The Princess Paradox


Photo courtesy of Jennie Park Photography

This morning as I was nursing my son, my stepdaughter turned on Disney Junior. It was early, and I was too tired to argue about watching tv first thing in the morning, so I let her. Plus. the show looked decent enough.

What did she turn on? “Princess Sophia.” Apparently this show follows a fictional princess through dealings with her family, going to princess school, and learning what it means to be a princess. No big deal, right? Well, to premise of today’s episode was summed up in a single line from one of the teacher’s at princess school- “A good princess helps others, no matter how important something she wants to do is.”


So to be a princess, little girls should always put others first, no matter what? No wonder women in the corporate environment (and in general) are expected to be passive and agreeable- that’s what we’ve been training them to be!

Parents and grandparents walk around calling their daughters and granddaughters princesses, and surround them will all kinds of images of Disney  characters that personify this. The phrase “That’s not what princesses do” or “Would a princess do that?” seems to be thrown at female children regularly. And what do princesses do? They are quiet, well behaved, don’t act out, don’t interrupt, don’t get dirty, and apparently put others needs before their own, no matter what.

Then when they grow up, they get frustrated because they are always doing for other people, always putting their needs second, always being polite and not causing waves or upsetting people, and what does that create? Unhappy adults who get frustrated and burnt out. They get frustrated that they aren’t respected at work, angry that they seem responsible for everyone’s happiness at home, and feel guilty for occasionally wanting to take time/resources to do something they want to do.

This is not what I want for my children. I want them to explore everything- explore sounds and activities and nature and science and be silly. You know- like a *kid*. While helping others and being considerate of those around us, I don’t want my children to think that women should sacrifice everything for the needs of others. Sometimes, their own needs or desires come first. I don’t want my daughters growing up with a princess complex, and I don’t want my sons growing up to expect women to “act like a princess.”

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2 Responses to The Princess Paradox

  1. H3Dakota says:

    This. I find myself cringing on a regular basis, hearing the messages our society keeps giving to girls. As an adult, I’ve been on the other end of it where others expect me to behave that way & they do not react well when I “act like a man” instead. Stand up for what I believe? Honestly share my opinions and provide logical arguments to back them up? Unheard of! That’s RUDE. Princesses don’t do those sorts of things.

  2. Stephanie says:

    Exactly! When I was a child it was framed as “Young ladies do x” or “Young ladies don’t do Y,” but the same basic idea. It makes it hard for women in general, and women in male dominated (often STEM) fields- we are expected to always say yes, always be agreeable, never rock the boat, always be polite and cheerful. Women are expected to take on extra hours/work without the compensation without complaint, and if you dare to say you won’t take on something because of family obligations, you are being selfish.

    The wake-up call for me was hearing that my boss told a coworker “I’ll just ask Steph- she always says yes.” While I usually do what is asked of me at work regarding extra tasks, that’s a dangerous role to take on, because now I look like I’m not a team player for having to say no occasionally. Being raise to be a “young lady” has been a tough attitude to overcome in order to be successful in a masculine field.

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