Friday, July 1, 2011

should we deny little girls their princess pink?

Lisa Bloom, author of Think: Straight Talk for Women to Stay Smart in a Dumbed Down World, recently wrote about how she squelched herself from squealing to the five-year-old daughter of some friends; "Maya, you're so cute! Look at you! Turn around and model that pretty ruffled gown, you gorgeous thing!" Explains Bloom:

"Teaching girls that their appearance is the first thing you notice tells them that looks are more important than anything. It sets them up for dieting at age 5 and foundation at age 11 and boob jobs at 17 and Botox at 23. As our cultural imperative for girls to be hot 24/7 has become the new normal, American women have become increasingly unhappy. What's missing? A life of meaning, a life of ideas and reading books and being valued for our thoughts and accomplishments."

Bloom continues with a description of how she instead chooses to talk to kids in a matter-of-fact way; in this case about books, seeing that Maya was carrying one around.

Bloom's article gives food for thought. -- We've done our best to protect Lilly from the gender stereotyping so common in our culture that begins with the little pink and blue baby onesies. Instead I got many in green and yellow for her at my baby shower, and then a lot of baby blue hand-me-down clothes from friends with sons after she was born.

As a result, strangers have for the longest assumed Lilly's a boy, even after her curly locks started to grow.

We were a little surprised this bugged us so much (we sort of like to identify ourselves with a growing movement of ending the obsession with gender and undoing gender stereotypes), but in the end we caved in and got her some pink clothes -- and she loved it. She loves the feel of dancing in a dress, and she loves to be told that she's so cute and pretty.

So are we doing her a disservice? Should we ditch the praise for looks and focus on her books?

According to gender studies professor Hugo Schwyzer and the father of a three-year-old girl that would be a "missed opportunity."
Let's not make the mistake of de-emphasizing beauty altogether. It's okay to care about appearance too; it just deserves to take its place as one among many (rather than the foremost) concern. We praise Heloise for a great many things, including her prettiness. It's not either brains or beauty, it can be a both/and.
Explains Schwyzer:
This is what I objected to in the Bloom article: "Not once did we discuss clothes or hair or bodies or who was pretty. It's surprising how hard it is to stay away from those topics with little girls, but I'm stubborn." --
Not once? That's a missed opportunity. Talk about it ALL.

Schwyzer writes more about letting kids play on the gender spectrum in a post this week in response to the news about the Egalia preschool's attempt to de-emphasize gender differences to allow children to find themselves without being forced too soon into rigid gender roles:
Gender roles can be fun. There’s nothing wrong with wearing dresses, or preferring pink to blue. There’s only something wrong when you’re a little boy who is told you can’t wear pink, or you’re a little girl who’s told you can’t play with trucks. It’s equally foolish to deny girls who want to play dress-up the right to do so, just as it’s worse than useless to shame boys out of a rowdy game of cops and robbers.

Schwyzer's post is a good read worth checking out. Click here for the original feature on the Swedish preschool Egalia.


  1. When I worked at a nursery, I would often see one particular girl come in in frilly outfits and weirdly uncomfortable shoes.  She seemed to want to run around and get dirty with the other kids, but also seemed trapped in what was obviously her mother's choices.

    It was kind of heartbreaking.

  2. Ah, yes; I've seen little girls trapped in their attire like that. A crucial point to bring up; thank you!


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