I am going to go ahead and admit to the fact that I never wanted to have a daughter. I always imagined myself as the mother of a pack of wild boys. I’m not totally sure what made me think that I was suited to having boys instead of girls, but… that was how I felt for a long time. Not until I had a dream about a little girl with dark hair sitting on my Nana’s lap did I think, “I’m going to have a daughter.” And, of course, here I sit as a mother to one daughter and no pack of boys in sight.
Unless, of course, you count the pack of boys that Margot is friends with.
Margot recently asked if we could have a tea party. We planned our perfect tea party and I realized that her guest list was her and a bunch of little boys. I think all of these boys (and their parents) would actually be pretty excited about the idea of a vegan tea party in our backyard, but it just really struck me that the only other little girl consistently in Margot’s life is her baby cousin.
I don’t know how I feel about this. (Maybe you’ll notice this is a theme in my life, having feelings that I can not identify…) A big part of me is screaming “Who cares?! Gender is a construct!!” But, then there is another part of me that knows how much in my life I have really valued my friendships with other women. Girl time is important to me, and I worry if Margot might be missing out on something (Another theme: me worrying that GoGo is missing out on something…)
I’m also not sure exactly how to remedy this. So far our local homeschooling community is pretty boy-heavy, but we are still really in the beginning stages of finding and building this community, so I am hoping that things naturally even out at some point. Women do still make up 50% of the population, don’t we? In fact, yes, I just googled homeschool statistics and it looks like 51% of homeschooled children are females! This doesn’t really say anything about unschooling in particular or regions or types of homeschoolers… but, my point is: the girls MUST be out there somewhere, just waiting to engage in some quality girl time with my little girl! But, it seems a little desperate sometimes when I’m like “OH!! You have a DAUGHTER?!?!” while rubbing my hands together imagining a tea party between this new little girl and Margot who is probably off somewhere arguing with a little boy about whose turn it is with the toy train.
This all sounds like I am super gender-conforming and I’m really not. Or, I’m really trying not to be. We try really hard to let Margot show us where her interests are without forcing any gender identities on to her. We also discuss gender and feminist issues with her. Sometimes in a store we point out that the “boys” toys feature heroes while the “girls” toy feature ballerinas and wonder out loud why the girl dolls don’t get to wear firefighter uniforms, too. Margot corrects anyone who calls the mail carrier the mail man by saying “that’s a gendered term.” She probably doesn’t totally know what that means, but… I’m planting as many seeds as I can over here. She is in for a whole world of information once she is old enough to understand the finer points of intersectional feminism, but, we will stick with seeds for now…
All of this is a lead up to me talking about Princesses. I’m not going to get into Princess Culture too much, because there is so much that has already been said and I don’t feel that I have anything groundbreaking to add to the topic at this point. If you are raising a child in this world and you are scratching your head as to what “Princess Culture” is, I recommend a quick google on the subject. Back? Great, let’s keep going, I promise I’m about to get to the good stuff.
So far (maybe partially because Margot doesn’t have a lot of older girls in her life) we have mostly avoided princess fever. Margot has only seen one Disney princess movie and it was a long time ago and she never really asked about it ever again. We don’t do a ton of tv and movies and try to stick to non-princessy things when we do (for a lot of reasons…) But, we borrow so many books from the library. Like, seriously, so many. Margot has her own library card because we were constantly maxing out my check out limit (which is 50 books). So, we have come across some nice princess books in all of our borrowing, and I thought I would give a few quick reviews of some of them.
The Princess in Black by Shannon Hale and Dean Hale, illustrated by LeUyen Pham.
This is a longer book (90 pages) and is part of a series. The first book was such a hit in our house, Margot asked to be the Princess in Black for Halloween. We happily obliged, as you can see in the photos sprinkled through this post. I like this book because it allows for Magnolia to have two sides, which I think is nice. She wears a fancy dress and nibbles on cookies and she also slides down a secret passage way and battles monsters. I know that it is part of the fun that her superhero identity is secret, but I wish that it wasn’t “shameful” for a princess to be “different.” The titular character is, as you can see, white, which is another bummer, but I will note that there are more diverse characters in the later books in the series and Duff the goat boy seems to be darker skinned. It is cleverly written and has enough funny bits for the parents who are reading along, but nothing “wink wink, nudge nudge” funny, which I like.
I think these books do an okay job of showing the Princess in Black battling monsters without making it scary, but she does engage in a bit of violence against monsters throughout the series, so if you or your children are sensitive to violence you might want to skip it. Margot is pretty sensitive, but did not seem bothered by the fighting and often said “Twinkle Twinkle Little SMASH!!” when kicking snow piles, copying the monster-fighting super hero.
Not All Princesses Dress in Pink by Jane Yolen and Heidi Elisabet Yolen Stemple, Illustrated by Anne-Sophie Lanquetin
We know (and maybe you do, too) Jane Yolen from her Dinosaur books, because Margot did have quite an interest in dinosaurs for a while. I really love books that rhyme and this one fits the bill. The story is great and so are the illustrations. I am happy to say there is a fairly diverse cast of princesses in the book, though they do all appear to be able-bodied. The final spread shows a party where it looks like there are boys dancing with boys and girls chatting up girls, which I like. There is nothing overtly romantic in this story, but I like that it’s not all images of princesses slow dancing with princes.
My one complaint with this book is that is kind of anti-pink. I think that we should celebrate how not all princesses (or… girls…) love to wear pink, but we should be careful also not to demonize the color. After all, there is nothing wrong with the color pink. It is a fine color and one of Margot’s favorites. Feminism, after all, is about choice.
Margot’s one complaint about the book, is that there is an illustration which shows the princesses all sitting down to a chicken dinner. She points it out every time and says, “They aren’t vegan” with clear disappointment in her voice.
Okay. I do have a few more princess themed books on my bedside table to review, but maybe instead of getting them all out at once I should pace myself and do another princess book installation another time because my eyes are starting to glaze over and maybe so are yours.
I have thought about making a site dedicated solely to reviewing children’s books and media with an intersectional feminist (and vegan) grading sheet, so this is something that I have a lot of thoughts about.
I really want to know if you have any favorite princess books (or any that you absolutely loathe, so I can put them on our AVOID list…), so please let me know here, or in real life if you’re my IRL pal.