Tuesday, 24 July 2007

Drop the Princess Obsession

While I can claim no credit as a child psychologist, I did train as a teacher in my youth and was a volunteer at a primary school in the 2000s (there were no male teachers and boys were seeing reading as something only girls and women did, so a number of men from my company were invited to come and read one lunchtime a week to show that men read) and now I sometimes take my housemate's son to primary school when it is raining, so I can claim some knowledge of schoolchildren. However, my posting today, though starting there spreads out into the adult world too. If you live in the UK you probably have noticed how pink everything is these days. When I was a boy, girls would sometimes wear pink, but also lots of other colours too, especially denim blue. These days they often turn out in pink shoes, dresses, tops, trousers and coats and quite often are dropped off by mothers driving pink cars (I must say shocking pink cars, a couple of which are in my neighbourhood and another passes me on the road each morning are slightly alarming). Okay, so pink is in. However, it is part of wider trend, one you can see emblazoned across the back windows of many cars not only these pink ones: 'little princess on board'. Some even have little tiaras fitted to their seats. The supermarkets are filled with stationery and lunch boxes and drinks holders all echoing this theme. I know parents are now afraid to let their children out of their sight and in the UK we are growing up with a generation who can do very little for themselves and are frightened of the real world, but this princess obsession goes further. By default it is saying that her parents are king and queen. I know people should be proud of themselves, but we also need to be grounded. There is nothing wrong with girls pretending to be princesses, but what we are seeing is overload. Why cannot she sometimes pretend to be an astronaut or a doctor or a warrior? The pricness overload also says to girls, that the only legitimate way for a woman to be is, as my housemate's son calls it 'a girly girl'. This is a very male chauvinist attitude towards women and is not a healthy one for boys to adopt. It is as if the whole feminist campaign going back to the 1900s and certainly since the 1970s has been overturned and the only role model for girls that is presented by the media and retail sectors and collaborated in by parents is as a pampered princess unable to act for herself, having her every whim fulfilled and only valued for her prettiness, no other attribute.

Now, you might say, it is just a phase and girls grow out of it. However, this is where the difficulties creep in. I have seen some of these 'little' princesses grow into women and yet their attitudes remain juvenile. They expected to get whatever they want just as they did when they were 5. They find it difficult to leave home and even when they do, the demand support, both financial and practical, from their families. They run up huge credit card bills and getting into vast debt is a common problem in the UK today. In 2006 over 90,000 people filed for personal bankruptcy and many more are in difficulty, partly because their parents never said 'no' or 'you have to wait until Christmas' or 'save up for it' or 'get a paper-round and earn the money for it'. Instead they say 'yes and do you want the rest of those in the series?' This pandering to every demand does not only have financial implications but physical ones too, 23% of UK women (and 25% of UK men) are now obese. Much of this is motivated by the consumer industry as women given this mindset make far better consumers than slim women who save and analyse what they really want rather than constantly being driven by fashions.

I remember clearly one example of a woman who grew out of all this princess merchandise into being a spoilt adult, sitting in her flat with her family buzzing around her as she commanded them to move items to her new flat. In the hours this took, she contributed absolutely nothing to the effort. Her parents were on hand to praise how skilful she was in selecting which commands to throw out. I had been brought in as a friend of her fiance's and someone with removals experience and I remember abandoning the task after about three hours when she complained that we had not hefted all the expensive furniture fast enough (despite the difficulty of very narrow doorways) and I remembered I was not being paid for this job and insults cost in my book. Having married my friend she decided she also wanted a lover to live in the house and imported him from South America. You might say that my friend should have left but as you know from these posts, getting a house, getting out a mortgage is very difficult in the UK so he is locked into a house with his separated wife and her lover who lives rent free while my friend pays the mortgage. This is where the princess obsession ends up. You might say 'good on her', but I would say she is not a strong woman, she is a parasite.

So before you go out and buy another item of pink clothing or a sign saying 'princess on board' for your daughter, niece or grand-daughter, think twice. Think about doing something that will enable her to be an independent, strong woman of the future who can handle money and know the true value of things both financially and in human terms. Start now and buy her some dungarees or a football or a book on amphibians. Ultimately she might turn her nose at not having her princess-side pandered to still more, but she will lead a better life as a consequence.

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