I spun around and speculated to Leo about where Seba had heard the term -- was it our nanny? His grandmother? His aunt? His cousins? I immediately thought out loud and only half-jokingly asked if I was going to be perceived as a crazy bitch for asking the adults not to use the term or to encourage it. (I've already wondered how to respond when family members lovingly call my 11-month-old daughter a princess, but have had the good sense not to say anything so far.)
Leo's response was measured -- we can't ban the term, but we can refine what it means and how it gets used in our home. I've since been thinking on the topic and rather than spitting in the wind and trying to keep the onslaught of pink at bay and rejecting all things princess because of the stifling gender social constructs around them, I'll gladly embrace this approach.
My goal is to raise curious, creative, and compassionate children. Doing so will require lots of effort and a narrative that praises these traits. In the case of princesses, it will mean that in our family, princess won't mean passivity. It won't mean privilege. It won't mean beauty + silence+ being well behaved + getting a man being the definition of happily ever after. It won't mean giving up one's freedom or obeying outdated and repressive social mores.
Fortunately, there are some decent alternatives to the traditional princess narrative and great resources, like Pigtail Pals and A Mighty Girl to help us along the way. Meanwhile, I'll continue to present alternative princesses (Merida, Cinder Edna, Princess Smartypants, etc.) to my nieces and hope that the message gets through that courage, intelligence, and imagination are the real treasures a princess (and prince) have.
As Melissa Wardy, founder of Pigtail Pals, so eloquently put it:
"Someone asked me the other day why I hate princesses. I don't hate princesses at all. I hate the way their stories are being told. I want a different narrative for my daughter.
I want princesses who don't give away their voices or freedom, whose end game is marrying a prince. I want princesses who define their own stories, not sleep peacefully waiting for a magic kiss.
Media aimed at my daughter will tell her to beautify herself, quiet herself down, and be well behaved. It will tell her to look a certain way and she'll accomplish a huge feat in life - attracting a man. Whether she is four or fourteen or twenty four, this is the message media will try to send to her.
That's just not how we roll. So it is not that I hate princesses. I'm just really choosy about the ones I introduce to her. Here are three princesses she received as gifts for her birthday last night - Cinder Edna, Princess Smartypants, and Merida."