A recent trip to the library resulted in my five- and four-year-old sons bringing home the following books.
Now, to be fair, they picked out plenty of other books that didn’t have princesses on the front. Captain America and Pete the Cat were also represented in our haul. But the princesses made up the majority of our books this trip. Plus, Women in Chemistry, for reasons I don’t fully understand.
I am totally ok with all of this.
There’s lots of discussion these days about girls playing with boy toys, and whether things like pink Lego, cars, and tools aimed at girls are good or bad things. (I have opinions on those things, but Nicole says it better than I ever could.)
I don’t hear nearly as much push for the acceptance of boys playing with stereotypically “girl” toys or liking characters and stories that are made to appeal to girls. For whatever reason, while girls playing with boy toys is (rightly) becoming more accepted, boys playing with girl stuff is still taboo.
Why are we so afraid of this? I admit I have a hard time seeing what the big deal is. My sons love princess stories because they love fantasy and magic — the same reason they love Star Wars and superheroes. I am really not too concerned about how reading a Cinderella picture book will affect their future. What I do worry about is my reaction to their choices. Because that can have a big impact.
Telling a child that they shouldn’t like something because it’s not made for their gender won’t stop them from liking that thing. It will make them ashamed that they like it. When we tell kids, “You shouldn’t like that,” the underlying message is, “there’s something wrong with you.” My kids are not perfect, but liking Frozen or Sleeping Beauty is not a character flaw. I refuse to make them feel bad for that.
When my kids refer to something as a girl toy or a boy toy, I remind them that there are no girl toys or boy toys. There are just toys. There are just books. There are just shows. My boys are not any less “boy” for liking a story with a female main character. They aren’t less male because they want to play with a doll. I love action movies; does that make me any less female? Maybe you think so, but my uterus begs to differ.
No, I am not worried about my sons ending up “effeminate” or “girly.” No, I am not worried about “turing them gay.” (WTF) I am more concerned about being a safe place for them. I want them to know that they can ask me anything and tell me anything. I won’t risk that relationship over Belle or Jasmine.
So in our house, we’ll keep watching Sofia the First along with Jake and the Neverland Pirates. And if I get tempted to worry about the supposed gender of the things my boys like, I’ll take Princess Elsa’s advice and let it go.
See? You can learn a lot from princesses.