Girl Power

My daughters are very different.

My six-year-old is a wisp of a thing. She is a skinny sprite of a girl, all frizzy hair, knobby knees, and ridiculously twiggy limbs, but she has a strength that belies her size. She is lit from within, full of a fiery force that buoys her even though she looks like the slightest breeze could knock her down.

My three-year-old is a deliciously chubby girl. She is almost as tall as her big sister, but she has a baby-like sensitivity that belies her size. She has the face of an infant (and the emotional maturity of one as well). She cries as quickly as she laughs; she crumbles into a soft, sad heap on the floor if you so much as frown at her.

My six-year-old is blonde with icy blue eyes; my three-year-old, like me, has brown hair and dark, dark brown eyes. My six-year-old looks like my husband; my three-year-old looks like me. (In her kinder moments, my mother-in-law likes to helpfully point out that my older daughter inherited her petite frame and that my younger daughter, with all her pudgy parts, clearly takes after me. She’s a real treasure, my MIL.) People often look at my girls questioningly, wondering if they’re sisters. Only once has someone been bold enough to ask me if my daughters have the same parents. (I was too stunned to say anything except “yes”. A good friend suggested that the next time I experience such brazen behavior, I respond with, “as far as my husband knows (wink)”.)

My daughters are a study in both physical and emotional contrasts. They share only one common interest, and it’s an interest I have struggled to accept. Princesses. Princess movies. Princess dolls. Princess clothes.

I attended an all girls’ school from sixth through twelfth grade. My parents sacrificed a great deal to send me there and I am forever grateful to them for the opportunity. It was a lovely place, full of tradition and rigor and, for good measure, a few ivy-covered brick buildings. All the teachers were exceptional – dedicated, brilliant, and creative.

My female teachers served as role models to us all. One particularly memorable English teacher used literature to illustrate how women are so often marginalized, regardless of time or place. She railed against all things “princess”; to her, our society did no greater disservice to young girls than introducing them to princesses in movies, books, and toys. “What are we teaching our future women?”, she would ask, frowning. “That the best they can hope for is a pretty dress, glossy hair, and a man? We are better than that, ladies!!”.

Fast forward twenty years, and here I sit with my daughters, surrounded by princess detritus. I have made sure that my girls have plenty of other toys; their train table is laden with plastic dinosaurs, matchbox cars, and legos. And while they like those things, they always return to the princesses. I could just not give them princess toys, I suppose. However, I am a firm believer that things forbidden are that much more alluring. (Books, however, are a different matter. My daughters are exposed to a huge variety of books and rarely ask for a Disney Princess book. Thank God.)

When my daughters choose a princess toy instead of a more Gloria Steinem-approved item, I hear the voice of my high school English teacher, clear as day. “What are we teaching our future women?!?” I feel riddled with guilt and am certain that I am disappointing all the women who fought so admirably for my civil rights. How will my daughters become strong and independent? How will they learn about girl power? I encourage my daughters to try things that scare them. I show them that women can solve problems on their own. (Because their father’s work often keeps him away until after they are asleep, they know that if something needs to be done, mom does it.) I do my best to teach them that they can be loving and strong. But is this all enough?

About a month ago at the park, my daughters were playing in the sandbox. My three year-old was intensely digging when an older, much larger boy walked over to her and took her shovel. No asking, no communication whatsoever. My child immediately burst into tears. The boy walked away, shovel still in hand. My six-year-old, looking like the world’s smallest pixie, stood up and walked over to the boy. I held my breath and willed myself not to intervene just yet. Don’t whine, don’t beg, and don’t cry, I instructed her in my mind. But don’t yell, don’t shove, and don’t hit, either. My older girl stood by the boy and looked up at him with the iciest glare I have ever seen. She locked eyes with him and, even though I never expected this to happen in real life, he handed her the shovel. The best part? She said “thank you” politely to him. She was strong, cool, and classy under pressure.

My older daughter gave the shovel back to my three-year-old and they continued to play happily. They dug in the sand, getting dirtier with each dig. The dirt would have made my English teacher happy. But the girl power my daughter showed when she defended her little sister would have made her proud.

Go on and play with your princesses, girls, if that’s what you want that day. If you can show strength when it matters, when it’s hard, then you’re going to be just fine.

About the writer

Kelley Smith is a former high school biology teacher.  After earning her medical degree in 2003, she decided to pursue a (brief) career in education.  Kelley now blogs about about current topics in pelvic health for theWomen's Health Foundation.  She is the proud mother of two daughters, two whiny dogs, and one rude cat.

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Mandy, Barbie Bieber and Beyond 1 year ago

What a great article. I have 4 girls aged 6 -16 and I want to encourage them to do anything they set their hearts and minds too!! You have a great website :) Looking forward to reading more!

Sahar Fayyaz 1 year ago

Beautifully inspiring

Jaimie Hadden 1 year ago

I agree girls should have better goals then to have nice things and a man but it’s ok to want to be a princess.

Candice Hope 1 year ago

Me too!

Katie Nixon 1 year ago

I loved this!

Sydney Thompson O’Haver 1 year ago

My girls are a 1/4 black 3/4 white. One has wavy long hair, brown eyes with perfect eyebrows, tans well. The other is light skin, pink cheeks, short curly hair cause it grows slow, and bright electric blue eyes with light eyebrows you can barely see. I am half black, very tan, dark hair brown eyes. When it’s just my girls and I are out about I always see the question in their eyes, even if my husband is with us I feel like they wonder if they are his and I am step mom or something. One actually asked how my girls were so light once when he wasn’t with us hahaha

Sydney Thompson O’Haver 1 year ago

Loved this! it made me laugh. I think people forget that just because a couple princess “waited” to be saved, others happened to find love WHILE already making something of themselves and doing the saving. “Princess” doesn’t have to mean lazy, only “pretty” or incapable of strength. It’s simply a word, what you teach your girls a “princess” is capable of is what matters most.

Sydney Thompson O’Haver 1 year ago

We have two girls and a 3rd on the way. We are Disney loving, princess, fairies, all things girly family. Our girls are dancers (currently) the younger can’t wait to try soccer. I have never worried about their ability to be strong or independent. Because they also play rough, get dirty, watch other shows/movies, read all kinds of books (just finished reading to them the BFG), my 5 year old love musicals and even was the Phantom per her request for Halloween last year, they love vampires and zombies. I have seen them capable of standing up for themselves to boys, girls older or younger just fine. Girls can love princesses, fairy tales and be girly, I am sure they will turn out fine, especially if you sprinkle in a little bit of the great things in life as they grow. 😉

Ps…being that we are going on girl #3 I am pleased to see a post for girls!!! Thank you!

JeanMarie Morris 1 year ago

Yes, Disney Princesses are awful. Like, Mulan for example. She went and fought a war to protect her ill father. And Pochahontas. With her Bravery she stopped a war and the death of her tribe. And let’s not forget Belle. She gave up her freedom to save her Father and still managed to find kindness and love. Yup – we really shouldn’t let our kids play with these awful role models. .

Jenny Cooper McEntyre 1 year ago

Pregnant with my 4th child and first girl, very interested to see what happens

Johanna Cloke 1 year ago

As a mother of 2 princess loving girls , i genuinely appreciated this article.

Julie Wilson 1 year ago

I would rather see a little girl with a princess or a truck, then a stupid pink gun…. That I just can’t wrap my brain around.

Kristy Carriveau 1 year ago

I am the oldest of three girls who loved princesses, Barbie and mud pies. We all excelled at sports and loved fashion. Why can’t people let both worlds live happily together? I am now the Mom to a 7 year old boy and 4 year old girl. The daughter is very girlie but loves to watch football with her Dad. My Son loves to play sports but was excited when his sister got a cool Barbie for her birthday. Let kids be kids, guide them by example on how to act. Bravo to the author and her girls!

Susie Chadwick 1 year ago

Raising boys and girls is very much the same. How about some posts on raising kids?

Lynne Bryant 1 year ago

I have a “princess”. My Princess wears cowboy boots and pretends that she’s a teacher. Sometimes, she’s a Dr and most recently, she was a zombie killer. She can play in the mud as easily as she paints her nails; she will have a saving cream war with her brothers as quickly as she would force my husband to watch her 100th fashion show of the week. My “Princess” is a warrior. She’s a whole lot of everything – that just prefers to wear a dress while she does it. She plays with Monster High Dolls, but is a hell of a shot when we take the kids shooting. She fishes with her dad and brothers (not me, because I’m NOT touching a worm – just sayin” and she helps me bake cupcakes. My point being – you can’t pigeon hole a child by what they play with – and yes, I’m sure I’ll take some flak because my SEVEN year old knows what a zombie is and can shoot guns – but that’s okay, we live in a different time. I’m not trying to raise a perfect child, I’m trying to raise a happy, knowledgeable, loving and kind daughter who will one day take the world by storm…

Hannah 1 year ago

My daughter builds robots in her princess outfits. lol Although I myself am not a huge princess fan, I love that my daughter sees no problem in being exactly what she wants to be. As she gets older I will make sure she understands the shortcomings of many of the older princesses and how she can like them and also strive to be more strong willed and independent at the same time. She can be an engineer like her daddy or a stay at home mom like her mommy or anything in between. As long as she’s happy and stays true to herself. =)

Trish 1 year ago

I’m not a big fan of the Princesses and their focus on romance, especially the less recent ones, but some can help show kindness, poise, perseverance, and justice. Lots of children love the beauty and magic of the movies.
My daughter happily plays in the sand box in her princess dresses, and although she occasionally talks about who she will marry, she also talks about what she wants to be when she grows up.

Liz 1 year ago

Perfect! I was a tomboy and my 4-yr-old daughter loves princesses and matchbox cars and dress up and playing in dirt. I guess she’s got it covered.

Melissa Raffanello 1 year ago

Oh goodness I got goosebumps!!!

Kristen 1 year ago

Love this!

Lareina Harris Clark 1 year ago

I think it’s fine when a little girl chooses to act like and be a princess. What irritates me, is when their parents force it on them.

Beverly Hall 1 year ago

to my lovely and hard working daughter a mom who is doing this same thing…

Jenny Kruschke 1 year ago

My toddler LOVES dresses and princesses and dolls. She also loves BOOKS, and climbing and jumping and running and splashing and dancing. There is no limit, and a love for traditional femininity (pink, dresses, princesses, etc) does not make a girl any less strong or smart or independent. We can be all of those things!

Sara Petrick 1 year ago

Love this:
“Go on and play with your princesses, girls, if that’s what you want that day. If you can show strength when it matters, when it’s hard, then you’re going to be just fine.”

Our girls can love princesses and be strong confident individuals! They don’t have to pick one or the other. It’s ok for our girls to like pink. It won’t negate their worth.

Nicole Kirch ODonnell 1 year ago

I’m a mother of 4 girls. 3 of them have brown hair, and one daughter is blonde/ blue eyed. I get the “are they all yours?” And ” do they all have the same father?” question all the time. IN FRONT OF HER. Once i even had the gym to which we have a family membership insist that i need to pay extra to bring a guest because she didn’t look like her sisters. To the point where she used to cry because she wanted brown hair like her sisters. People are so rude. I love the comeback, though, will definitely use that!

kim 1 year ago

Gloria Steinem is an idiot…

Patty 1 year ago

Growing up as the middle daughter of three, I was the more adventurous and dare I say tomboyish! I loved my stories of princesses but always found my way back to Hardy boys stories. As a grandma of three, 2 boys, 1 girl I hope I am giving each of these children what they need, my boys are handsome and my girl is beautiful. But I don’t gender specific , or gender deny, their interests. And therein lies the effort of being a modern age Grandma! You can’t rely upon or structure your parenting through specific, and sometimes narrow minded, idealogies. Well rounded and open minded is the way to go. One woman’s opinion.

Kathea 1 year ago

Why do we stress over this? My niece loves princesses but her favorite Disney clubhouse character is the bad giant cat thing. (What is his name?? Bart?? IDK.) Let them like what they like. Reinforce that anyone can achieve whatever they dream to be. And no one can limit you but you. Live that out for them too.

Melissa Munkers 1 year ago

Can we get a decent article about girls? Lol. My daughter likes princess stuff, so what. She likes all sorts of things. My biggest complaint is the lack of cool toys for girls. Boys get trucks that make noise and flip and robots, girls get dolls that pee or worse, do nothing at all. Yes I could by her stuff from the boy aisle but if it isn’t pink she will tell me it is supposed to be for her brother.

Ginny Schultz Vandenburg 1 year ago

My 4-year-old daughter loves princesses, superheroes, Star Wars, ballet, karate, soccer, animals, and getting very dirty playing outside with her brothers. She’s very well-balanced.

Daniel Lohman 1 year ago

You are a great model for a strong woman. I see Elise stepping up for Avery.

Kari Bristow 1 year ago

Great read!

Sasha Sorvelli 1 year ago

Beautifully written! As a mother to two girls I have the same fear, but with peer pressure already at the age of 5 and 2 princesses are a fixture in our home. I will never tell them they can’t admire them, but I do hope they also see the tools, blocks, trains, and other gender neutral toys we have.

Monika 1 year ago

My proudest parenting moment came when an older child pushed my 2 year old son to get to the slide and my daughter told the kid to apologize to her brother immediatley, that just because he was little didn’t mean he could be pushed around and we all have to wait our turn for the slide. She was cool as a cucumber and confident. Later on when I told her how proud I was she shrugged and said “Elsa loved Anna and I love my brother.”

Domestic Goddesque 1 year ago

Thank you for writing this! My girls are 6 and 4 and as different as yours seem to be, though many people ask me if they are twins. They too love princesses, and fairies and Barbie, and I have battled daily with the thought that I am somehow doing/have done “the wrong thing” by fostering those things that make them happy. I worry that I am raising them to need a prince, to have unrealistic expectations of what life will hold. And yet I watch them playing in the sand, dancing around a “fairy castle” they have made, complete with moat and I cannot believe for one second that they have less than they need to flourish in this world.

AJ Foreit 1 year ago

wonderful piece.

Geralyn Jones 1 year ago

My girls were raised with princesses, fairy tales, magic, make believe and lots of books. They played right along side of their brothers with dinosaurs and soccer balls…and my boys enjoyed tea parties and dancing school. They are all strong, assertive, loving and highly intelligent. Children thrive when exposed to everything the world has to offer !

Sanne Williamson 1 year ago

No, I know it’s not like what we’ve talked about but I just thought it was cute and that you would like it.

Susie Wilson 1 year ago

This was cute. Not exactly what I’m looking for though – I’d like to see this mom write a similar post to the one on boys that was going around! 😀

L’Don Allen 1 year ago

I LOVE THIS!

Alaina Byrne 1 year ago

Love this.

Melissa Lozier Fullam 1 year ago

Love this!!! Thank you!! Mom of 3 girls!!

Maria Horos 1 year ago

Thank you. I am an anti-girly civil engineer who works in the construction industry. I am terrified of my daughter discovering princesses.

Kim McGrail Prack 1 year ago

LOVE

Sophia 1 year ago

But the whole idea behind feminism is that women… and girls! can do and enjoy what they like. Don’t fear that wanting to be princesses quashes ideas of great women-to-be… rather, think of Princess Bubblegum!

Heather Beavers 1 year ago

I love this. My daughter is very into princesses. And Marvel heroes, and mud, and books. I’m not worried. :)

Be Thi Salazar 1 year ago

My daughters are into princesses too but they like other things as well! :)

Claire Smith 1 year ago

I couldn’t agree more :)

Desiree 1 year ago

I absolutely love this story about your daughters! I can only hope that one day my wispy, little, loud mouthed, opinionated daughter can show this kind of love and strength for her not so little brother.
I hope they too will defend each other as your daughter has done.
My son is a beast, a sensitive living beast. He is thick and strong but a gentle giant and I fear he will be walked all over. I hope his petite older sister will always stand up for him. <3

Luz Malbran 1 year ago

LOVE this!

Deirdre West 1 year ago

Never understand why people don’t want their girls to play with princesses! I’ve never seen an article where someone keeps their boy from playing with trucks. Let them play with what they enjoy and what brings out their creativeness and imagination!!! Every princess I know is pretty bad ass!

Lindsay Nell 1 year ago

My daughter loves princesses but her dress up often involves super hero capes and one memorable moment where she looked at me and said “look I’m a zombie princess!”

Katherine Bertram 1 year ago

I like this.

Sharon 1 year ago

I have one strong willed daughter (4) who loves the Princess movies, books and Barbies. When she watches the movies I point out the parts where the princess gets herself or her friends out of trouble without the help of the “man”.

Sara O’Brien Farmer 1 year ago

I loved princesses and was obsessed with the US Presidents as well. I wanted to be the first woman President. I went into academia and joined the princess backlash for awhile after I became a mom. I’m over it. I love princesses and wish I had shared them with my daughter Lucy before she died. My daughter Scarlett now has a room decorated with princess art as well as the literary silhouettes of Anne Shirley, Nancy Drew, Jo March, and Laura Ingalls Wilder that she inherited from her big sister’s nursery. It’s all about balance. If a girl likes princesses, she should have them.

I LOVE how the big sister stood up for the little one in this piece.

‘Corinne McNeely Jenkins’ 1 year ago

My daughter loves anything girly and princess. This hasn’t stopped her at all in being independent. Once, some boys were playing football and teasing the girls telling them only boys play football. My daughter hates football. She got up and went over and started playing. When asked why, she said because they said I couldn’t because I’m a girl.

Debby 1 year ago

I have three daughters, almost 16, almost 9, and almost 7. The oldest was in the fire cadet program until a medical condition caused her to have to drop out. The middle one is dying until she is actually old enough to join, next year can’t get here fast enough. And the baby marches to the beat of her own band, not just the drummer, the whole freaking band!! That being said, we have a ton of princess dolls, which someone never can find their clothes, EVER. But we also have monster dolls with missing limbs and pieces of their insides showing and fire trucks and dinosaurs and so forth. My girls play with what they want, when they want and how they want. But I am still trying to figure out who I cosmically pissed off to get not one, not two but three girls!

Stacie Linn 1 year ago

love
Love
LOVE

Laura 1 year ago

I love this. I have two girls, and having grown up with three brothers and the only female influences being rather tomboyish, the princess craze (I did like princesses, but more often than not the Barbie and Princess dolls I got were put to use rescuing G.I. Joe) is a little alien. My princess and pony crazed five year old recently made me (and her father) very happy when she announced that she didn’t need a boyfriend, and she has said she doesn’t want babies until she is my age. This in a region where by the end of kindergarten, most kids have been “married” or have “boyfriends” and “girlfriends”, comes as a very pleasant surprise and shows me she is listening :)

Adrianne 1 year ago

Very nice! I actually cried when my daughter got “into” the disney princess stuff (she is growing out of it now). I have three kids (2 from a previous relationship and one with my amazingly awesome husband) and NEVER has their parentage been called into question! So rude! It sounds like you are raising some amazing young women there, keep up the good work!

Rebecca Harris Emmitte 1 year ago

My mom squashed the princess thing with me when I was young with one question and one statement. “Why would you want to be a princess when the queen is the one in charge?” I loved the Disney movies but never owned any princess paraphernalia. She also brought this logic into the Barbie realm and I never owned a Barbie either. I pregnant with my first child which is a girl and I hope to raise her as wisely as my mom raised me.

Traci Muller Rylands 1 year ago

As a child in the 70s, I wanted to be a princess and I wanted to be Batgirl! I was encouraged to play both roles and suffered no ill effects. I was never waiting for a man to rescue me.

Geneviève Bowman 1 year ago

Love love love this article! <3

Yvonne Barkhof 1 year ago

My girl (4) like princesses but is also into all the cars and spiderman Which is why we had a Spider-Man theme birthday party.

Sarah 1 year ago

Beautifully written. Thank you!

Elizabeth McCosky 1 year ago

Right up my alley, I have 4 girls lol.

Heather Gochoel 1 year ago

Sounds like a pair of awesome little girls the author is raising. :-). The younger is lucky to have a great big sister to stand up for her, and to teach her to stand up for herself.

Theresa Briscuso Schlogl 1 year ago

Beautiful.

Kate Runn 1 year ago

As a worried mother of two mighty girls also surrounded by princesses… this was awesome. Thanks!

Anna Boyer 1 year ago

I raised 3….now 39, 35 and 33, and I survived <3

Angela Kelly 1 year ago

Love it. I have 2 daughters and the oldest is yhe girliest of all girls. My youngest is the biggest tomboy.

Laurie Ann Smith 1 year ago

this is great!

Jules 1 year ago

I have one girl and another girl on the way. I too abhor the princess stuff and the messages I believe are behind them. THANK YOU for this. Your 6 year old gives me hope that my girls will also be strong despite a love of princesses. I fist-pumped “YES!!!” at her attitude with the rude boy. Go girl, you are awesome!!!