My hope is that with the huge amount of press and fan fare that author Peggy Orenstein is receiving for her amazing book “Cinderella Ate My Daughter”, we will refresh a national conversation about what is going on with our girls and the bigger picture of marketing to kids. It is my firm belief that parents will soon start to see sexualization and limiting gender stereotypes as a social justice issue, and we will work together to turn this ship around.
I don’ t mind the concpet of “princess” within girlhood. I mind when it is obectified and sexualized. We hosted two playdates in the last couple of days during which the little ladies turned themsevles into princesses. Princesses full of imagination and childhood sweetness? I can handle that.
Our house is Disney Princess free except for a Snow White book from when I was a kid. I’m not anti-Disney. For the most part. My shark/dolphin/puzzle/dinosaur/Dr. Seuss/art loving daughter would rather be playing outside with the dogs or reading books than playing princess. But every once in awhile she does enjoy it and since childhood should be rich in experiences, we play “princess”. She is certainly quickly learning that to be social with her little girlfriends, she has to understand “princess culture”.
We don’t have plastic kitten heels with feathers for her, we don’t have a tiara, we don’t have a princess vanity. She does have play jewelry and barely-there play make-up, a drawer full of dressup clothes, ballet slippers and tutus. If she wants to play princess, I’m okay with that, as long as she wants to play ten other things during the week. But she won’t play Disney’s version of princess, or dress up with pre-conceived notions of how a princess should look. Or act. Or weigh.
Here’s how we do “princess” at our house:
You know, when I was a kid, summer meant lemonade stands, trips to the library, afternoons at the swimming pool, bike riding everywhere, and overall free lancing until it was time to come home for a late dinner. Throw in some sailing and annual trips to visit the cousins in Toledo….It was grand. It was all very Norman Rockwell-ian and exactly as it should have been.
And there were the weeks I went to camp. Brownie Day Camp. Girl Scout Camp. YMCA Day Camp. Band Camp (shut up). Sailing Camp. Student Council Camp. Then there was the six years I was a camp counselor at the YMCA Day Camp I had grown up at. I spent so many summers having adventures and living outdoors and enjoying nature that I gave Laura Ingalls Wilder a run for her money.
I loved all of it – being outside, hiking through the woods, teaching sports to kids, dumb camp songs, river walks, arts & crafts, cooking on a campfire, swimming, boating, preparing skits for Parents Night, the sound of the cabin door creaking open, All-Camp Capture The Flag, throwing frogs at lifeguards, the epic 160 foot slip-n-slide we made with pool covers and dish soap….even the underwear on the flagpole.
You know, S-U-M-M-E-R C-A-M-P. The kind with bugs.
A few weeks ago my mother sent me a letter in the mail. It has a yellow sticky note on it, which means she thinks it is something serious and the sticky note bears her warnings and forebodings. In college this would have been articles on STDs and binge drinking and the importance of antioxidants. But these days, in my matured adulthood, it means one thing and one thing only: Sexualization & Gender Stereotypes.
I read her note that says: “Pigtail Pals needs to become a corporate sponsor for this camp and redirect curriculum”. Huh, I thought. I actually used to run this community day camp the summer after I graduated from high school. What could have possibly become so awful about it?
Did you digest all of that? Let’s break this down:
Girls: For ages 4 and up, those girls whose dreams are wild and daring enough to be an “aspiring princess” get to go up to the school, sit in the gym, make capes and craft tiaras for themselves and their favorite doll, learn a princess dance, wear a princess dress, and attend a tea party and something of a debutante ball.
Boys: For ages 4 and up, Adventure Camp! They will explore Ravine Park, go fishing, sports day, Olympics day, they will venture away from the school gym and embark on safe adventures all around the village.
In fact, the boys will become such Masters of the Universe that they only meet at the school for the first day, after which their grandness takes them to locations and activities so exciting they cannot be named in the community newsletter.
Summer Camp for girls should look like this (images from Rachel Simmon’s Girl Leadership Institute, where even I want to be a camper!)
WHAT THE HELL HAPPENED TO SUMMER CAMP??? WHAT THE HELL HAPPENED TO SUMMER CAMP!!!
Girls sitting in a gym doing arts & crafts on what is really a glorified play date with princess dresses and tea parties DOES NOT a summer camp experience make.
What it does make is Stepford Wives. What of the girls who are ages 4 and up and do not aspire to be princesses or learn a princess dance? What of the girls who can kill it on the soccer field and rip into a softball? What of the girls whose eyes shine at the thought of adventure and tromping through the woods? What of the girls who enjoy the sound of waves lapping gently at the shore while they wait for a tug on their fishing line?
For that matter, what of the boys who are interested in textile and fashion design and prefer less testosterony, Gladiator-like afternoons? What of the boys who enjoy choreographed dance and storytelling?
This camp is held in the very small community I grew up in. I personally know ALL of the high school graduates from the last 15 years or so. And you know what? Not a single one of us gals grew up to become a freaking princess. Not a one. We grew up to become teachers, lawyers, investigators, social workers, doctors, mothers, business women, chefs, policy makers & legislators, finance and accounting gurus, artists, writers…you get the idea.
If girls want to play with dolls and have tea parties, that is darling. My own four year old daughter loves to seat all of her plush toys and dolls around a little table in her room and host an afternoon tea at which she serves buttons, pennies, and nickels. And she loves art. And dance. and storytelling.
She also loves sports. And fishing. And exploring and adventure walks and all of the things that this tiny village seems to think requires stratification between the genders. Couldn’t there have been a way to have Castle Camp (instead of Princess Camp), where the children of BOTH genders, design their own castles using recycled materials like boxes and paper towel rolls and construction paper? Or draw castle dragons and coat of arms on giant rolls of butcher paper? Create mosaic crowns? Participate in Royal Field Day where there are egg rolls and wheelbarrow races and waterballoon tosses? What about create a menu and songs for a castle feast where everyone dances after the dragon is captured?
And why does the exploration of Kohler Village necessitate the having of a penis? Couldn’t both genders attend Adventure Camp? I do not have a penis and I spent my entire youth getting eaten by mosquitos while I built forts in the woods, caught crayfish in Ravine Park, played soccer and baseball at Upper Lost Woods Park, and rode my bike to Woodlake to get ice cream and feed the fish stale bread.
Summer camp and the experiences it gives children for exploration, pushing boundaries, friendship making, leadership training, learning about nature, skill development, and overall providing of new opportunities should not be squandered and packaged into Pink and Blue Boxes.
We should never limit and label our children.
We should NEVER teach them to do it to each other.
Here are some other great posts about summer camp, and summer activities:
My Little Hen: “Be a Preservationist of Childhood Summers” Read here.
Rachel Simmons (with Michael Thompson: “Putting Camp In the Childhood Equation” Read here.
Parenting Pink: “Tips for a Fun & Productive Summer With Your Daughter” Read here.