March is Women’s History Month, and we celebrated International Women’s Day on March 8th by bringing in the YYC Princesses to talk about bravery, boldness, kindness, and what it means to be a role model. We talked about books we love that celebrate female authors, illustrators, and characters, and how reading and learning can open up whole new worlds for us! You can catch the whole segment below!
Outside of this though, is a wider question that permeates the culture of childhood. Are princes and princesses good role models?
A lot of questions have been raised about the gendering of books and toys, and it is hard to argue that the sanitation of old classic folk and fairy tales by big corporations like Disney has not had consequences for our cultural conversations. They also tend to romanticize reality and provide unrealistic expectations for anglicized beauty standards and body images, relationship expectations and heteronormativity, and family types and working problem-solving. These are not small issues.
There are some amazing resources available that deal with this topic. Alyse is a big fan of Peggy Orenstein’s work, especially “Cinderella ate my Daughter“, and a quick google search for “Are Princesses Good Role Models?” will turn up an astounding number of results debating this idea. But it does remain a debate, because despite the problematic implications and expectations, Princesses really can teach some valuable life lessons.
Is ‘kind’ the worst thing a person can be? Gentle, caring, compassionate? These ‘princessy traits’ do not necessitate synonymy with ‘silence’, ‘demureness’ and ‘acquiescence’. You can be kind and bold, brave and empathetic — in fact in seems rarer and rarer that acts of kindness and compassion are not also big, bold and brave acts. In rejecting what is, admittedly, a hyper-feminine presentation, are we not rejecting, at least in part, the idea of values traditionally associated with femininity? If princesses are ‘bad’, are girls and women ‘bad’? And what of all the princesses that exist outside the cartoon status quo, that smash standards and use their considerable influence to achieve some amazing results?
It is important that we celebrate all women and the achievements of every girl during this month. Plurality of representation and the moderation with which we encounter it is formative in our children’s self-image forming. We need all types of role models, all types of heroes, all types of characters, so that children can see a variety dispositions, values, ideas, and ways of being, and begin to identify with different aspects and start forming their worldviews.
So rock on, rebels and witches, astronauts and ranchers, princesses and pop stars… this world has more than enough room for every woman, and a huge need for all of them.