Pink Pastel Princesses: Gender Conditioning And Girlhood
Posted by Clem Bastow on August 13, 2008
Melbourne Author Monica Dux had a fascinating piece in The Age this week questioning whether dressing daughters as fairies, princesses and ballerinas – in a range of pinks that would make “blush and bashful” Shelby from Steel Magnolias reach for a sick bag – is healthy, or even whether it might be at the root of the issues surrounding the apparent sexualisation of teens.
We’re living in a period of growing sensitivity about how we depict our girl children, revealed most tellingly in the commotion surrounding Bill Henson’s art, and restated in the objections raised against the July cover of Art Monthly. We have also heard a chorus of commentators passionately condemning the rise of “raunch culture”. We are warned that girls are losing their innocence prematurely in our media-saturated world. Bratz dolls, pole-dancing kits marketed to children, and even David Jones catalogues have all been censured for intensifying the sexualisation of young girls.
Yet amid all this anxiety, we seem to be overlooking the pink elephant in the nursery, the one in fairy wings and a tiara. Like raunch culture, the fairy princess aesthetic and its associated paraphernalia serve to entrench an extremely narrow idea of femininity, impressing on young girls that they are pretty, flighty little objects to be admired and marvelled at, rather than active young things seeking out adventure.
This reinforces a passive understanding of what it is to be female, encouraging fantasies that are focused less on action, and far more on how you look. Of course, fairies and princesses can have adventures, but hyper-feminised modes of dressing put the focus squarely on appearance, teaching girls that self-worth is measured by how pretty you are, and not by what you do.
This is not a new argument. It’s gender-equality 101. What is fresh is the whiff of hypocrisy surrounding those parents who so readily lament the rise of raunch, while at the same time dressing their daughters in ways that entrench objectifying feminine stereotypes.
Next time you join a conversation decrying the “pornifaction” of our society, express concern about teenage girls dressing like strippers or vent your outrage at a billboard featuring a semi-clad woman, ask yourself how all this starts. Isn’t it at least plausible that the scantly clad teenage girl who bases her self-worth on seeking the sexual approval of men started out as a toddler princess being told how pretty she is?
Read the whole thing, it’s a terrific piece.
I have always been highly critical of the whole ‘pink for girls, blue for boys’ divide; you need only look in the latest Target toy catalogue to see that little girls’ toys and playsets involve things like kitchens, laundries, fashion and babies. To me, giving young girls baby dolls and mini-kitchens says “This is what you have to look forward to when you grow up.”
When I was little, I wanted to be Pete Venkman from Ghostbusters, and my parents obliged (Dad made me an impressive proton pack out of an old vacuum cleaner, some Duplo blocks and a can of silver spray-paint). I had “princess dresses”, too, but like the proton pack, they were just another part of my many fantasy worlds. I liked Belle (from Beauty & The Beast) and Ariel (The Little Mermaid) and had their corresponding dolls, not because they were Disney Princesses™, but because they were sparky and independent. I wouldn’t say I was a tomboy, more that I was – at least as far as the dominating “theme” of my toys and dress-ups – gender neutral.
Thus, the idea of a pink bedroom full of frills is somewhat alien to me, so I would be interested to hear from women who were “princesses” when they were little. Was it your idea, or did your parents and family provide the fripperies?