved my dolls. I had brothers and access to all their toys but they were never as appealing- although I was happy to climb trees, play Cowboys and Indians etc.
We should leave well alone and let them have choice.

It may well depress you but I was helping level some Yr 1 story writing. There were no names on it so that we were not influenced in any way in our marking.
It didn't take long before I realised you could tell if the 5/6 yr old was a girl or a boy. I was right every time.
It is a natural phase.

felice Sat 15-Aug-15 11:18:42

DGS best friend is a little girl, age 3, who is growing up being told she IS a Princess, I have even heard her parents introduce har as their Princess.
She is becoming very spoilt and badly behaved as she believes she can do whatever she wants as she IS a Princess.
Her reaction to being told off for something is to smile cheekily and say 'C Princess' and just carry on.
Ok she comes from a very privileged background, and will want for nothing, but I really hate to see her turning into a right little brat.
Her parents often ask me for advice as their families are a very long way from here, and I am at a loss at the moment.
Her Father carries her everywhere, she still cannot manage stairs and is unable to step over the 3cms door rail on the floor between my living room and garden room. He says she is a Princess and she gets carried everywhere !!!!!!
I am quite strict and feel sorry for DGS at times when she gets away with things he doesn't.
Please do not tell me to stop seeing them as they really love each other and there are not any other children in our circles the same age.
She is already at school and DGS starts school in September,(different system here) so hopefully there will be a few more children around then.
Sorry have gone on a bit but I just cannot get used to the whole Princess thing.

kittylester Sat 15-Aug-15 12:55:32

All four of my DGDs [ages nearly 2 to almost 7] are really into being Princesses at the moment. I think it's great. Their mothers were all girly when they were growing up but now hold [or have held] senior positions - apart from the cake baker, that is, and she is actually the least girly of all my daughters.

Bagatelle Sat 15-Aug-15 13:49:18

The princess thing bothers me, too. Being pink and sparkly is one thing, but being a brat is quite different.

Misha14 Sat 15-Aug-15 18:20:35

I feel passionately about the whole princess thing. Like Yasmeen I think it narrows girls' choices and stereotypes their views about what it is to be a woman. Part of the problem is certainly due to the sort of books that are out there. My granddaughter is not old enough for the "pink" books, she is only three, but when she is I would hope that there will be alternatives. Good for Yasmeen to be writing something different. My YA novel "Clear Gold" also has a heroine who is more interested in finding out why and how things are rather than looking for "the love of her life." Most of us have learned to stand up for ourselves and this is the role model we should be passing on to the next generations.

Tegan Sat 15-Aug-15 18:52:59

At least girls can have Arya from Game of Thrones and Katniss from The Hunger Games as role models these days.

annodomini Sat 15-Aug-15 18:56:38

Are we overstating this 'pink princess phase'? It doesn't last forever, as I've said. For some time now, girls have been doing better in school than boys and university applications from girls are a third higher in number than those from boys. No lack of aspiration there, surely.

My granddaughters and their peeer groups have lapped up Jacqueline Wilson's books which are nothing if not down to earth. Princesses would get short shrift in her 'school of hard knocks'! Misha, I'm not sure if your post can be construed as advertising but I will give you the benefit of the doubt and ask GD2 if she has read it or is interested in reading it.

soontobe Sat 15-Aug-15 19:06:49

I am finding myself split in two here.

One the one hand I am wondering if the little/young girls are being encouraged by their parents at all? Into perhaps the nails and hair/tan/fame/pageant route? Nothing wrong with that so long as other options are encouraged too.

But also I know of one girl who liked the princess glitter things when she was 8. But when she was 9, her peers at school started taking the mickey out of her, so she is quietly just doing it at home, though she is still into dressing up.
And I realistically cannot see her wanting to still be doing it all at 12 through her own choice. She wants to become a teacher, and I wouldnt be at all surprised if that is what she becomes.

etheltbags1 Sat 15-Aug-15 19:55:58

I call my DGD 'princess' regularly, I just assumed that little girls all like to be pretty and feminine. she has pictures of being a princess at nursery school where they dress up regularly. I haven't even thought about what she will do when she grows up. DD says she is not encouraging her to go to uni as she herself has a boring office job despite 2 degrees.
just let the future play out as it will and in the meantime my 'princess' can dress up all she likes.