Princess Party Redux

The Princess Party has come and gone and Ruby is none the worse for wear.  Despite the omnipresent generic princess decor, Ruby has yet to ask to be saved from any dragons (although she does need rescuing from the occasional uncooperative button).

Pretty Passive Posing Princess Pastry<br>(yes, that's a cake)

Pretty Passive Posing Princess Pink Pastry (yes, that's a cake)

Ruby chose to dress in her bee costume (her other option was ladybug) and she was the only non-princess among the half-dozen girls.  But crinoline and satin bodices notwithstanding, it was about what you’d expect from a gather of three- and four-year-olds: chasing, screaming, stickers, face painting, and juice boxes.  Ruby made the most of being a bee among the lilies of the kingdom and spent her time chasing everyone around.  She didn’t seem to mind that she was the only non-princess among the girls.  The fact is, I really wasn’t worried so much what she would think — it was the parents I was worried about, and what they’d think of the dork who brought his kid in a bee costume to the princess party.

Which brings us to the best part of the whole experience: spending time with Ruby’s classmates and their parents.  I only get to make a very brief appearance at Ruby’s school once per week before rushing off to catch a bus, and so I don’t get much opportunity to chat with the parents or get to know them or their kids.  But Ruby is going to be spending lots of time around these people for the next few years, and she’ll be invited to more birthdays, playdates, and the like.  It was good for me to have some pleasant conversations with several of the parents and get to know them a bit better.

The Bee Gets A Bee

The Bee Gets A Bee

p.s. The decor (princess decals strewn about the house) and a Princess Pageant Castle Cake did confirm my earlier conception of the Princess meme (or at least the way it is marketed).  These ladies do nothing but stand around — can’t one of the them hop on a horse, pull out a book, or even, you know, walk somewhere?  Even a model’s strut would be a step up from the static subvervient pose these princesses present.

Pretty Pretty Papa Princess

It was bound to happy sooner or later. Try as we might to shield Ruby from the infectious outside world, we knew that eventually she’d be exposed.  Sending her to preschool only increased the odds, and now, finally, it has happened:  she’s been invited to a Disney Princess Birthday Party.

original by flickr user PinkMoose

original by flickr user PinkMoose

Kate and I both anti-princessification, for reasons I’ve mentioned before. Looking at the cheap invitation (printed at home, not Officially Licensed Merchandise) a whole new objection sprang to mind: they’re posers.  Literally — all they do is pose.  They’ve been stripped of their original, entertaining and worthwhile myths and stand inactive and vacant. Instead of watching their actions, you should just watch them…  as they do nothing.  Added to our original objections over the cultural appropriation, incessant marketing, pressure to conform, and rigid gender roles and segregation, and you can guess how we want to RSVP.

But ultimately, we decided she should go. These are friends she sees at school every day and it’s good for her to also see them outside of school.  And she’ll be exposed to the princess culture whether we like it or not, so at least one of us can go along and frame her experience in ways that we think are important.

Still, we’re not going down without a fight.  And so, gender roles and pretty princesses be damned, it is I who will be escorting Ruby to the Disney Princess Birthday Party. I won’t be surprised if I’m the only non-related adult male in attendance.

Actually, I’m kind of looking forward to it. Ruby is just starting to learn how to play with (instead of alongside) her peers and it’s a pleasure to watch her social skills develop. I don’t get many opportunities to watch her play with her schoolmates — complete strangers (to me) she’s developed complex personal relationships with. It’s fascinating to see her trying to flex her leadership muscles, or be polite and kind, or be totally socially oblivious.

I’m sure Ruby will have fun, and I’ll do my best around the grown-ups, and this little foray into the world of princesses will soon be forgotten amidst our summer of swimming and building and jumping and thinking.

Oh, and the invitation encourages children to wear costumes. Do you think Princess Ladybug will work?

More on Princesses

Kate’s Mom sent us a very good article from the NYT about the Princess trend. I expect to be dealing with a lot of the issues raised in the article over the next few years.

This paragraph from the article sums up my objections pretty handily:

“Playing princess is not the issue,” argues Lyn Mikel Brown, an author, with Sharon Lamb, of “Packaging Girlhood: Rescuing Our Daughters From Marketers’ Schemes.” “The issue is 25,000 Princess products,” says Brown, a professor of education and human development at Colby College. “When one thing is so dominant, then it’s no longer a choice: it’s a mandate, cannibalizing all other forms of play. There’s the illusion of more choices out there for girls, but if you look around, you’ll see their choices are steadily narrowing.”

Don’t Think Pink

We’re anti-pink in our household. It’s not just that we don’t like the color (which, for the most part, we don’t). It’s also one front in our battle against the princessification of our daughter. We want Ruby to be an independent thinker. We want her to experience every color of the rainbow, and then decide for herself which one is her favorite.
DaddyTypes posted about this today:

The answer: far less than 2.5 years.

The question: how long before your soul is crushed and your kid’s soul is stolen by the whole pink-blue steamroller?

Don’t get me wrong, I still think it’s worth resisting, and truth be told, we decided to let some pink into the kid’s life early on, rather than burn 75% of the gifts she receives. It’s a losing battle, but it’s not like you can just stop fighting and turn your kid over to the Disney Princess-o-lizer.

The source of the frilly pink-for-girls hegemony in our culture is still a mystery, and frankly, the first couple of waves of feminism haven’t really helped clear things up–or stem the tide, for that matter. My money’s on, well, money. Somewhere behind and under and at the root of it all is gender-coded capitalism, with products and marketing and design that are designed to reinforce gender-specific roles, but only/really as a means to a sale-making end.

Or turned around, if people didn’t buy more pink Pottery Barn kitchen toys, Pottery Barn wouldn’t be making and flogging it. If Toys for Boys and Toys for Girls weren’t a more profitable segmentation strategy, someone in the increasingly desperate toy industry would surely figure out a better way to separate you from your money.

With respect to the last paragraph, above, I think the inverse is also true: people wouldn’t be buying it if Pottery Barn wasn’t making it. The gentrification of the American shopping experience means that every mall has more-or-less the same assortment of national chains. To maximize profit, each of those chains attempts to find the fewest number of things with the broadest appeal to their designated market segment. Pink sells, so they sell pink. People buy pink because pink is for sale.

Stores also sell pink because it is a safe, easy choice. Is green a girly color? How light can the shade of green be before it’s effeminate? Can girls wear brown? Beige? By dividing everything into blue and pink, stores make our shopping experience quick and painless.

The best way we’ve found to spare our eyeballs from pink overload is to avoid shopping at the mall altogether. Local destinations such as our favorite used clothes and toys store and the Cotton Caboodle outlet store ensure that Ruby’s sense of style is preserved intact for her to enjoy when she’s older.

Hope for the Princesses

Ruby and I went down to the park yesterday.  She rolled around on a blanket while I kicked a soccer ball around the field.  After I’d been there a while, a few girls (maybe 10 or 11 years old?) came by and started playing a game.  Guess what they were playing?

FOOTBALL.

There were no boys or parents to impress or goad them on.  Just three girls who figured the best way they could spend a sunny fall afternoon was tossing the pigskin around the park.  Awesome.