‘It’s Pirates or Princesses, Mummy’, my four year old daughter informs me importantly as she hands me a letter from the school explaining that the children can dress up for ‘Children in Need Day’.
My six year old son Ed hands me the same letter, ‘I’m going to be a pirate – I need a sword!’
I ask Martha if she wants to be a pirate too. Ed looks at me as if I’m crazy. ‘She’s got to be a princess. It says on the letter.’ I explain that it doesn’t say that on the letter, it says that they can choose what they want to be and that Martha might choose to be a pirate.
‘I want to be a pirate!’ Martha announces and I privately exult until she comes back the day before the big day. ‘None of the other girls are being pirates, I want to be a princess!’
And princess she is, down to the hastily acquired tiara and pinkest dress she can find in her drawer.
Bloody school, bloody Geordies who love their pink, princess girls, bloody crazy country. Why should a school which seems sensible in all other ways, which has just received an ‘outstanding’ in its last Ofsted Inspection and which appears to think deeply about equality of opportunity for all, assume that the most exciting thing a girl can dress up as is a bloody princess.
This pink, glittery, princess thing is so imbued in our culture. My contention – being a Southerner at heart - is that it is especially alive and kicking up here in the North-East. Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe this disease at the heart of our society is endemic everywhere. I don’t believe that anyone at the school even considered the message they constantly send girls and boys about what their gender might signify both now and in the future. And parents collude from the earliest they can – princess duvets, fairy wallpaper, pink, pink, pink. What the hell is a princess these days? How can you become one? Who would want to become one? Do we want our daughters to lisp prettily as they shake out their pink skirts. Is this what we want to teach our girls about what it means to be female? We may as well encourage our daughters to dress up as supermodels – that’s a noble, attainable and interesting career. Or a celebrity – how about that? Is this the ultimate fantasy of femininity? If you are reading this as a woman, do you recognise this as a useful and workable definition of your life and self?
It’s a scary thing being a mother of daughters these days. I want my daughters to grow up strong: proud of their gender, proud of their femininity and with a powerful self esteem. I want them to be able to believe that they can achieve the same that their brother can. I don’t want them obsessed with their bodies and their pretty faces, beautiful as they are. I want them to work hard and set themselves ambitions which they can strive for and maybe achieve. You think I’m missing the point and it’s all just a bit of fun? Well, that’s up to you. I don’t believe that it’s healthy or funny for my daughters to want to be a bloody princess or for my son to expect them to be, and I’m constantly amazed that sensible, seemingly intelligent women continue to collude with this rubbish.
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