Greer, Glitter and Guns

I went to see Germaine Greer last night. She said a lot of good stuff and she said a lot of stuff that made me and my friend look at each other and pull the “what’s she on about?” face.

Anyway, at the end of it all, one lady asked a question that really made me sit up and listen: What does Germaine think of the whole ‘princess’ phenomenon amongst little girls? She had a granddaughter and was worried about her princess obsession.

Germaine says she’ll grow out of it, apparently. Her advice was not to pander to it, not to let it go underground and also to ask her to look at the lives of real life princesses and ask if she wants to end up like them.

It made me think about something that I’ve been wondering about for a while: how the heck do you manage if you’ve got a girl?!

You want your little one to fit in, but you really don’t want them to fall into the princess trap. I read with interest this post last week by Mammasaurus, who is fed up of companies like just-ate-a-cupcake-and-puked-on-my-shoes footwear manufacturer Lelli Kelly marketing to children (warning: keep the sound down when you watch the ad.) What would I do if I had a little girl who wanted light-up hair extensions and lilac eyeshadow (other than puke on my shoes?)

Of course, they do grow out of it at some point – hopefully they won’t be wearing a highly flammable dress in the style of Disney’s Snow White to the high school disco. But then there’s a whole host of other stuff to worry about, like that Rihanna video where she appears to take E in a field, enjoys some blow backs from her fella and lets him tattoo ‘Mine’ on her arse. (I do actually like that song.) (But not the monologue at the beginning by Aggynessse Deaeeine.)

Then there’s the fact that The Sun is (still, despite everything) the most purchased newspaper in the UK, which means an awful lot of girls are growing up thinking having big tits and looking tiny in a bikini, being a “TV babe” and taking back a bloke who’s treated you like dirt are all things to aspire to.

It all just seems really scary.

Then again, as Greer pointed out, we frighten girls by telling them they cannot go out on the street in case they get attacked, but boys are getting attacked. Every weekend, grown men get killed or injured in bar or street brawls. And boys want to go in the army. I want my son to be happy and I’ll support him whatever he decides to do and all of that, but if he ever wanted to join the army, my heart would break. He has never asked for a games console or a toy gun, but I know he probably will one day. I’m not particularly fond of football, but Tom loves going to the match with his Auntie J. It’s a real treat for him and it means he doesn’t feel left out when the other boys talk about it at school. I’ll just have to deal with the fact Wayne Rooney is apparently his favourite player.

I suppose it doesn’t matter whether your child is a boy or a girl – there’s always stuff to worry about. It’s just being a parent. You have to work it out, compromise here and there and hope they work things out in the end.

But how do you cope with demands for Lelli Kelly?

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14 Comments

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14 responses to “Greer, Glitter and Guns

  1. Witchmountain

    I remember refusing to buy my daughter a pukey pink Barbie when she was 5 and somehow getting round it by getting her a Pocahontas one in a very “right on” Native American themed Christmas ( she was soon wearing a glittery ball gown and high heels, Pocahontas not daughter) but its like trying to turn back the tide… I think the key is just balance and moderation and maybe gin. (I wouldn’t buy my son a toy gun either so he carved one out of wood when I wasn’t looking…he also dressed up in a pink nylon fairy outfit though,so , as I say, balance and moderation!)

    • Emily

      Right-on Barbie!

      Balance and moderation rather than a full-on ban, yes. Full-on bans create mystery and rebellion. You have all these ideas and opinions when they’re new and then sometimes you have to go ‘eff it’. Like me with McDonalds in the beginning. Hate the place, but he goes there with his Nans sometimes. There and church. Whatevs.

  2. kittynation

    Hi Emily – it’s Amrick (kittynation) here!
    I have a little girl, and I do hold these fears within me, but then I take a moment to remember my life as a child.
    I wasn’t ever really “in” to all the stuff the other girls liked, which in someways did make me an outcast (even in my teens, I was frightened by make-up, which has now changed, but I have many horror stories!). However my love of nature, computers, cats and art as a kid still garnered me plenty of friends, they just weren’t the coolest people (I can only declare this in retrospect however, as they were just my mates as a kid, I didn’t really understand whether they were cool or not!)

    I remember being at a Brownies retreat in Disley, I hated Brownies, but all my friends, or should I say, all the girls I knew went, so I decided to, too. Anyway, I remember them all jumping up and down wildly on the camper beds, thrusting and gyrating along to “Like a Virgin” by Madonna.
    I knew I didn’t want to join in, I felt uncomfortable, I didn’t bloody like Madonna, I just didn’t get what it was all about. I remember thinking she was some old lady singing about touching virgins, which were, in my mind, either something to do with olive oil or hot air balloons. I was confused to say the least!

    On that trip, I was ultimately thrown-out from Brownies for laughing after lights out, and made to sleep on a baby changing mat underneath a school trestle table. When I got home I ran in the door to my mum sat waiting at the bottom of the stairs, and just cried my eyes out. Probably because really, I was quite relieved I wouldn’t have to go back and sing the lord’s prayer and be made to play netball once a week.

    Anyway, when I was small, my mum made no efforts in pushing me in gender-specific direction in terms of toys and activities. I was as happy baking a cake with her, as I was helping my dad fix the VHS with screwdrivers. I innately loved both crafts and computers, and my mum never once made any comment about the fact that I loved to sit in front of a black and white screen punching code in as a past time after school had finished, and this was at a time when computers were definitely seen as a masculine and unsuitable piece of equipment to be kept in the home.

    Now I have Yuna, I obviously take time to consider what it is she really loves in life, her innate interests. She likes babies, but has no interest in dolls. She loves balls, and could literally spend hours kicking and dribbling a football if allowed. She likes music and in particular, banging things.

    I hate football, however my other half is an avid Man Utd fan – but he has never, ever inflicted (!) football upon her (he doesn’t watch it at home for example), yet she just seems to have a natural interest and talent, even at 2 years old.

    I could say at this juncture – “Yuna stop playing with the football and play with this doll”, and that, in my mind, is where the gender conditioning begins – at home.

    Another point is that when I was growing up, even if I did want a My Little Pony or Barbie doll, it generally wasn’t going to happen, because my parents couldn’t afford to purchase things such as this. I may get a knock-off Jenny doll from the market, or a My Tiny Horsey or something, but never the real deal, and in some ways, I guess this just added to my disinterest in these types of product. I couldn’t join-in the craze, therefore I found other things to entertain me! 🙂 X

    • Emily

      Hi Amrick!
      Thanks for your lovely comment.
      I didn’t much like girly stuff when I was at school too. As for Brownies, it took me years to realise that people wanted to be my partner in ladders because they knew they’d outrun me (and not because they wanted to hang out with me.) Actually, I was a right weirdo: I used to paint pictures of mushrooms and toadstools and breed newts in a washing up bowl.
      I love you for thinking what you did about virgins! How sad that you were the one who got put away for laughing when you were the one who seemed to be having the least fun.
      I know what you mean about the rip-offs; I wanted a Sega and got an Atari (which would probably cost loads in Afflecks or on Brick Lane now.) I had dolls prams and stuff but was more into the great outdoors.
      It definitely sounds like you’ve got the right idea with Yuna! I was just chatting to my friend who babysat last night and she said Tom sat on the sofa with three blokes and watched the match, then played on the XBox with her fella and it made me so glad his Auntie J introduced him to footy, something which I know hardly anything about, but gives him so common ground with men. One thing Greer talked about was the importance of an opposite sex parent; she did think it was more of a struggle for a single mum raising a girl than a boy. But that’s another post. It sounds like Yuna gets to learn all about footy from her dad! This started off being a post about gender and ended up being one about compromising and sometimes just letting stuff go xx.
      Now I need to find a pair of missing shin pads. And sleep.

    • Witchmountain

      Just wanted to say Amrick, I was also thrown out of Brownies for laughing during “Brownie Bells” , we used to have sponsored silences(!!!!!wtf) while the Cubs got to go camping and build fires. Oh the joys of gender stereotyping ! x

  3. Fiona

    I stopped my daughters watching TV with ads in. It’s just cbeebies or cbbc or DVDs here. That was because of the summer of being pestered incessantly for Lelli Kellies a few years ago by my then 4 year old and 6 year old. I can’t afford to pay best part of £50 for shoes they can’t even wear for school despite anything else! My daughters are 9, 7 and 4. They have a huge assortment of shiny, Disney dressing up clothes. They love glitter and sparkly things. I don’t pander to it too much and they also love to get muddy, go out on welly walks, climb stuff etc. I find clothes shopping a bit of a challenge for the older two at times. Ranges go from cute, girlie clothes up to about age 6 or 7 and then absolute over sexualised trash in some stores. I did not enjoy telling my eldest when she was only 6 why she could not wear shorts with ‘gorgeous’ printed across the bum!

    • Emily

      Those shorts sound horrible! Sounds like your girls have got just the right balance. I might ban CITV – apart from the Lelli Kelly ads, I can’t stand that Hexbug cover of the Automatic (although it is better than the original.) Also: nananananana almost naked animals. You won’t know what I’m on about if you’ve banned it. Lucky you.

  4. mumsyjr

    Saying “no” to a plethora of overly girly hasn’t really been an issue so far. The only Disney princess my 6 year old likes is Mulan and the last time she played dress up with her sparkly wings and tiara was over three years ago when she paired them with rainboots and a water pistol jammed into one of my belts and announced she was a super hero. She does love blindingly sparkly shoes and having her nails painted, but is more likely to be found building things with her grandfather or pestering her uncle to help her with her rubiks cube than allowing one of her aunts to play with her hair. We have a mountain of toy horses rivaled only by her mountain of dinosaurs and her stuffed penguin does have a pair of blue rhinestoned heels but don’t let that fool you- his name is Pistachio and he also has a Darth Vader costume. I did keep princesses off the radar in terms of the movies we owned until she was about three and a half, so maybe that had something to do with it but I know she saw those movies at her preschool and sitters’ houses so maybe not. Our biggest problem is that she’s been relentlessly teased for her favorite sneakers since she started kindergarten this year: they are covered in cars and several boys in her class have been trying to convince her that they are a “boys-only” item and she shouldn’t wear them. The same is true of her favorite t-shirt, which has a dinosaur on it and which she helped make. So the struggle in our house has really been making sure she knows that she doesn’t HAVE to be uber-girly, that if she lets other people define her she’ll lose who she is.

    • Emily

      Thanks for commenting. Your daughter sounds ace. I’d like to see Pistachio trying to waddle in his heels. It sounds like having a daughter ain’t so scary after all… (and the boys are quite obviously jealous of the shoes.)

  5. I am quite worried about this. I have two girls and they are too small for it to be a concern now (2 years old and 10 months old) but when I’ve been to Victoria Station when Disney Princesses on Ice is on at the MEN, the station is full of small girls running round in Disney princess costumes and it fills me with dread. It isn’t just the awful gendered messages, it’s the way that all the costumes are the same. There’s no creativity, no making up your own princess outfit or idea of what a princess is like.

    My girls wear a lot of pink. It’s hard to avoid anyway and a lot of their clothes have been passed on. When I buy clothes for them I tend to pick things from the boys’ section. We like dinosaurs and spaceships but I made a particularly poor sock choice in Asda and ended up with grey socks with fluorescent aliens which I am regretting. I just wish there were more clothes which were just children’s clothes – not marketed at boys or girls, just as unisex clothes.

    I wonder if, as a single parent, my children will get a more rounded idea of what women do. When my ex-husband was here, he tended to do things like DIY. Now, if something is broken, I fix it. I work, partly because it’s financially necessary, but also because I want my children to grow up seeing that women work. I don’t expect my children to grow up believing they can do anything but I don’t want them to feel that they are limited because they are girls.

    As far as Lelli Kellis go, I’m not really sure. I did see a suggestion online somewhere that you get a pair of pumps and some sparkly bits and let them make their own – possibly as durable. I’m hoping it’s a bridge I never have to cross but I think I’ll be disappointed.

  6. This is such a good post!

    My daughter has had Lelli Kelly shoes, courtesy of Granny, but she didn’t wear them. She went through a Disney Princess phase when she was about three (she lived in a Cinderella ball gown for about 5 months). She’s now nearly eight, wants a skateboard for her birthday, and plays wrestling games with her big brother. She also likes what she calls ‘cool clothes’ (though she only gets to choose between one Boden hoody and another).

    I tend to largely go with the flow, on the grounds that pretty much everything is a phase. But, that said, we don’t have celebrity magazines in the house (or, in fact, any women’s magazines – even though I write for them!!), not least because I don’t like the imagery of appearance-obsessed femaleness that they peddle. We don’t watch much TV, and the children have never even seen Strictly Come Dancing or X Factor, never mind explicit pop videos.

    Maybe having an older brother helps, too. My daughter’s favourite activities are shared with him (wrestling, tree climbing, biking, swimming, blowing raspberries, etc. etc. etc…) In a way, growing up with a boy who’s rather like a twin (he’s two years older, but less mature) has conditioned her more than anything else. So at the moment, I’m not too worried by the Lelli Kelly and lilac eyeshadow thing.

    The other thing that helps is that most of the parents of the girls in her class think along the same lines. If they’re not hearing rot about designer shoes and tacky celebs at school, that has to be a good thing.

    • Emily

      Hello and thanks for commenting. I reckon Tom would have definitely had Lelli Kelly from his Nan had he been a girl!
      Celebs seem to be popular round here. I went to a local high school and they’d done an exercise on their favourite celebrities in French. It was all Cheryl Cole and Rhianna etc.
      It sounds like Greer was right about the princess thing being a phase. I love the sound of your daughter’s relationship with her big brother.

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