When her daughter fell under the spell of Disney's Princess brand, Peggy Orenstein was horrified. But now she wonders whether she, as an ardent feminist, is just as guilty of peddling outmoded fairytales
I finally came unhinged in the dentist's office where I'd taken my three-year-old daughter for her first appointment. Until then, I'd held my tongue. I'd smiled politely every time the man at the supermarket till greeted her with, 'Hi, Princess'; ignored the waitress at our local café who called the funny-face pancakes she ordered her 'princess meal'; made no comment when the lady at the chemist's said, 'I bet I know your favourite colour,' and handed her a pink balloon rather than letting her choose for herself. Maybe it was the dentist's cutie-cute inflection that got to me, but when she pointed to the chair and said, 'Would you like to sit in my special princess throne so I can sparkle your teeth?' I lost it.
'Oh, for God's sake,' I snapped. 'Do you have a princess drill, too?' She stared at me as if I were an evil stepmother.
As a feminist mother, I have been taken by surprise by the princess craze and the girlie-girl culture that has risen around it. I watch my fellow mothers, women who once swore they'd never be dependent on a man, smile indulgently at daughters who insist on being called Snow White. I wonder if they'd concede so readily to sons who begged for combat fatigues and mock AK-47s.
Read the rest of this article HERE. It's brilliant . It also says that there is evidence that young women who hold the most conventionally feminine beliefs – who avoid conflict and think they should be perpetually nice and pretty – are most likely to be depressed and least likely to use contraception. What's more, the 23 per cent decline in girls' participation in sports and other vigorous activity around the age of 13 has been linked to their sense that athletics is unfeminine.
I too have noticed the plethora of Princesses that are popping up smothered in Pink, wherever I look. And worryingly, a lot of them are in their late teens or early twenties . Toddler girls are swathed in pink by their mums, and given pink bicycles to ride and pink bedrooms and Princess quilt sets - they are surrounded by images of glossiness, pampered royalty, humongous castles, oodles of servants, and dashing knights who will rush to their rescue while they swoon with gratitude as he fixes their sink or their car. Will this make them grow up believing the whole Princess legend? God I hope not, if so they are in for a shock.
It doesn't help that our media seem to be glorifying the more mature "Princess girls" like the odious Nikki Graeme from last years UK Big Brother. Nikki "loved money" and "wanted to marry a footballer, and go shopping a lot". Because of her tiny frame and long blonde hair she was instantly nicknamed "Princess" in the house, and proceeded to act like the most spoiled little brat in the universe.
Then as a reward for her petulant behaviour and screaming strops, she was given her own TV show "Princess Nikki" where she was put into yukky situations and threw yet more screaming strops. Such a perfect role model for the next generation of girls. What sort of upbringing had she had that had given her the ultimate ambition to marry a footballer and shop lots?
This years Big Brother has given us two highly irritating twins Samantha and Amanda "Samanda" to be known from now on. To quote the excellent TV blog from columnist Grace Dent:
A lot of people claim that "kids today grow up so fast. There's no time for childhood". OK, some kids do. But then we've got this sinister breed of retarded-development 18-year-olds who behave like 11-year-olds. It's all squealing and "I like pink! Yes, pink!" and lollypops and frou-frou skirts from Mothercare and claiming to be useless and wanting to be a pwincess.
We've bred this new genre of post-post-feminists who play on acting vacuous and say women should never buy drinks and how their top film is Legally Blonde and Paris Hilton is "proper aspirational" and that they know that some big stwong man will look after them one day and make everything all right. Hint: he won't. Put your clothes on and bloody grow up.
Digital TV also aren't helping, with shows like "My Super Sweet Sixteen" and "Daddy's spoiled little girl", which show stupidly wealthy parents spoiling their whining offspring so much that the programme should come with a sick-bag warning. Our teens watch these programmes and dream of having wealth wealth and more wealth, so they too can have Puff Daddy rap at their birthday party, in front of hundreds of other kids who they don't know and aren't even friends with, but don't care cos all they want to do is show off.
Ambitions to be wealthy are fine - but you have to be prepared to work for it, which a lot of kids today clearly aren't. So they go seeking Big Brother instant fame, tawdry z-list tabloid sleaze, or a rich anybody. who will give them their dreams. A white knight?
By all means dress your little girl in pink and read her fairy stories - but don't drown her in them. Other colours are nice too, and other stories that may not necessarily have a happy ending. They need to learn from an early age that life isn't like the fairy tale books, and that you have to work hard if you want anything in this cold, harsh world. White knights don't exist.
And if you're dressing little Suzie in pink and reading her Princess tales, why aren't you letting little Timmy be a Prince? I get the feeling that any boy who started telling his mummy he wanted to be a Prince, and be pampered like a Prince, would be given a toy gun and told to go play pretend war at the bottom of the garden. Where is the Disney line of "Prince" tat and merchandise? A bit sexist isn't it? You can't have Princesses without Princes?
I don't think my mum ever smothered me in pink, nor once did she ever call me Princess. I think she *tried* the whole Pink thing, and ribbons and bows too - but even as a 4 year old, I simply refused to be girlie. My gran would make me gorgeous dresses covered in frills and bows, and I'd stand there in typical kiddie-sulk mode, frowning, arms crossed, saying "I won't wear it till you cut the bows off!" They bought me dolls but I'd leave them in a corner to gather dust, in favour of teddies and stuffed animals. I finally got into dolls when I discovered Sindy - and I liked her cos she had lots of cool stuff like cars and a horse and a camping set and a swimming pool.
I even went through a mad phase where I wanted a realistic baby doll. Mum was ecstatic...her and dad made me a lovely crib, she knitted clothes, and we went to jumble sales and looked for half-decent towelling baby-grows. That phase soon passed and I was back to the stuffed animals. Mum read us stories and fairy tales and we loved nursery rhymes, but somehow I never bought into the whole "happy ever after" thing, and I knew that they were just stories, and life wasn't really like that.
By the time I was 12, my bedroom wall was covered in posters of sports cars, horses, and arty Coke cans from Athena. I didn't realise mum was starting to worry about my sexuality as I showed no interest in boys, or anything remotely girly (she admitted this to me a year or so ago). Oh how she rejoiced the day she saw a small poster of Michael J Fox on my wall, the week after I'd been to see Back To The Future. But even if I had turned out to have tendencies towards the female sex, I would bloody well hope she'd still treat me like her daughter, and not strap me down and cover me in pink frilly stuff in the vain hope it would girlify me.
She knows I am cynical about marriage and men, and has never whinged about my non-marriage at 35, or no-grandkids for her. She's probably pleased to be honest, as it's less stress for her compared to if I was going through divorce after divorce and custody battle after custody battle.I do wonder what I'd be like if she had fed me the whole "Princess in Pink" dream - would I be on Big Brother now, in my frou-frou skirt, sucking a lollipop and talking about marrying some overpaid ugly midfielder?