Strength, independence, compassion, a sense of justice and equality… These are all qualities we wish to instill in our children. They are fundamental building blocks in ensuring our kids are prepared to tackle any and all obstacles. It just so happens, these are also the core qualities of feminism, a buzzword in our tumultuous political and cultural environment, but an important one nonetheless. So how can we ensure that we are passing along the virtues of feminism when all our daughters seem to care about are the color pink and princesses? Devorah Blachor explains how she faced this exact conundrum head on in her new book, THE FEMINIST’S GUIDE TO RAISING A LITTLE PRINCESS. Below, we ask Devorah about her personal experiences and advice for parents on raising strong, confident daughters.
TarcherPerigee: What inspired you to write The Feminist’s Guide to Raising a Little Princess?
Devorah Blachor: When my three-year-old daughter Mari started loving pink and princesses, the irony was great. Here I was, a committed feminist who favored oversized frumpy clothing and who wished the entire beauty industry would sink into the earth in a puff of silicone vapor. And here I had a walking toddler advertisement for tulle and sequins. I took my anxiety over what this might mean for Mari, and I turned it into a tongue-and-cheek satirical article called “Turn Your Princess-Obsessed Toddler Into a Feminist in Eight Easy Steps”. It was published in the New York Times Motherlode and it went viral. I realized I wasn’t alone. There were lots of mothers like me, who were committed to raising strong and independently minded daughters, and who were flummoxed by their daughters’ passion for tiaras and pink tutus. I started diving into this subject and that research evolved into the book.
Why did you want to steer your daughter away from pink and princesses and all things girly?
The culture of “pink for girls” is antithetical to what we would want for our girls and boys. We don’t want our kids to be limited by other people’s perceptions of what they should and shouldn’t be. We want boys to play freely with dolls if that’s their desire, for example. And if girls are encouraged to play with toys that are traditionally associated with girls, what does that mean for them as they grow up? Will they be less likely to pursue “male” professions like pilots or engineers? My fear was that the pink culture would restrict my daughter before she even reached adolescence. I had a deeper fear too. I spent many years living with long-term depression. I associated the “feminine” with my depression. I thought the strictures and expectations of being female had contributed to my losing my spark when I was a teenager – a spark that I didn’t get back for many years. I didn’t want that to happen to my daughter.
How – or why – did she gravitate towards it anyway?
If you’ve ever met a toddler, you’ve probably noticed how strong-willed they are. I mean, they are REALLY determined. Meanwhile, as parents of toddlers, our energies are depleted. We’re absorbed with potty training and toddler aggression and getting them to eat foods that aren’t exclusively star shaped, and a whole host of other hilarious challenges. In the end, Mari’s love for princesses proved greater than my resistance to them.
Is it possible for parents to embrace their children’s princess obsession while also helping them reject the sexist messages that accompany so many of these princess-centered stories?
For a full answer to this question, get back to me in about ten years. For now, my answer is: We can certainly try. Particularly as they get older (like, I certainly never had these conversations when Mari was three), we can show our daughters how destructive messages are buried in the stories of the regressive princess. Luckily, we can use the newer princesses to point out positive qualities as well. Moana is an amazing character, for example. In her bravery and her quest to save her people, she possesses the qualities we find in the heroes of Greek mythology. Merida demonstrates resilience, from Elsa we learn about overcoming fears, and Anna teaches us the enormous power of acceptance and forgiveness. We can totally use this whole princess thing to our advantage.
Why do you say that parental instinct should be honored more than the advice of others (including relatives, articles and books by parenting experts)?
There is so much out there – the tips and the articles and the well-meaning relatives and the strangers on the street who tell you to button up your child’s sweater. Not to mention the “mommy wars” and the debate over parenting styles. The subtext of so much of this noise is judgement. Parents – and mothers in particular – constantly get the message that they’re doing it all wrong. If you listen to too many “experts”, you might lose your own voice amidst the noise. If you need advice or counsel, you can always choose a few people or sources you genuinely trust. But you can absolutely listen to yourself most of all. No one knows your child better than you do.
How can we help our daughters navigate a society that idealizes perfection?
Most parents have had the experience of their child coming home from school, upset by their own mistakes or shortcomings. Maybe they got into trouble with the teacher, or did something that made other kids laugh, or didn’t perform well on the soccer pitch. These are precious moments of parenting, when you can give your child a ton of love and acceptance and let them know it’s ok not to be perfect, and that it’s definitely ok to make mistakes. In general, it’s great to tell your kids stories of people who failed and kept trying, because we want them to not get beaten down by failure or fear of failure. Equally important is what happens at home. When my kids act “unlovable” – when they test me and fight with each other and are needy and obnoxious – in those moments, I sometimes want to lie down or run away or drink wine. And while I can’t pretend I’ve never poured myself a glass in times of stress or yelled at them, I know that the way I handle these imperfect moments are important. Because if I can stop and breathe and accept my children when they are behaving in “unlovable” ways, they get the message that they don’t have to be perfect to be loved. It’s tricky. We’re all doing our best. And we should go easy on ourselves as well – as parents and as human beings, we shouldn’t expect perfection from ourselves either.
In your book, you interview a number of women who used to be princess-obsessed as girls. Did their obsession have any negative lasting effects?
It’s one of my favorite parts of the book, because I was curious to know how it all turned out for girls who were obsessed with princesses. This “Princess Culture” is a relatively new thing, because Disney only started marketing the princess brand in 2000. The first generation of girls who fell down the “Disney Princess rabbit hole” are coming of age now. When I finally reached out to some of them for my book, I was heartened. Every single one seemed like an engaged, intelligent and interesting person. And they all had a good and humorous perspective on their princess days.
What do you hope readers will take away from your book?
Accept your children, who will not be the people you expected but will be fabulous anyway. While you’re at it, accept yourself. And don’t forget to laugh. This parenting stuff can sometimes feel heavy and overwhelming. But if you have the right perspective, a lot of it is actually quite funny. Particularly very small little girls who are very passionate about princesses.
THE FEMINIST’S GUIDE TO RAISING A LITTLE PRINCESS is available at these retailers: