Getting to the Bottom of the Princess Obsession

As someone who studies gender stereotypes in children, and as someone who has an intense dislike for the princess movement, it has been a little frustrating that my youngest daughter always talks about wanting to be a princess. Her exposure is pretty limited, at least compared to other American preschool girls. I don’t allow Disney Princess movies, although she has seen them at other people’s houses. She has seen the occasional Sophia The First (which I don’t love, but I don’t hate), but spends a lot more time with Jake and the Neverland Pirates and Mickey Mouse.  Regardless, she has developed a deep love for princesses.

Recently, I tried to get to the bottom of it. I asked her “Why?” she loved princesses. Her answer “Their sparkly clothes.” This rationale was reinforced when she told her older sister that the princess from Brave wasn’t a real princess because “her clothes were too dark.” Of course, the one princess I like, she rejects for being goth.

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Then I had to face facts. I may not like princesses because they are helpless, do nothing for themselves, and only wait for a boy to show up and save them, but she likes them because they are sparkly. Perhaps we could reach a compromise. I am not a sparkly girl, but there is nothing wrong with liking sparkle. That isn’t my battle. I tried to think about (a) a female, (b) who wears sparkle, and (c) is powerful. My own childhood came back to me. WONDER WOMAN! As a kid, I wore Wonder Woman Underoos ALL THE TIME (If you are too young for that, I am sorry you missed out on the fun). I watched her cartoons, I watched the TV show. She has sparkle bracelets, and even a tiara. And she can kick ass.

I began to google images of Wonder Woman and show them to Grace. Lo and behold, she was hooked. Now I am showing her old episodes from SuperFriends. She loves Wonder Woman and her lasso and invisible jet. My next stop is to order her a WW costume to dress up for pretend play.

It may not be the perfect female role model. Marie Curie would be way cooler. But I am happy that she has found a sparkly girl to root for, one that actually does something worth rooting for.

Is Guns for Girls what gender equality really means?

I am always complaining about the lack of gender equality. It irritates me that I have to go into the boys’ aisles to find a tool set for my Maya or Grace. But, I find that this new trend toward gender equality is even more irritating. Now, not only can you buy Legos in pink and purple, but you can also buy a Nerf Gun in pink and purple.

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I don’t think this is the kind of equality so many of us want. First, it is still a “Girl” toy, obvious to anyone with the color and models on the box. It still strongly signals to children that only girls should play with this toy (and conversely, that only boys should play with the other Nerf guns).

The toy may be the same, but the segregation remains.

Second, I just don’t want my kids (whether they be boys or girls) to play with guns. I know that makes me sound prudish, but guns are just not an okay toy in a Sandy Hook world. Guns ultimately kill people (even if you think people kill people, it is still people holding guns). Nowadays, those guns are often being wielded by children. Why should I want my daughter to play with a toy that simulates killing? I wouldn’t want my sons to do that.  Regardless of people’s opinions about gun control, it seems this type of play and “fun” should be a shrinking trend, not a growing one.

Why don’t we see more “prosocial” toys cross the gender aisle? (God forbid we actually we get rid of the gender aisles). I would love to see dolls marketed to boys. Boys could definitely use more practice care-taking and being nurturing. Or make tool sets available in the girls’ section. I want my daughters to be competent with tools. These are important skills all children should develop. Firing a gun, less so.

Ode to Billie Jean, and thanks to 40 years of girls in cleats

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Softball season for Maya ends tomorrow. Tomorrow night, they play their “Championship Game.” Really, she is in a learning league where the goal is to help kids improve their softball skills. In other words, the really good players are there, but few in number. This is a good fit for Maya, as the poor girl was thrown into the shallow end of the athletic gene pool. But she has fun and I think it is important to play something. The importance of athletics for girls, even a non-athletic girl, has been reinforced lately in the news. The reason for the news stories: the 40th anniversary of Title IX.

Times have changed so much since Title IX was passed in 1972. Back  then, about the time I was born, phones were barbarically attached to the wall by a cord. Gas station attendants waited by your car window while you told them to “Fill it up, unleaded.” Our massive console television, with the 2 knobs that got 5 channels (the 3 networks plus PBS and the local UHF channel) took up an entire wall of our wood paneled living room. Computers were something you might see at work but never imagined holding on your lap while sitting on your couch. And, only 7 percent of all high school athletes were girls. That has changed tenfold in 40 years. Girls now make up 41 percent of high school athletes.

It isn’t just a numbers thing. Even the cultural thinking about girls in sports has changed in 40 years. Back then, only hardcore athletic girls played sports (and were presumed to be lesbians). About this time, a 55-year-old former tennis player, Bobby Riggs, was so convinced that only men were really athletes that he challenged the top female tennis player in the world to a match. Luckily, Billie Jean King kicked his ass, a victory that meant far more than the prize money she won. Our own research shows this cultural shift. When my graduate student, Jenna (who happens to be Maya’s softball coach), asked middle school kids to describe a popular girl, a lot of kids, both boys and girls, described a girl who is good at sports. That would not have happened even 15 years ago.

Things aren’t perfect yet. Twenty percent of the public does not support Title IX. They think it “takes away” from the “real sports,” like football and basketball. And, the most popular female athletes are the ones who happen to be attractive and who like to pose in their underwear on mens‘ magazine covers.

But regardless of how far girls in sports have come, and how far they still have to go, playing sports is simply good for girls. When they play sports, they are less likely to drink, smoke, be depressed or anxious, get pregnant, or think poorly about their bodies. Think this doesn’t relate to your kids?

Keep in mind that recent studies show that 12 percent of 10- and 11-year old girls want to be thinner, 27 percent of 11- to 16-year old girls have drunk so much that they have been sick or out of control, and more than 35 percent of 16- to 21-year old girls admit to having unprotected sex. Playing sports reduces these numbers.

No one really knows why sports are so good for girls. Maybe it is focusing on their bodies being strong and powerful (rather than skinny and simply something for boys to ogle) that helps girls feel empowered, maybe it is relying on teammates that helps girls feel part of something bigger than themselves, maybe it is having a group of adults literally and figuratively cheering them on that boosts their self-esteem. Whatever the reason, sports are good for all girls, not just the athletic ones. So thanks to the 40 years of girls who played sports even when it wasn’t cool. And even though my girl likes to play in the dirt instead of watch for pop flies, and has been hit by a pitch more than once this season, she will always play something, whatever something she finds the most fun, regardless of the scoreboard.

Rush for conformity

(Some of these blogs come out of season because I am transferring from my old website)

The week before college starts in the fall, hundreds of women vie for the coveted spots in a sorority. During this week, I begin to feel like Jane Goodall. Groups of college women all dressed alike walk around campus in herds. The same dress, the same shoes, the same hair. Some are better than others at navigating the high heels, but I think I would have an easier time distinguishing a group of chimps. The craziest type of individuality any of them showed was picking a different color purse.

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I must admit, I never did any of this as a college student. I went to a small school that (I think) had one sorority. But I have lots of students who are in sororities, so I understand the social value of the organization. I don’t judge the sorority. I just think this stuff i crazy. At Kentucky, the girls also dress identically for football games. Same blue, black, and white dress and same brown boots. What is difficult to understand is the extreme conformity. They all work so hard to look like the other girls. It must be exhausting. They drank some powerful Kool-Aid.

​Social psychology has taught us about the irony of individuals and groups. We desperately want to fit in, but at the same time, we desperately want to be perceived as unique. That’s a tough line to walk.

Considering how much women at this age are objectified, it is particularly disturbing to see conformity beat out individuality so strongly. It isn’t even a close match. It is clearly much better to fit an ideal image of a sorority girl than be thought of as an actual individualized person. I know this isn’t the message I want 19 year old girls to leave with. Just doing something because your friends are doing it is particularly dangerous in a college atmosphere of alcohol binge drinking and unprotected sex.

So, bring on the girls in the non-matching dress, the comfortable shoes, and the curly hair. Because I want to celebrate the girls who say, “Take me as I am or don’t take me at all!” ​

Girls choose pretty over smart…Argh!!!!

My headache-inducing fact of the day: Researchers interviewed gifted 3rd-6th grade girls. The girls talked about downplaying their intelligence because they wanted to appear pretty. They also didn’t want to look like they were bragging or being competitive by getting good grades. I hope my own gifted 3rd grader never downplays anything. I wish that intelligence and pretty weren’t seen as mutually exclusive.

 

New Psychology Today post

Check out my newest Psychology Today post. I have been shocked that people are shocked by the Steubenville rape trial. We sexually objectify girls so much in our culture that these situations seem inevitable to me. Don’t believe me? Check out a Hardee’s commercial. Both boys and girls buy into this mindset, one in which girls are dehumanized sexual objects for men’s and boys’ pleasure. That is the first step, rape doesn’t follow far behind. Lots of research studies have long shown this link, we just don’t seem to care enough.

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