“Mommy, do you want to know what I wished for the udder day when I threw dat penny in the fountain?” C.J. asked. He was freshly bathed and laying in my bed, on his back, with his arms up and folded behind his head. He smelled like his Disney Princess wild strawberry soap. He was watching his favorite television show, Jessie.
“What did you wish for?” I asked as I bustled about cleaning the house for the cleaning lady who would arrive the next morning. God forbid she see our real mess.
“I wished that I could be Princess when I grow up,” he said.
“You did, huh?” I said as I hung up four of my hoodies that had formed a heap on my hope chest. I could never keep my room clean as a child and can’t now as an adult.
“Are princesses real?” C.J. asked as his dad entered the bedroom.
“No,” C.J’s Dad replied.
“Yes,” I replied at the same exact moment.
“Which one is right? Mommy, cause mommy is always right,” C.J. said.
“No, princesses are not real,” C.J.’s Dad said looking at me. “Why are you telling him that princesses are real?”
“Because they are real! Kate Middleton. Hello?!” I said, unable to comprehend how he could be arguing against fact. I had to stop cleaning immediately to tend to this dispute.
“Yeah, but, she’s not really a princess,” C.J.’s Dad said.
“Are you kidding me?! Tell that to the Queen!” I was in shock.
“She’s not a princess like C.J. thinks a princess is,” he said defending our son and feeling like I was leading him astray.
“She’s a real princess and the kind of princess that he should aspire to be more so than the Disney princesses,” I argued.
I realized that C.J. was now sitting up in bed watching us argue. We rarely argue in front of him and his brother, but here we were doing it….about the proper representation of a princess as it relates to our five-year-old son’s future aspirations. Moments like these don’t happen in other houses with only sons, do they?
C.J.’s Dad was standing his non-princess ground.
“C.J., there are princesses in real life, but they aren’t like the Disney Princesses or Princess Peach or the other princesses that you know,” I explained. “Here, let’s go look on the computer.”
How did parents explain anything to their kids before the Internet?
I showed him a picture of Princess/Duchess Kate Middleton from around the time of her engagement.
“She’s pretty, but she’s not a princess,” he said wrinkling up his nose. I got lost in her perfect hair. How can a person have consistently perfect hair? I had perfect hair once recently. While out the other night I ran into Willam Belli. Yes, THE Willam Belli from RuPaul’s Drag Race. He told me my blow out was great. When one of the most famous drag queens in America tells you that you have a “great” blowout, you don’t wash your hair for three days. This I know.
I found a picture of Princess Kate on her wedding day.
“There she is dressed fancy, with her prince,” I said.
“Dat’s better,” C.J. said, shaking his head in approval.
“But we live in the United States and in the United States we don’t have kings and queens and princes and princesses. We have presidents,” I explained.
I pulled up a photo of President Obama and showed it to C.J. He looked at the photo on the screen and whipped his head back to look at me with a face that said “you’ve got to be kidding me, that’s so boring compared to a monarchy.”
“How far away are the real princesses?”
“Farther than tornadoes?” (He’s scared to death of tornadoes, but feels better knowing that they occur far away from where we live in California.)
“Yes, princesses are much farther away than tornadoes.”
“Dat’s far,” he said looking longingly at the photo of Will and Kate on their wedding day.
I turned off the computer and put my clean boy to bed in my moderately clean house, which would be much cleaner in 24 hours.
I put myself to bed and thought about questions that I’m asked quite often.
If I had a little girl, would I allow her to play with princess toys, read princess stories and watch princess movies? Yes. Would I want her to aspire to be a princess? It depends on your definition of a princess. A princess who is helpless without the aid of a man, who has no ambitions of her own and whose most important journey in life is finding true love? No. A princess who is an educated do-gooder who is treated kindly and as an equal by her partner who stands up for the causes dear to her heart and who has a killer blowout? Sure.
Am I treating my fictitious daughter and my gender nonconforming son differently? If so, is that okay? Would I treat my child’s fantasies differently based on their gender? It’s something I pondered as I drifted away to dreamland.
As someone who has studied gender and sexuality, I can understand your concerns with exposing C.J. to Disney princesses. I understand the differences in perception of what makes a princess—it could easily mean Kate Middleton or one of the classic Disney princesses, and these obviously have very different implications. I do think that it’s important to consider the lessons your son will take from Disney films, especially concerning gender expectations. Personally, I think that the more recent Disney films are a bit better in the messages that they are portraying. I also don’t think that you can make comparisons between C.J. and the daughter that you don’t have. As I’ve learned from reading your blog, C.J. is very much his own person so I doubt he would be so similar to a daughter of yours anyway. Answer his questions as they come and continue just doing your best. C.J. and his brother sound like wonderful children and much of that is a reflection of your parenting abilities. It’s been a joy to read your blog over the last few months. Best wishes!
Have you ever read CJ the book “the paperbag princess”? Now THERE’S a princess we should all aspire to be like!
You’re my favourite mother EVER 🙂
BTW Princess’ are real. Tell your husband that in my community we have a whole lot of them, from Marie Louise of Prussia to Bea d’Auersperg and the late Princess of Broglie lived across the street. Princess Soraya of Iran lived 20 minutes down the coast road. They come in all shapes and sizes 😉
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Being locals to Disneyland, princesses are common in little Bean’s lifestyle. Her second birthday will also be princess themed. I was nicknamed Princess for several years as a little girl, but didn’t realize the negative connotation until I was older and heard “Princess” and “Brat” interchanged loosely. The Disney princesses are just as strong as their hero princes. The princesses all hold a high regard for helping others, and believe in optimism. If that’s what a princess is about, then shouldn’t we encourage that in both boys and girls? By associating princesses with those qualities rather than material objects, aren’t we just instilling morals and hope? Sure there is a lot of glitz, glam, and perfection associated with the ladies, but does that mean we should also only show kids average looking, slightly overweight role models? All of the Disney movies and characters are open to interpretation, but why dictate and censor classic characters when you can use them for improvement and examples of positivity?
I fell in love with the way of your being such an inspiring mother. I admire your desire to let Your chid be who he is and not directing him to fit his being into the traditincional categories. You are so lucky for having such a unique son whose gender characterizations defies all the known gender grouping. I thank you for sharing this inspiring story.
“Yes, princesses are much farther away than tornadoes.” <— LOL! I love the way adults have to phrase answers to children's questions.
I hope this isn't presumptuous, but you have a simply fabulous life, I must say. Maybe not an easy one, sadly, but that's no fault of yours. CJ really is lucky, and I hope more kids like him have mothers like you to support them, as the world continues to shift in levels of tolerance and acceptance.
You could always just explain the role of a Princess in a modern constitutional monarchy, but I’d recommend trying that just before nap time.
You have right aspirations for him – that he be compassionate and caring and full of fire to do what he feels like he needs to do. “Princess” is a state of mind, not just a title. ;P
I remember when I was little, being really smitten with the idea of princes – but not because I wanted one; I wanted to BE one. I couldn’t get past this awesome image of wearing shining armor and riding up on a big beautiful horse and making a princess swoon. Princes are noble and chivalrous, the epitome of “admirable”, and all the princesses love them, although seven-year-old me did not know the word chivalrous and had a hell of a time explaining all this to my poor exasperated mother, who was burnt out trying to keep up with the demands of two little girls, one who wanted to be a princess when she grew up (my sister), and one who wanted to be a prince.
My point, of course, is that other households have equally odd-seeming scenarios play out when their gender-creative kids begin adopting role models. As always, you’re doing a bang-up job, Mom, and I have the utmost confidence in you and in CJ! ❤
Such a great post! I totally admire your strength. I like to think that I would be okay with my children no matter how they choose to live their lives. Its refreshing to hear that someone is willing to let her son be who he is and not try to change him based on societal norms!
I love this blog. There are all kind of awesome and real princesses – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marie_of_Edinburgh – some who work as nurses during wars, even though they’re royalty. These are the kinds of Princesses I want to grow up to be. Just as long as I get a prince like Carl Phillip of Sweden, somewhere in there…
Do your sons watch the Cartoon Network show Adventure Time? That show has the loosest and most fun definition of princesses out there. There’s a muscle princess, slime princess, ghost princess, hot dog princess and more. That show seems to be popular across all spectrums of gender, probably because it is created by such charming young men and women.
Honey, he may not be just a princess one day, but a Queen! *snaps fingers* I think it’s great you’re embracing this side of him if he truly grows up to be that way. It’s definitely what kids and even teens need as they “figure out” what they are, or already know and are afraid and ashamed to confess it.
AND you’re writing is amazing! You should consider making this blog a book one day! You’d help millions of parents while being entertaining 🙂
I am the SAME WAY with the little girl I nanny. She is 4, and loves all things Barbie and Disney princess and such. I, of course, hate all that stuff. I tell her all the time, Olivia, you never wait for anyone to rescue you. You do it yourself. Her brother said once, Olivia is the princess, and I am the prince and I will rescue her. I said, no, she doesn’t need your help. He looked very confused and told me, well, she’s a princess. That’s what they do.
It’s an uphill battle, because Disney will always portray princesses as helpless girls with perfect hair who only want to get married to their perfect prince, and Barbie will always be a blond, skinny girl who only aspires to be an actress.
I’m so jealous you met willam! I love him and am so sad he got booted! I can’t wait to find out what rule he broke.
Ditto to rayandskye – ‘You are the best.” as my younger (gender traditional) son always tells me. I am pleased that both of my sons know how much I love and accept them just as they are.
You are a really good writer! Love the way you tackle these everyday incidences in your life and in your writing.
I love your posts, your family, your way of respecting your children. I was a non-gender-conforming child and teen and struggled with the denial of my mother and her emotional un-availablity throughout my life with her. Now I am an individual who has made peace with the truth my own mind, body and spirit and have taken the first steps towards gender “re-assignment” (which a dear friend calls “emergence”, which I feel is much more accurate and is a beautiful way to honor the very real difference between “sex” and “gender”). I am 41 years old. I understand my mother now but there is still some bitterness and anger for me when I think upon my childhood… I have come to accept, however, that *she* could only accept what she could understand and there were no t.v. talk shows, or documentaries, or open discussion panels about this in the 70s. My grew up strictly Catholic and she grew up in a very repressed family environment ~ traditional Western gender roles and expectations were deeply ingrained in her. I tell you all of this just to illustrate my gratitude for you and for your way of honoring your son: it is clear that, no matter where is truth may ultimately take him, you will love him and empower his happiness and well-being. Families like your help me heal my past and envision a hopeful future. God Bless you all!
i wanted to be a JAG when i was growing up. weird how things can change.
I also love this post! I’m going to be a new parent for a nine-year-old boy and your post has given me so many great things to think about. Thank you so much for sharing.
Reblogged this on homeytips and commented:
Such a moving post, Kate Middleton does seem to be the Princess we should all aspire to be, no matter te distance.
Your posts always almost bring me to tears. I love the way you’ve fostered the relationship you have with your “rainbow”
I have a gender conforming daughter and I struggle with this, too. I HATE the message of the whole princess thing.
And then, I rush to buy all the rags about Duchess Kate, all the while knowing my hypocrisy.
I don’t have children, and don’t plan on ever having them, but I love this post. I love the questions you ask yourself and the way you write. I like the idea of just discussing everything.
My daughter aspires to be a princess. I’m with you. You want to be a strong, smart princess, be my guest. Some weak willed thing chasing after a man? No. But, luckily, the princess thing is a phase. Since he’s already watching Jessie (great show!) he’ll probably be out of it soon! I don’t see a problem with indulging a child’s imagination, as long as they know that real boys and girls are smart and strong and independent, etc. Love your blog, as usual!
LOVE ur blog. So glad u found it.
Great post! Our son will frequently prefer conventionally feminine things, and my husband tries his very best to break him of it, but I recently confronted him with the following question:
If we had a daughter, would you be upset if she played with toy trucks? Or wanted to play baseball?
The answer was no. The double standard there is pretty frustrating, especially when my son’s happiness hangs in the balance. Sure, it may only look like a baby doll or a pink shirt, but to him, it’s much more than that.
wonderful question asked of your husband, at least he was honest with his response because that’s the real way this culture looks at it. It’s one of the main things that if we are ever able to progress that has to change. In my view, this is a deeply rooted belief that women, and women related things are frou-frou, and eye candy at best, and of such secondary status as to not merit serious consideration. But men stuff practiced by everyone is the goal and the only rightful one to pursue. Hopefully your husband was one to really think about the question and his answer and to reflect about where he ever got that idea. More to the point where did the collective WE ever get that idea? Did the feminist movement create a little monster in the plan unwittingly?
anyway, as always, a great post. Media has so influenced us, that they only real princesses, and princes too are all the cartoon versions. When you look at the artists rendering, then look at the normal everday princess it is easy to see the let down of the princess dream. How much else then have they influenced to the detriment because we have lost the art of conversation and discussion to explore meanings.
Also thanks to Pablito for bringing Tim Wise into the mix as he sounds like the type of person my mother was. I’ll be sure to look him up.
As empowering as the feminist movement was/is, and despite all the good that movement has done, I think it has definitely inadvertently cast traditionally feminine things into a subclass, far lower on the totem pole than what is considered conventionally masculine. Unfortunately, the feminist movement focused so much on the, “anything men can do, women can do” philosophy that the thought of men doing what women conventionally do is borderline inconceivable to some people. The way I see it, what’s good for the goose is good for the gander, and if wearing a hot pink ensemble while toting his baby doll is what makes my son happy, then that’s what I’ll encourage.
I o think it is OK to let a 5 year old continue to have a dream about becomming a princess. I think I dreamt about that untill I was 16 (had a crush on Prince William). Now I am a journalist in a national newspaper. Isn’t having unrealistic dreams part of what it is to be a child? When I grow up I am going to have a pink castle, 6 horses and a swimmingpool in the bed room?
That said, I do live in Norway, a monarchy with real princesses. When my daughter (who is 5) and my son (who is 2 and insisted on wearing his sisters Very Hungry Caterpillar dress to kindergarten yesterday)starts talking to me about princesses. I explain to them that yes they are real, and yes they might be princesses one day if they marry the prince, but in real life that truly is a very boring job.
In Norway we have prince Sverre who is 6 and princess Ingrid who is 8.
She is oldest, so if we still have a monarchy when her father dies, she will be a queen. I
explain to the children that if she likes to cook and wants to work in a restaurant, she can’t.
If she likes flowers and wants to be gardener, she can’t. If she wants to be a nurse, a lawyer, a journalist, a doctor, she can’t.
All the children in her class can choose the life they want. She can’t.
Because her granddad is the king.
If she doesn’t like to be taken pictures of it is too bad. If she doesn’t like crowds it is too bad. If she doesn’t like taking to strangers too bad.
That is a realistic view on the life of current princesses. Suddenly it’s not that attractive to my kids anymore.
My 5 year old daughter wants to be the tooth fairy when she grows up and my 3 year old son wants to be Rapunzel.
I have no answers!! 🙂
Ps. Do you think our sons are trying to tell us they want to be girls when they grow up? Or am I reading way to much into it.
It could be, certainly, but it’s as likely that they want the perceived freedom to be different, to be exciting, to wear bright colors, and so on.
Look objectively at some of the gender stereotypes – men have to all look alike, go away to jobs that are either boring (or unintelligible to a child) or dangerous (if they are exciting) while women get to be interesting.
I’m a male-identified gay male, and while I had my Barbie phase, she and GI Joe were doing Star Trek and Lost In Space (though, admittedly, I had to make the costumes), so I was unintentionally if not gender non-conforming in the sense usually used in this blog, at least gender-nonstandard, in the days before there were any action figures besides GI Joe. But even though I never wanted to be a girl or behave like a girl, I sure as heck saw some of the freedoms the girls had that I didn’t. (While, of course, being oblivious to the freedoms I had that they didn’t.)
My son wants to be a princess too. Or save the cheetahs. I’m very glad that I found your blog.
That’s a great memory and question, but don’t feel as if other families do not have vexing, weird or even off the wall questions to answer for their kids. They do. WE do. But, no matter what, we love the weird little creatures . . . I mean kids.
I love it that you allow your son to be who he is, and you love him just the way he is. He will grow up with a good sense of self because of it. He sounds like an awesome little person!
Great post! I love reading your blog
I let my daughter fantasize about being a princess. Why not? Fantasy play is wonderful for the self image. She likes fairies more than she likes princesses (although she has a lot of Barbie animation DVDs) She LOVES Tinkerbell more than Barbie or princesses. Once, she hit her head hard on a gate, and with just a little bit of hugging, she was all better…She’s like that. When I said she was very brave, she replied with, “I know. Bravery is one of my talents” She got the “talent” idea from Disney’s Tinkerbell. So, Disney has a few redeeming qualities. However, when she grows up, she wants to be a marine biologist, a brain surgeon, or a waitress. As long as she’s happy and feels good in her skin, I’ll back her on anything she wants to be.
Oh and I agree with rayandskye…Your posts are always so entertaining as well as thought provoking. Love it.
I’d rather one of my boys aspire to the Kate Middleton version of being a princess than the Disney version!
During the Inaugural Ball, Michelle Obama wore a wonderful gown and danced with the President to a serenade by Beyonce. Hope the scene meets with your young man’s approval. Brief fairytale moment before President Bush’s financial crisis and impending auto industry crash got dumped on the new president’s desk. http://english.sina.com/world/p/2009/0121/213286.html
We had encyclopedias instead of Internet. I let my girl a d my boy aspire to whatever they wanted. My girl wanted to be a truck, and my boy wanted to be a train conductor. Now they are teens they are a forensic scientist and nano scientist wannabes. My point being, does it matter? CJ will change his mind a hundred times before he decides. Bottom line is, just support, he will figure it out 🙂 FYI, I still want to be a princess!
Absolutely ok. My mom always said “boy, girl, gay, straight, dog, cat and everything in between….equal in love, but love them individually and uniquely.”
This is deep stuff here. You know, when I taught Pre-K, I thought nothing of my babies and their Princess obsessions. But, as much as I love Disney, a lot of the “bad” messages I got about being a woman came from there. I sometimes still feel betrayed that my prince never came, and that my fairy godmother is VERY late. I think the lesson you got out of this for C.J. would be just as useful for a daughter, and I am glad he knows life is not a fairy tale. I wish someone had taught it to me.
I totally agree with you on the whole princess thing, I would’ve handled the whole situation in the same fashion.
I would kill to have met Willam, I just love her and her whole attitude.If Willam told me that my hair was awesome I would’ve taken hundreds of pictures, I wouldn’t have washed it for three days nor slept on it.
Also all of your links on the pages are acting like email address hyperlinks.
Thank you for this post. I struggle with those issues as well. At one level, gender creative/non-conformers challenge gender stereotypes. In other ways, they perpetuate them.
I usually follow the direction I get from an early and influential anti-racists, Tim Wise. His “rule?” in his house is, you can watch anything, BUT, there will be a discussion about what you watched. He has a great story about when his child watched Pocahontas. Google Tim Wise, if you want to be blown away by a great …and Caucasian… anti-racist ally.
“At one level, gender creative/non-conformers challenge gender stereotypes. In other ways, they perpetuate them.” Totally agree, Pablito. I have to admit, that was the one thing that bothered me about CJ loving princesses – the Disney princesses that are out there are not good role models. I have the same issue with my daughter. I don’t want her to aspire to be Snow White or Sleeping Beauty. Fiona or Merida are much better examples of cartoon princesses, in my mind. Or, like Karyn @ kloppenmum says: “I’d rather one of my boys aspire to the Kate Middleton version of being a princess than the Disney version!” In wrestling with how to manage this issue with my daughter (especially since I’m somewhat gender non-conforming myself – I don’t wear dresses, don’t wear much make-up or jewelry, don’t like pink, never into princesses – although none of that stuff should have anything to do with actually BEING a girl), I found Pigtail Pals. It’s about Redefining Girly. It might give you some ideas for CJ. You won’t have any hassles there about him, either. http://www.pigtailpals.com, with a store, blog, and FB page.
I absolutely love reading your posts!