02 June 2011, under
Fatherhood; More Fatherhood articles...
Pretty in Pink
I was waiting in a shop queue a couple of weeks ago. Beside me was a card rack, with personalised birthday cards, each one with a child's name. Of course, I looked for the names of my own girls. Daisy. Ooh, a princess. Alice. Another princess. And then I looked at the others.
Every card with a girl's name featured a princess, mermaid or ballerina. Well that's pretty, I thought. Beautifully pretty and pink. But I couldn't help notice that there seemed to be much more variety in the cards with boy's names. Those cards featured pilots, firemen, policemen, mechanics and more. Real jobs. Active jobs. That got me thinking about role models.
I have two young girls, princesses of my very own. Giving them every chance at being anything they want, doing anything they want is a priority for me. But I don't think the pretty pink princesses are doing my girls any favours.
Why? Is there a problem with the princesses? Girls love princesses, right? Yes. They do. But what are princesses? What do they do? Mostly, nothing. They wear pretty dresses. Being beautiful is a priority. But really, what is important about a princess is how they become a princess. Unless you're a king reading this right now, the unfortunate truth is that your daughter isn't actually a princess.
So how does she become one? Well that's simple. She marries a prince. And that's the glorious end to the story. She find a man, he falls in love with her (her love is optional) and he asks her to marry him. They have a big wedding, she gets to wear a beautiful dress and they live happily ever after. That is how your daughter or my daughter becomes a princess.
Just like the lovely Kate Middleton. She needs a man to make her a princess. Without finding a prince, she can never realise her dream. Will never have that lovely wedding. Will never live happily ever after. So on top of not really doing anything, it seems a princess is defined by her man.
What kind of message is that to our girls? How does that affect the power in their relationships? Their priorities in life? Their self-confidence?
So what about mermaids? They just sit on rocks and are total fantasy. Ballerinas, well, at least they're real and girls can put the work in to becoming one. That's got to be a good thing. But then... they're performing for the adoration of their audience. They need the validation. I'm really not so sure about that one either.
But look at the role models for boys: pilots, firemen, policemen, mechanics and so on. They're not just sitting around like mermaids or princesses. They're active. They're real. They're getting stuck in and really contributing to society. Unlike the princess, these role models say to boys – there is a place for you in the real world. You can make a difference. Get active. Get involved.
Where are those real life role models for girls? I wonder how many little princesses on their pink tricycles know they can actually be a pilot. A fireman? Or even an astronaut?
Some girls do become these things of course. But they have to fight a world of gender stereotyping to do it. They have to break away from their own perceptions of themselves that have been formed from what they see around them. That's a whole other battle for our little princesses that they don't need on top of everything it takes to do those jobs.
Now I know the 'market' will tell me that girls love pink. Love princesses. Sure they do. But I have to smile when I realise that the biggest preschool hit of the last ten years has been Dora the Explorer. An active role. Dora is not about pretty dresses. She's about getting stuff done.
The market went for Dora in a big way. It turns out that going against an outdated passive princess gender stereotype can be a winner. Well that's good news! So I find myself wondering why a rack of cards still only presents the view that girls are just princesses, mermaids and ballerinas?
This difference between female and male role models is something that, once you see, you'll see it everywhere. Toy aisles, ads, posters. I even found myself taking steps to de-pink the bedtime stories. And, to be honest, they get so much more fun from 'Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus'.
As the men in our girl's lives, perhaps fathers like us can really think about the pink, the princesses and the messages they give our girls, and we can filter some of it out. Mix in some better role models. Make clear to our girls that they can be whatever or whoever they want, be it mechanic, scientist, astronaut, anything. And they can lead happy and fulfilled lives doing so, prince or no prince.
Recent figures in Ireland have revealed that women still earn less than men doing the same job. To an extent, it is still a man's world. Hopefully we, and our lovely, bright, funny, hard-working, curious daughters, can change that.
Jason Tammemagi is the creator of preschool show Fluffy Gardens and a writer/director of children's television, with a special interest in shows for younger children. A father of two little girls, Jason sees first-hand the effects of television on children and strives for better television and media awareness. Check out Jason’s excellent blog over at www.jasontammemagi.com
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