Encouraging princess culture—however innocently—contributes to the sexualization of girls. Men can be part of the solution to the ‘princess problem.’
This may surprise the readers of the Good Men Project Magazine, but we’re part of a problem: the princess problem.
More and more experts recognize that “princess culture” does great harm to girls. I don’t know how many GMPM readers also read Redbook, but it’s worth checking out this story: “Little Girls Gone Wild: Why Daughters Are Acting Too Sexy, Too Soon.” In it, Peggy Orenstein (the author of the new and important Cinderella Ate My Daughter: Dispatches From the Front Lines of the New Girlie-Girl Culture), makes the case that a lot of the prematurely sexy behavior and dress we’ve all noticed is actually rooted in something we think is very innocent: the world of princesses.
You may balk—what’s sexy about a little girl in a pink princess costume? But sexy, as it turns out, is not the same thing as sexualized. Sexualization is not just imposing sexuality on children before they’re ready and viewing girls as sexual objects, but also valuing a girl for her appearance over her other attributes. “Princesses are just a phase,” Orenstein writes, but they mark a girl’s “first foray into the mainstream culture. … And what was the first thing that culture told her about being a girl? Not that she was competent, strong, creative, or smart, but that every little girl wants—or should want—to be the Fairest of Them All.”
This may be true, but how is it our problem as men? Many—maybe even most of you who are reading this—don’t have daughters. A lot of you aren’t dads at all. Whether you think little girls dressed up as Snow White are cute or not, what does the problem Orenstein describes have to do with you?
Well, for starters almost every man has—or will have—a little girl in his life. If not a daughter then a niece, a little cousin, your buddy’s kid, your son’s friend from playgroup. And if you care about the well-being of these girls, this issue of princess culture and sexualization matters to you. The bad news is, you may be part of the problem; the good news is, you can be part of the solution.
Thankfully, most men aren’t sexually attracted to prepubescent girls. But it doesn’t mean that we don’t have a very strong response when we see a 6-year-old dressed up as cute as can be. For men, complimenting older girls and women for their looks is often sexually charged and likely to get you in trouble. But as fathers, uncles, and others notice, little girls of princess age rarely have the same caution and suspicion about older men as their older sisters. Often transparent in their eagerness for attention and validation, they light up at praise. And no compliment is easier to give than “You’re so pretty.”
Five-year-olds in princess costumes are cute. But the problem is that the compliments we give as fathers, uncles, and coaches have an impact on the self-esteem of little girls. As they grow up, they realize quickly (certainly by age 8 or 9) that Cinderella costumes won’t cut it anymore. If they want to sustain the same level of attention that they had when they were adorable first-graders, they’re going to need to employ a different strategy: sexiness. And that sexiness gets our attention all over again.
Wait a minute, you’re thinking. I don’t leer at 10-year-olds in miniskirts. I don’t tell my niece that she’s hot. I wish girls would wait longer to be sexy! How am I part of this problem?
As Orenstein and others point out, little girls take their cues about what is desirable by looking at how boys and men respond to older girls and women. The father who lavishes adoration on “Daddy’s little princess” but ogles high-school cheerleaders is sending his daughter a clear message. The message is that the princess phase won’t last much longer, and if you want to grasp and hold adult male attention, you need to be sexy.
This sexiness has very little to do with sex, and everything to do with the craving for validation and attention. While all children want affirmation, princess culture teaches little girls to get that approval through their looks. Little girls learn quickly what “works” to elicit adoration from mom and dad, as well as from teachers, uncles, aunts, and other adults. Soon—much too soon—they notice that older girls and women get validation for a particular kind of dress, a particular kind of behavior. They watch their fathers’ eyes, they follow their uncles’ gaze. They listen to what these men they love say when they see “hot” young women on television or on the street. And they learn how to be from what they hear and see.
This doesn’t mean that good dads shouldn’t let their daughters dress up as princesses. It doesn’t mean that good dads, good big brothers, and good uncles should never, ever tell a little girl that she looks “cute” or “beautiful.” It does mean that those good grown men need to make sure that they’re also giving her plenty of compliments that focus on her other qualities, like her intelligence, her kindness, or her athleticism. But something else matters just as much: how we look at and talk about other girls and women.
Too many men do everything they can to protect adored daughters, nieces, and little sisters—while making little attempt to disguise their longing for other young women who aren’t all that much older than the child they cherish. Girls who are raised to see compliments as currency quickly learn that if they want to keep their praise flowing in, they’ll need to do more to “earn” it. And too often, they learn exactly how to earn it from by listening to the words and following the eyes of the men they love and trust most.
More From Our Special Marriage Section:
Even stellar relationships lose their spark over time; here are the ingredients of a lasting, fruitful partnership, and techniques for weathering the the stormy times: What Your Marriage Needs to Survive
When Tom Forrister transitioned from female to male, his same-sex marriage became a federally recognized, “traditional” marriage. The one constant was the bond he shared with his wife: My Exemplary, Everyday Marriage
As Gabi Coatsworth’s son’s bipolar disorder gave way to full-blown manic episodes, she watched her husband slip deeper into drink and detachment: Reading Between the Silences
For all the stories written by and for women on this issue—and there are few—men are more likely to be absent from the public dialogue about intentional childlessness. Why aren’t men’s stories also being heard? Two Is Enough
The nightmare of family court is enough to deter a guy from even thinking about tying the knot: Marriage: Just Don’t
If you’re married and using Internet porn regularly, your sex life—the one with your wife—is probably a lot less satisfying than it could be: How Porn Can Ruin Your Sex Life—and Your Marriage
Men are more promiscuous than women, but that doesn’t mean we should buy the cultural fallacy that men are programmed to cheat; the vast majority of men are happily, naturally monogamous: Are Men Natural-Born Cheaters?
Tom Matlack talks to married men to find out when they knew their wife was “the one”: She’s the One
Monogamy sounds like “monotony,” but it doesn’t have to be monotonous. Hugo Schwyzer explores how we can have the security—and the novelty—we desire in our relationships: Red-Hot Monogamy
—Photo by Siti Saad/Flickr
There is no more effective way to demoralize a young girl than to compliment her solely on the superficial characteristics over which she has no control and ignore those that are actually important such as strength, determination, perseverance, honestly, integrity, kindness, good judgement, compassion, etc. Likewise, praise for something someone is rather than what that person does is also demoralizing. “You are so smart!” says nothing about the effort or actions of the person in the same way “You’re so pretty!” does; looking deeper to appreciate the person and their journey takes a little more effort, but praise based on… Read more »
Becareful with praising kids on their achievements so as to avoid the child feeling pressure to keep achieving to be given praise. It can set kids up to feel their worth is in what they do ONLY. If a kid gets lots of praise for doing well on a test but doesn’t do well for the next few years, will they still get praise?
If we thought of the princess as a young Catherine the Great, that is, signficant because she would become a ruler, it wouldn’t matter much. The problem is the assumption that what is most important about her is the ability to attract male gaze.
I have seen alot of girls turn to drugs and alcohol. moltsy because of stress or because they are dealing with something in their life and they just want to get away from it all. Drugs and alcohol are a temperary getaway from reality, and when they come dow from the high or from that mini vacation in their mind, reality hits them even harder and they want to avoid that as much as possible, and thats why we have drug addicts and alcoholics. To them, they dont need friends because when the drugh and alcohol take over and they… Read more »
Hi Quinnlin, I’m a friend of your mom’s, too. My dtgehaur is also in Girl Scouts. She has changed troops three times. Like you, she loves Scouting and is now in a troop with girls who work together very well. I’m glad you stuck it out and found a troop with nice girls. It would have been easy to quit but you kept on. That is great! i hope you have a great Scouting year,Siobhan Wolf
It seems to me that a lot of female sexuality is based on being desired. True, female sexuality is much more nuanced and dynamic than that, but being desireable is a large part of it. Women may put on revealing clothes to feel “sexy”. Revealing clothes not on a body is not sexy. Revealing clothes are sexy because they are on a person presenting themselves as being desireable in some way. Is this bad? No, it is beautiful, ritualistic, and sexy. The other side of this coin is that men often respond to desiring, whether it be because of lots… Read more »
I think it’s troubling when some young women/girls about 15 or so end up with an adult body, wear makeup and clothing the same as adults (makeup makes them look older) and you end up with men seeing an 18+ year old woman whereas she’s really 15. Male sexuality is being triggered by their looks which is pretty normal but some pass for a lot older, I knew plenty of girls that age getting into clubs in this country (which is illegal and the bouncer can get into shit for). Some of these girls/women/whatever the appropriate term is are projecting… Read more »
I understand the problem. However, the world is full of problems and we cannot remove all the risk in the world. That is why it is so important for kids to have active and engaged parenting to help them navigate the risky situations. If you have a son or daughter who looks older than they are, they need to be warned about certain situations. When adults knowingly prey after kids and teens under 18, it is unconscionable. If an adult accidentally goes after someone who is not of legal age, I say tough shit for them. I’ve never seen a… Read more »
I’ve seen plenty of 15 year olds that can easily pass for 20+. The tough part is when 20-25’s go for the “looks 20” but is really 15, I don’t agree that they should be slammed by the law unless they knew he/she was underage. Of course to avoid this just avoid hookup culture, date someone for a while before having sex with them. There’s a big difference between predators and people making a mistake.
Right on. Since becoming the father of my Darling (7yo) Daughter, I’ve been uncomfortable with her being complimented only, or primarily, for her cuteness. I have always heard to never date someone who was called princess by her father. Also, I’m not a fan of what Disney represents. So, putting all this together, we’ve avoided the princess thing.
However, you raise some well articulated points. Thankyou.
(I’ve reposted this on my FB, Twitter, and Scoop.it feeds)
Gwalter, try Miyazaki films. http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0594503/ They’re popular and have female heroes and characters of all ages, great dialogue and animation. His characters are not sexualized and the female characters are not trying to get male attention but actually have real tasks at hand. I highly recommend Spirited Away, which won an Oscar and is #44 on IMDb’s top 250 films as ranked by voters. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0245429/ Really, all Miyazaki films are wonderful for boys and girls, but Spirited Away was my introduction to him. “Howl’s Moving Castle” and “My Neighbor Totoro” are also amazing films. I’ve bought all three for my… Read more »
Thought you might be interested in this page; Gender Neutral Parenting
I just posted this article there 🙂
I believe there are some things that both sides do not understand about this subject or that have possibly been forgotten in all the emotional volcano eruptions. The first is that there is an equal balance in responsibility between both men and women to raise the future generations. Both men and women, as teenagers or adults, have a large impact on children, no matter their gender. Women should be responsible as mothers and as single women by dressing appropriately. Why do we need to show off our bodies? Are we not always saying that our personalities and other important qualities… Read more »
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I would think providing young girls with genuine praise, rather than the Princess fallacy, would help them grow as people. In this age of equality why would girls be treated differently to boys?
I seems to me that this question ignores the central issue just to make this question viable. Sex is about reproduction, not recreation. For millions of years Males have been Conditioned to find the females desirable. In the more natural world any human female over 100 pounds is ready to breed. And ALL the Males are programed to find any such female sexually attractive regardless of the males age. Since he was expected to die at a young age any way. Its absurd to try and apply higher thought processes to this issue. its about reproduction. And your “Values” are… Read more »
Why do you keep capitalizing the M in male but not the F in female?
Emphasis I presume, similar to capitalizing the entire word.
“And your “Values” are not applicable.” if you are nothing more than a chimp, that’s all you, bud. leave the more intelligent men out of it. though really, it’s more likely just an excuse you like to use to avoid responsibility for yourself. so you CHOOSE to be a lower primate.
Mr Schwyzer, please go back to teaching you women’s studies you have noting to offer men or masculinity. Women are responsible for the way they portray themselves, and it’s is mothers who are abusing children in this way. It is women who want the right to portray themselves as sluts. You go girl do as you please. Yes men will look at women who want to flaunt there sexuality, its a power trip for women. So what? Women should then accept the responsibility and consequences and stop blaming men for their denigrating behaviour.
I am the founder of Princess Free Zone, Inc.–a site that offers an alternative to princess for little girls and a blog that discusses gender and gender stereotyping. I recently did a blog, co-authored with Lori Day, for the Huffington Post which is called, “Calling All Men”: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/lori-day/calling-all-men-join-the-_b_926078.html Men need to be part of the solution to stop the sexualization of little girls–for many reasons, but most of all because we are all part of the human race. This is not about women vs. man–it’s about people helping each other. I applaud Hugo for understanding the complexities of this issue… Read more »
Men help by calling women out of their slutty behavior instead of passively letting them act a fool pretending they can do no wrong. Men being men and speaking their mind instead of cowering for fear of appearing “too strong” is how do a better job of raising our daughters. Simple things like telling her to go upstairs and change her clothes or telling mom “my daughter is not wearing that outside this house”. The sexualization of little girls took place on feminist watch because their main concern was women being able to do whatever they want in this sphere… Read more »
Here is an pic that speaks to the very thing this article is talking about….
Thank you, Mr. Schwyzer, for this article. I bitterly wish my dad understood all of this when I was a younger girl. I am 24 now and still struggling with all the ways his behavior has negatively impacted me, both in terms of romantic relationships and my world outlook in general.
I want all men to understand that behaving in the way Mr. Schwyzer describes above raises strong fears and anxieties in young girls, setting them up for all kinds of problems later in life.
If anyone is to blame for the sexualization of young girls in terms of how they dress, it’s the parent who buys their clothes, the mother not the father.
This is the second time I have referred to your article on my site. Love it! We have an issue in Australia with child beauty pageants being introduced (from the US) in June. There are thousands of us protesting about this and we have organised rallies tomorrow, which will occur in each major city on the steps of parliament.
People used to not pay much attention to children, to childrens thoughts, perceptions, attitudes, comments, etc.,. Are we now being told that we should take a 4 year olds mental constructs into consideration before we look at the shapely calves on that hot young mama? Usually, when someone tries to use morality on me it comes out of their sheer hypocrisy.
indeed. why should the feelings or development or brain of anyone else in the world get in the way of Harry getting his rocks off? nothing is more important than Harry and his need to constantly eye-molest every female he deems “hot.” certainly we should structure all of our lives around Harry’s constant, all-day need to smear his eyeballs all over every woman who dare leave the house wearing anything other than a full-body parka.
Think about the whole deal behind the strory of “The Princess and the Pea”… The prince has a whole kingdom he is in charge of but he takes the time from his busy schedule to stack a dozen mattresses one on top of the other after having placed a single pea between the mattresses at the lowest rung, at the bottom of the heap; and lo, when the young woman whines, snivels and complains that her nights rest was ruined by some monstrous lump, the prince realizes that he has found his princess… a woman who will bitch about any… Read more »
Hey! Have you ever read the story? She has to “prove” she is princess by how sensitive her skin is, because the Prince’s mother does not believe the Princess when she says she is a Princess. Sounds to me like women are, yet again, made to compete to prove their worth.
I think you just did a really good job of pointing out how misogynistic and reinforcing of divisive stereotypes that story is, as so many fairy tales (and contemporary movies, sitcoms, etc.) can be.
Oops, meant that to Harry, not to reading is fundamental.
Exactly; how is it that men are responsible for the inappropriate conclusions that little girls draw? If a girl sees her divorced father checking out a store clerk’s cleavage and she draws the conclusion that her forty year old father likes cleavage, what the hell is that to her? If she feels like she can’t cut it cause she doesn’t have the same cleavage at 7 years old, well, maybe she’s got her wires crossed to begin with. Why would she be thinking about competing with a 30 year old clerk for her father’s attention in the first damn place?… Read more »
Omgawd Harry. You concluded the wrong point. It’s not that the little girl is in competition with the clerk. lol It’s that the little girl “learns” from the father gawking at the cleavage that SHE TOO one day will do as the clerk b/c she “learned” that is what a man wants to see. The father should be explaining to the little girl that the clerk should be “showing her goods to her husband at home”, not to ALL OTHER WOMEN’S HUSBANDS. That is teaching the little girl how she should be when she is a grown woman! Does that… Read more »
Well said luvin.life!
Actually, this video shows that WOMEN advocate and perpetuate the sexualization of minors.. and women are doing all the talking: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=plkeKMTDM9g
Sandra- there are plenty of creepy women out there.
Obviously you have the mental capacity of a carrot stick if you can’t grasp her point.
She said “here is a video that shows women rewarding princess culture.” That shows that women also participate in this structure, as women receive secondary benefits (i.e. benevolent sexism) when they comply with the culture that says women exist to be looked at.
That video did not say that men are not at all responsible for the objectification of women at all ages. That video did not prove that all, and only, women are responsible for it. Now, do you have less of a mental capacity than I, a carrot stick?
Don’t forget that the flipside of the “pretty princess” is the “knight in shining armor.” Men should watch out for the whole princess fantasy because it could put totally unrealistic expectations on that little girl’s relationships with other men in the future. The Princess habit can make life hard for men as well as women. I associate the ‘pretty princess’ act with someone who’s dependent, superficial, anti-intellectual, constantly starved for attention, incapable of acting or thinking independently, and looking for a man to be a savior. That’s bad for the little girl but it’s also bad for the men who… Read more »
Hello, I just wanted to say that sexualization seems to be becoming a very serious issue in our modern-day society with both psychological and physical effects on women and men, but especially on the more impressionable and vulnerable girls and boys. I would recommend this video on the topic https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jU2WzCjTkF4. It is informational and entertaining. It includes relevant modern-day examples of sexualization, and research on the consequences of this trend as well as suggestions on what to do. I would also like to say that I am not a parent nor am I a conservative, but I too feel strongly… Read more »
You are illogical.
Feminist hate the mainstream media.
What evidence do you have that corporate media is self described as feminist? Really, Rupert Murdoch and his ilk are feminist… Not a chance. Not a milli…
I bet you can’t proffer a single example of a mainstream media king describe himself as feminist.
I really wish that TLC would stop airing Toddlers & Tiaras. They are in serious denial if they think, sickos aren’t watching that show. It reminds me of one of my favorite scenes from Little Miss Sunshine. The dad is in the audience waiting for Olive to go on stage, and he flips out seeing how they’re sexualizing the other girls in the pagent. It’s not cute having your daughter go on stage made up like a 20 year old. If Toddlers and Tiaras show anything, it’s how these girls are pressured to live out their parent’s fantasy. Why is… Read more »
I have no idea where you got this notion from. I guess this is just a boys club, and women aren’t allowed.
Toddlers and Tiaras is one of the most disgusting things on television. I saw it once or twice in it’s first season…just because I wanted to see what everyone in my office was bitching about. Mothers screaming at 4 year olds to “pop [their] ass more” when dancing to J-Lo and screaming at them and shaking them because they were scared to sing in front of people is nothing but abusive. These narcissistic bitches are deluding themselves only when they squawk about how much their daughters “love” the pageants. There were children telling the camera guys that they did it… Read more »
I don’t think there is a single feminist who thinks Toddlers and Tiaras is cute. COMMENT FAIL.
FOR PETE”S SAKE: ” I get it… I am pissed off by men being portrayed by the media as idiots and buffoons. Look at all the ads during the superbowl and most sitcom dads. But those people who make those ads and make those sitcoms are other men. Why? Because they know it sells… Why does it sell? Because there are plenty of men who use ignorance or the appearance of it to their advantage. We would have more dignified images of ourselves if we took the time to realize that its other men who are abusing us and laughing… Read more »
SOme say that there are plenty of gay men in the industry who are responsible for the pathetic portrayals of straight men. I wouldn’t be surprised if I were to see a tire commercial in which a man sits at the curb crying uncontrollably while his 4 year old daughter ties his loose shoe lace, his wife changes the flat and his 12 year old son holds the family’s pet dog while sucking his thumb.
right, so it’s the gays now. gays are in charge of football ads. gays are in charge of writing commercials that rip all straight marriages. it must be the gays! if it’s not women, it must be the TERRIFYING HOMOS with their HOMO AGENDA. could never be another man, doing this to you. if you had to consider that reality, it would be…..insane, right???