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A Princess Problem. Parental Advisory on Babble.com

Much to my annoyance, my three-year-old has become princess-obsessed. While I support her right to express herself, honestly, I was hoping she would go more in the direction of strong female role models. She dresses up in Cinderella, Belle and Aurora costumes all year round – can I put my foot down on Halloween and demand Wonder Woman attire?Royal Pain in the Ass

Dear Royal,

Year after year parents worry that their vulnerable young daughters will be damaged by obsessions with Disney’s wasp-waisted, pug-nosed role models. The princess industrial complex is unstoppable, and our little girls are drawn to it like flies to sh*t. If you manage to keep the whole thing outside of your daughter’s frame of vision, we salute your efforts (and wonder if she’s getting enough Vitamin D locked in that basement). If your daughter knows about princesses but doesn’t give a hoot, we salute your . . . luck. The major feminist argument against The Princess is that her entire personality consists of being passive and pretty. Some worry more about the stress on beauty, for others it’s the lack of agency, or the lack of cultural identity. It’s all very interesting from a semiotics standpoint. But as Peggy Orenstein put it a few years ago in the Times, ” maybe a princess is sometimes just a princess.” In other words, what she means to you is not at all what she means to your daughter. Fighting her obsession could hurt your cause. These tinsel goddesses are characters she identifies with; negativity may be wrongly interpreted or internalized. You might teach her that you don’t like what she likes, or what she imagines she is. Or, you might just show her a really easy way to rile you up. The last thing you want to do is to give the princesses the power of getting to you on top of their other powers. You can help your daughter see outside the pink satin box by providing her with a range of pretend play options, and reading her fantasy narratives that go beyond the basic happily ever after (AKA wedding) tale. You can certainly introduce her to the wonders of Wonder Woman and see if she takes the bait. (She does have a crown, after all.) But Halloween is probably not the time to challenge her interests. Halloween is an opportunity for self-expression and identification. We are believers in the self-generated costume (if not in construction, at least in concept). You can force your daughter to wear a Wonder Woman costume, but you can’t make her like it. Our advice is to go with the flow and let her be whatever she feels like being for the moment, however much it abrades your feminist sensibilities. Word among parents of older girls is that the princess phase, though often torturous, passes quickly. If you don’t add the element of rebellion into the mix, maybe it will run its course sooner. And hey, if you let her go as a princess now, you’ve got a good excuse not to let her be one again next year.

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