I’ll never forget the day I found out I was having a little girl. I mean, how could I? My husband and I had waited for that day — for that very visit — for 20 weeks; and while we initially toyed around with the idea of keeping “the bean’s” sex a surprise until birth, I wanted to know. I needed to know, I was dying to know something about the child occupying my stomach.
When the ultrasound technician uttered those words — when she said “it’s a girl” — I smiled and laughed. My husband smiled and kissed me but then, moments later, he paused and swallowed hard. As he later told me, it was then that he thought ahead to all the discrimination she would face in the future. The sexism; the challenges.
In an instant, he realized what “boys would do;” what boys may try do. He heard all the vulgar, obscene, and hurtful words she was destined to hear. He considered the violent misogyny our daughter was destined to face. And while I was still on cloud nine, listening to her heartbeat and watching her little body wriggle around on the screen, the same reality soon settled over me, too. And, like any proud and strong woman, I vowed to do anything and everything to help her. To support her. To protect her.
It started simply enough: I bought her gender-neutral clothes and gender-neutral toys — which is to say that I filled her room with trains and teddy bears, hard wooden puzzles and soft pink bows. (I even bought her brightly colored “boy” LEGOs instead of the pink “girl” ones.) But my baby quickly became a toddler, a little person with her own mind — and her own likes — and before long we were watching Sophia the First together and painting our toenails. Before long, I was reading her stories about Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, and Snow White. Before long, I was buying her purses and dress shoes and glittery princess dresses. (So. Many. Dresses.)
And before long, I was calling her a princess: my “beautiful princess.”
There I was, backing down on every promise my pompous, feminist, and childless self made five years ago.
But here’s the thing: I don’t just call her a princess. I don’t just call her beautiful, and I don’t just compliment her looks. I compliment her intelligence and her keen sense of compassion and empathy. I tell her she is sweet and smart, silly and sassy. I tell her she is funny. I tell her she is witty. I let her know she is both gentle and strong. In fact, I compliment all aspects of her mind, body, and being. Because I want her to be confident. I want her to be self-assured. I want her to embrace her (inevitable) womanhood, and I want to empower her.
And yes — being a “princess” can be empowering.
How? Well think back to your own youth. If you’re a woman, did you ever wear tiaras, carry a scepter, wear “glass” slippers, or put on floor-length gowns when you were a little girl? Did you put on plays — you know, the ones where you pretend to be a damsel in distress or Cinderella, waiting for her prince to come? Did you ever say that when you grew up, you wanted to be a princess? That you would be a princess?
Well now, are you? Are you less capable because of that crown? Are you weak because you once had grandiose dreams that didn’t come true? Are you less empowered because of your wild, childhood imagination, or because your mother called you beautiful?
No. Unless you are still running around in a ballgown and hoping to be saved from your evil stepmother and stepsisters, you are not.
The thing is, telling my daughter she is beautiful or a princess — my princess — isn’t going to make her an arrogant, self-absorbed brat. It isn’t going to make her shallow or weak, and it isn’t going to make her buy into patriarchal ideals or spend her life chasing Prince Charming.
She is just playing. The same way she plays with her Legos, her football, large sticks, bottle caps, mud, and worms.
What’s more, the word “princess” — in and of itself — isn’t a negative word, a disenfranchising word, or a “bad word.” In fact, in many of the most popular princess tales the “damsels in distress” we speak of are also strong and powerful: They are fighting for what they want, asking for what they need, and doing so fearlessly but compassionately. They challenge evil with sheer will, empathy, tenacity, and determination.
Aren’t these admirable traits? Traits we want not only our girls to have but our boys, our husbands, our fathers, our mothers, and our wives?
So yes; I’m going to go on calling my daughter a princess with the same zest and zeal I use when I call her Peanut or Diapy or my Little Scamp. Because she is a princess: She is my perfect, beautiful, brave little princess.More On