Pirates and Princesses

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My niece and nephew last week participated in their nursery’s Pirates and Princesses day. Cue extremely cute picture of both of them together in their costumes. Ahhhhh! And can you guess who was the pirate and who was the princess? Of course you can…boy pirate and girl princess.

I’m not having a go at my sister for her choice of outfits, I imagine most of us would do the same, conforming wins! And I would not want to be the mother that forces her little boy (yearning to be the BEST pirate ever) into a princess dress to make a point. I have a little boy who LOVES cars, diggers and bulldozers, and probably, although I haven’t yet tested the theory, pirates! I’m well aware that a lot of toddler girls would LOVE to dress up as a princess. I don’t have a problem with that…I do recognise that there are differences between the sexes. It’s the lazy gender positioning of this dressing up day in ones so young that really bothers me.

My niece and nephew are 20 months and 3 years respectively.and I can’t help but feel that this dressing up day is another unnecessary little brick on their TALL tower of social expectation.  They are SO young; they are sponges ready to soak up society’s teachings. And what does this teach them? Girl = princess. Boy = pirate. It’s an extension of the gender filing we do from birth girl = pink, boy = blue / girl = dolls, boy = cars.

It’s also really divisive. Perhaps they didn’t notice being so young, but it will enter their consciousness at some point. I wonder if pirates and princesses played together that day? I know that my niece’s princess dress really hampered her climbing skills so she couldn’t get on the same slide that her brother, in his streamlined pirate gear, was throwing himself down.

True the 1 year old could have refused to put the princess outfit on and insisted on being a pirate (and actually she put up a pretty good fight about it apparently – she does love climbing!) but she’s 1. An articulate and reasonable argument about identity is not on her radar.

And nor should it be. Wouldn’t it be nice to bring up our children in a world where they could be what they want to be before, during and after they’ve even realised what that is! There is no denying that progress in equality has been made and maybe being part of a traditional sporting world where progress is slow means I’m sensitive to this sort of thing. But I still feel we are bringing our children up in a world governed by gender stereotypes. A princess and pirates day is a seemingly small but nonetheless powerful reminder of this.

So my conclusion to this one…Why not have a pirates day one month and a royalty day another? Show our children that we can be different to each other without being divisive.  Empower our children to make their own decisions about identity. Show them a world of opportunities. Give them the freedom to grow up in a society where expectations are not piled on them just because they are a boy or a girl.

“We must raise our daughters differently. We must also raise our sons differently.”
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

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18 thoughts on “Pirates and Princesses

    1. Thanks Debbie, no they didn’t…I imagine there would be complaints if they had! No, I’m not saying I think the problem is the nursery’s ‘fault’ exactly, it is just an example and a symptom of the wider (and sometimes subtle/under the radar) gender stereotyping that we are all just used to. As I say I might be a bit over sensitive to it!! x

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  1. Yes, that is not the best theme ever, is it? You’re right: the pirates day & a royalty day should have been separate, as pirates and princesses is just ramming two unconnected things together expressly to have a ‘boy’ thing and a ‘girl’ thing. Though, I will concede that the more thematically consistent ‘pirates & wenches’ would have been even worse!

    I find this issue quite difficult. I don’t want to encourage my girls to think that girls always have to be pink and princessy (unless they genuinely want to be). But, at the same time, I don’t want to be someone who forces her kids to to be different to their peers in order to support her own principles. Therefore, I’m not really sure where I am going to fall if the assumption is always that the girls be princesses, and my girls don’t want to be the odd ones out. Which, of course, is why it would be really good if nurseries didn’t encourage those presumptions!

    Incidentally, I know the solution to the pirate party problem: they should all have been told to dress as parrots! Obviously!

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  2. Thanks for commenting. I know exactly, it’s a conundrum with girls or boys i think. I would help my girl (if i had one) be a fab princess and my boy be a fab pirate if that’s what they want because they have to figure out their place for themselves. And actually making them be opposite to that isn’t any more helpful either I don’t think. I loved being the angel or the fairy in the school play, I get that. BUT it’s the lazy gender stereotyping of this sort of thing that doesn’t give anyone any wiggle room that i find unhelpful….As you v eloquently summarise it’s just shoving two unconnected boy/girl things together and they could have avoided the entire thing if they had just gone with parrots.

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  3. I agree that what’s needed here is a bit more imagination. I love the parrot suggestion! Why does there always have to be a “boy” and “girl” option? I have a little boy and get frustrated when shopping for him that the options are routinely pirates/dinosaurs or cupcakes/princesses.

    I like your “royalty” idea. They could also have “animals”, “fairytales” (loads of options in there), “under the sea”, “cartoon characters”, etc. If the theme is broad enough it should provide plenty of scope for children to have input on how “pink” or otherwise they would like their costume to be.

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  4. Just reading the title of your post got my gender freedom fists forming. I’m 100% with you. The one time I said no to my girls when they proposed a birthday party idea was when they wanted a princess one. What would the boys do, I asked? Couldn’t it be a princesses and princes party? They settled on superheros instead.

    Thanks for linking to #TwinklyTuesday.

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  5. Tsis reminds me of a childrens book completely aimed at 5 year old girls that I saw the other day in a little shop in a scottish hotel…it was called ‘who is scotlands prettiest princess’. It really riled me up! I definitely agree with you that a heck of a lot of girls would love to dress up as pirates! Thanks so much for linking up with #TwinklyTuesday

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  6. This does annoy me, especially for young children who are so impressionable. I agree that “fairytale” day or “storybook” day would give so many more options for self-expression.#TwinklyTuesday

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    1. That’s it isn’t it? They are so young and so impressionable that making all this part of what’s normal will just keep feeding ideas of gender stereotypes. Thanks for commenting, and seeing you has reminded me that I need (and want ) to get my book section more sorted so thank you!

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  7. Stopping by from Twinkly Tuesday on HDYDI. Gender stereotyping is one thing that makes my blood boil! I feel you 100%, particularly thinking about dress-up being suggested at such a young age.

    If you’re not familiar with it, the Pigtail Pals and Ballcap Buddies community on Facebook is a great one. The author began with a “Redefine Girly” campaign, but it extends to both genders.

    Thanks for sharing your perspective!

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  8. Pingback: MAD for a BiB |
  9. I completely agree that the dressing up is genderising unnecessarily. I would have preferred to be a pirate when I was younger than a princess. My favourite colour is blue and I love sports.
    I watched a programme in the early stages of pregnancy with J about how parents conform to gender stereotypes subconsciously and I was determined not to allow this to happen to my son. If he wanted dolls to play with so be it.
    However, I have been shocked to find how naturally he loves ‘boy’ stuff (as does my neice who he adores) they actually have more in common than my son and my nephew. He loves cars, diggers, fire engines, climbing and mud. He also loves music, reading and jigsaws, his fairy and That’s Not My Mermaid so I guess that I have tried and will continue to do so…

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    1. Ahh sweet! I’ve been really interested in my son too…he very unselfconsciously loves putting on tshirts and calling them dresses (saying he’s as pretty as a princess…I’m assuming this is a television reference!) and he loves his hairdressing set but from a young age diggers, wheels, tractors, building sites, fire engines were his absolute love. I think it’s lovely. What annoys me is when it’s forced and when we take away the freedom of little children and impose our own and our society’s stereotypes. Sounds like it was an interesting documentary. I do think though that we also create more opportunities for whatever the child shows the most interest in so will feed them that way and I don’t think that’s bad….there are after all some truths in stereotypes…the danger lies in blind acceptance of them. Thank you for commenting on this….i appreciate it, it’s an oldie! X

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