When I first learned I was pregnant with a girl, I made a few promises to myself. First, I would make a concerted effort to compile a wardrobe for her consisting of pieces that were predominantly any other color besides pink. I would stock her room with gender-neutral toys such as Legos, train sets and puzzles. I would not call her “pretty,” because the last thing I’d want to do is instill the idea that her self-worth is in any way connected to her looks. And one thing I definitely would never, ever do, was call my daughter a princess. Ew. Barf.
I’ve broken all those promises, most notably and most egregiously that last one. Princess. It has become a demonized term, for some evoking images of overindulgence, foot-stomping, and tantrums, while for others, it brings to mind images of passivity, obedience, and propriety. Whatever it means to the individual, the term “princess” is, apparently, the antithesis of feminism.
Yet I call my daughter “princess” every single day. What in the name of Gloria Steinem am I thinking? Toy manufacturers, movies and pretty much every little girl my daughter has ever played with, unraveled my careful socializing as easily as if it were shimmering locks of Rapunzel’s magical hair (seriously, Disney, her hair was never actually tangled.) Bombarded from all angles as we were, my daughter quickly developed a boundless adoration for all things royal. To her, being a princess means wearing poofy dresses while cavorting with wildlife, living in a castle and showering glitter on her loyal subjects (me, her father, and her incredibly accommodating older brother). For better or for worse, my little girl associates the word “princess” with being special. Calling her a princess is on par with telling her I love her.
But isn’t it unfair to let my daughter believe she is a princess? Isn’t that just spoiling her, making her think she’s better than others? Um, no. We’re not instilling arrogance here. We’re not enforcing patriarchal ideals or any other dark, malicious thing others attribute to the princess trend. We’re playing. My daughter believes she is the princess of our family, our tiny little kingdom. And she’s not wrong. We had a coronation ceremony and everything. Very official.
It’s not as if this is permanent. As much as she whole-heartedly believes that she is a princess, I’m pretty sure my daughter is not going to show up to her college orientation wearing a tiara. Surely by then it will have dawned on her that she is not a real, beholden-to-an-actual-monarchy princess. And even if she did decide to literally waltz onto the student commons dressed like Princess Aurora with her pet squirrel on her shoulder, who are we to judge? Let her wear her stupid dress and sing to animals if that makes her happy.
Now, at five-years-old, my daughter is unable to differentiate between her idea of a princess and a real-life princess, who may or may not be merely a passive figure head. This distinction is not something I feel compelled to explain to her. I don’t need to crush her adorable little fantasy just so I can keep my feminist card in my wallet.
The other day, she declared that when she grows up, she doesn’t want to get a job, because “I want to take care of my babies myself.” I was still considering how to react when my son chimed in and said “No, you should go to college and get a job and make your own money and not depend on a husband to take care of you.” My daughter responded, “It’s my choice. You can’t decide for me.” So she’s a feminist after all. (Meanwhile, I have plenty of years left to convince her of the value of self-sufficiency, for the love of god.)
We do call her other things besides “princess”: pooky, monkey, sweetheart, goober. “Princess” might not even be her favorite. (Just kidding, it totally is.) But we also emphasize the traits we love best about her, traits that we in our tiny little kingdom believe to be the most valuable—her compassion, thoughtfulness, tenacity, generosity, creativity and intelligence.
Traits that, when combined, are precisely the ones that make her our princess.