The Princess Industrial Complex

Having written about girls' adolescence, journalist Peggy Orenstein is quite the expert in parenting of young girls.

Her attempt in raising her daughter free of the girlie-girl stereotype, however, was nuked when - in what seems like an overnight transition - her 3-year-old daughter became enamored with being a princess.

And so began Peggy's journey in understanding the "princess phase" - and the corporate drive to foster and cash in that phenomenon.

Orenstein takes us on a tour of the princess industrial complex, its practices as coolly calculating as its products are soft and fluffy. She describes a toy fair, held at the Javits Center in New York, at which the merchandise for girls seems to come in only one color: pink jewelry boxes, pink vanity mirrors, pink telephones, pink hair dryers, pink fur stoles. “Is all this pink really necessary?” Orenstein finally asks a sales rep.

“Only if you want to make money,” he replies.

The toy fair is one of many field trips undertaken by Orenstein in her effort to stem the frothy pink tide of princess products threatening to engulf her young daughter. The author of “Schoolgirls: Young Women, Self Esteem, and the Confidence Gap,” among other books, Orenstein is flummoxed by the intensity of the marketing blitz aimed at girls barely old enough to read the label on their Bonne Bell Lip Smackers. “I had read stacks of books devoted to girls’ adolescence,” she writes, “but where was I to turn to under­stand the new culture of little girls, from toddler to ‘tween,’ to help decipher the potential impact — if any — of the images and ideas they were absorbing about who they should be, what they should buy, what made them girls?”

Link | Peggy's Book: Cinderella Ate My Daughter: Dispatches from the Front Lines of the New Girlie-Girl Culture (Photo:

If you have a girlie girl, or a tomboy or any other variety of girl (or boy), your chances of changing them to another type are nil. At best. Parents keep wanting to make their kids into something the kids are not: more masculine, less feminine, vice versa. It only succeeds in making them unhappy. Mothers (and fathers) who do this are only trying to live through their kids, and that is a losing propostion. You may get a lot of sympathy from like-minded women, but in the end your child will be alienated and resentful

Disagree? Of course you do. Put this note aside and re-read it in 20 years. Then write another book about how to reclaim your child.
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"The toy fair is one of many field trips undertaken by Orenstein in her effort to stem the frothy pink tide of princess products threatening to engulf her young daughter."

Yes, that'll help. Take her to a toy fair to expose her to tonnes of things she never even knew existed but now suddenly will think she can't live without. Rather than stemming the princess complex, it'll probably just make it even stronger.
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Now imagine someone writing a book about her son who is disturbingly feminine, playing with dolls and preferring pink clothes (it's not exactly unheard of), and the she tries to subtly discourage this behaviour. Would she write a book about how Disney is making her son gay? And would that book have a favourable review in NYT?

Let girls be girls, or boys. Claiming, that girls like princess-clothes because they absord ideas about who they should be from Disney, is like claiming that gay sex causes homosexuality.
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Have you heard of Cheryl Kilodavis? Her young son, Dyson, loves to dress up like a princess. She and her husband could have tried to force him into the stereotypical boy role, but they wanted Dyson to be a happy child so they let him be himself. She wrote a book about it called "My Princess Boy".

It has been quite the media cause celebre.

You can't force these things.
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I agree that your child is what they are, period, end of sentence. You can't change them. I was a mostly a tomboy and I've never changed. Parents should just support whatever their kids tend to gravitate towards. Many children would be a lot better off with their parents not trying to force them into or out of one gender stereotype or another. So your daughter wants to be a princess, encourage the creativity of a fantasy land while trying to downplay the entitlement factor. If she wants to play with bugs and sticks then you need to encourage her independance. If your son wants to play with dolls, let him play with the darn dolls and encourage his caring side while preparing him that the rest of the boys are stereotyped into an aggressive masculine archetype. 

It amazes me in this day and age we are still all weirded out when a child doesn't fit into our projected gender archetype. Can't we just get over it? Lord knows my life would have been a lot simpler if my mother would have been open to the fact that my tomboyish leanings fit into an archetype that tends to lend itself to potential same sex attractions. 

In short if your kids aren't the gender stereotype YOU like, then get over it and work with what you have. Wouldn't most parents rather have a tomboy or a princess or a dress wearing son or an athletic boy than one that wasn't born healthy and happy with their princess, doll loving, dress wearing, football playing selves. 
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I remember my sister went through the Princess phase but it was from reading fairy tale books that have had princesses in them for as long as books existed. I'm sure corporations cash in on it, but there is something essentially human about the princess phase.
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My beautiful 22 year old went from pink and lacy princess to shaved head and punk clothes. She was a beautiful princess and she is now a beautiful punk. Have faith in your children however they imagine themselves. So long as issues like entitlement are addressed and concepts like marketing are taken into account, let them be who they choose to be. There are plenty of explorations of princess themes that send positive messages, the book Paperbag Princess, and the movie Enchanted to name a few. Love and support them now matter what their favorite colour is.
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A lot of this 'forcing' is being done by idealistic feminists and traditionalist men. Odd, isn't it, that two diametrically opposed groups are engaging in an identical form of detrimental behavioral conditioning.

The feminists don't want their daughters to be girly, and the traditionalist men don't want their sons to be girly. What gives?
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