The Good Men Project Magazine is a great read for the modern man and tackles a lot of “everyman” topics, with varying degrees of success, as you may know from our other past references to them. This time around, Hugo Schwyzer hits and misses in talking about the “princess culture” of little girls. His view piggybacks a story from Redbook, (that piggybacks Peggy Orenstein’s book, “Cinderella Ate My Daughter“) which suggests that little girls dressing like princesses (and being praised for their beauty when they do) makes them seek equal attention as they mature, thus, turning them slutty – since sluts clearly get a lot of attention.
We’re going to go a little Inception here, because I’m talking about GMPS’ article, that’s talking about Redbook’s article, that’s talking about Orenstein’s book. Hopefully we don’t open a wormhole or sink everyone into everlasting limbo. But no promises. These are fathers’ issues after all. Wormholes are to be expected.
Schwyzer tiptoes the line a little, saying that that fathers, uncles and other male family members set these girls up for negative lives by telling their daughters that they look pretty when dressed as a princess. At the end of his article, he retracts a little, saying “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.” Schwyzer is, of course, right, to a degree. I don’t know so much about the fear-mongering of not telling your daughter that she’s pretty. We’ve been telling daughters that they’re pretty princesses for relatively forever now, and we’ve come far enough know that it’s wrong to use Disney’s female characters as the milestone for femininity. But the last thing we need is to be afraid to call the most cherished girls in our lives “pretty”. We’re already afraid to show signs of affection in public. Don’t take away the joy our kids get when we let them know that we love them.
On the other hand, the Redbook article’s final conclusion was that us, as responsible parents (mother or father) are the active factor. If media is selling kids an ideal, we need to be the other voice in their head, in their face, pulling them back to reality. We’ve got to explain what kids are seeing and asking them what they think it all means. In the Redbook article, author Rachael Combe recounts another mother’s conversation with her daughter over Katy Perry’s “California Gurls” and what the lyrics actually meant. Kids will sing a song a million times without ever thinking about it – and will subconsciously become, well, Miley Cyrus. It’s our jobs as parents to stand in the way of it all and make sure no one becomes Miley Cyrus.
In many ways, Schwyzer’s point is just a man’s introspective take on the Redbook conclusion, but it feels almost as if he’s ignoring the outward-responsibility angle. He says men are great at protecting their own young daughters, but then will turn around and leer at a girl that is roundabout the same age as the girl he was just protecting. Schwyzer never makes that leap to saying “get in your kid’s head” until the end, where it becomes an afterthought. You get the idea that Schwyzer’s saying – girls are learning to be sluts, there’s sluts everywhere, they’re all circling outside like slutty vultures and will eat your child alive with their loose vaginas, and oh, you should tell your daughter she’s intelligent. It takes more than just complimenting your daughter or niece on her finer skills to rescue her from getting a bachelor’s degree in the promiscuous arts. Schwyzer, I think, never gives fathers credit for working against a slut-based system of television and music that’s engineered by advertising dollars. With the whole world hell-bent on making little girls hit puberty fast and then never mentally mature, I would have hoped to hear him suggest we, as fathers, do what we’re best at – kickin’ in some teeth.
Sigh. So what, as a father, do you do? The answer lies in what all three authors – Schwyzer, Combe and Orenstein – seem to get at. You take care of your kids and keep your head on a swivel for crap from the outside world. You don’t let Miley Cyrus or Katy Perry mother your kids. And as a father, don’t you be caught googling pictures of either one of those women or your daughter will think she’s got to look like them in order to get noticed by boys.