Balancing princess culture with significant women: A reader report on raising empowered girls

Empowering the Next Generation: Women’s Day
A guest blog post by Katie Grant

In today’s world, most girls go through a princess phase: princess outfits, tiaras, shoes, curly hair, makeup, nails, the whole nine yards. I went through that phase, even though my mom had a problem with princess stuff. She knew I played with LEGO, Batman, and Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, but she did not like that I was also so obsessed with being a princess and playing damsel in distress. This, as my mom likes to say, “didn’t fly.” In response, my mom instituted “Women’s Day” when I was about seven years old—a once-a-month excursion to the public library to research the lives of significant women in history. She created it as an antidote to princess culture, and it worked.

In hindsight, it isn’t surprising to me that my mom came up with the idea of Women’s Day as a solution to my “princess problem.” My mom is an innovative parent, and she has cooked up some clever ideas help me overcome my Autism. She’s had me reorganize all of my shoes to learn left and right and hang up all of my clothes after she took them off the hangers to learn dexterity, and she purposely wrapped me in my least favorite textures to help me learn coping skills.

Women’s Day solved another problem beyond my princess obsession: It bridged the gaps in my education. My dad was active duty in the military for the first eleven years of my life. As a result, my brother and I sometimes had wide gaps in our education. Every state had a different curriculum, so we might have been ahead in one state and behind in another. We often spent summers visiting museums, zoos, playing outside, and in the library catching up on our education.

Women’s Day is a simple concept. One Friday out of every month, my mom, my brother and I would go to the library. Mom would give us each a name of a woman, and we would research her. The main questions she always asked us were, “Who was she? What did she do? What is she remembered for? Do you find anything interesting about her? Would you want to do what she does/did? Does she have any notable quotes?” Sometimes, we had a side project like, “Draw the day Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat,” or “Write Marie Curie’s final journal entry.”

When we were younger, we would simply tell her what we had learned about our assigned women. As we grew, we wrote reports. The report had to be at least three handwritten loose-leaf pages, front page and back, using our best handwriting and with perfect grammar, as Mom’s background was in linguistics.

Eleanor Roosevelt

Eleanor Roosevelt

Princess Diana

Princess Diana

One time, she said, “Katie, research Eleanor Roosevelt. Alex, Princess Diana.” Off I went to the non-fiction section to research Eleanor Roosevelt. Somewhere during my research, I became sidetracked and took a peek at my brother’s topic and was enthralled. I completely forgot about dear Eleanor. The report I turned in was on Princess Diana, not Eleanor Roosevelt. My mom was about to say something when Alex came back; his report was on Roosevelt. He had misheard whom he had and thought he had Eleanor Roosevelt the whole time! At least we had done two different people, and she had a good laugh about it.

Over the years, I’ve researched quite a few women for Women’s Day. I’ve researched household names like Marie Curie, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Russian Empress Catherine II, Anne Boleyn, Joan of Arc, Mother Theresa, Audrey Hepburn, Belle Boyd, Harriet Tubman and Rosa Parks. I’ve also done reports on less famous women like Elizabeth Blackwell, the first female doctor in the United States, and mountaineer Annie Smith Peck. Mary Jane Bowser, a highly educated former slave gifted with eidetic memory who was planted in the Confederate White House by the Unions as a spy, is one of my favorites.

When I went on to college, Women’s Day informed some of my school assignments. For example, one of my papers was on Camille Claudel, a less famous sculptor institutionalized against her will by her brother after an affair with Auguste Rodin went south. I took what I learned from Women’s Day as a child and chose a sculptor who was overshadowed by her mentor, even though she had a voice of her own. I have kept this paper as a memento because I could relate to Claudel on a personal level.

In other words, parents don’t have to ban princesses, Barbies and toys that put women on a pedestal to raise children who view women as strong individuals. It’s about finding a balance. Barbies are fun, but so is learning about real women who have impacted society. Parents don’t even have to look that far back in history to teach children about strong women today. A few of my favorites that parents and children can explore include:

  • Kate Middleton, the Duchess of Cambridge, whose charities are children’s hospices.
  • Angelina Jolie, who is a UN High Commissioner for Refugees Goodwill Ambassador and works with over twenty charities.
  • Malala Yousafzai, who is not only a neer-peer in age to today’s children, but who also won the Nobel Peace Prize at 17 for her unerring work in promoting women’s education across the globe.
  • Lupita N’yongo, who is the seventh black female to win an Oscar and her speeches are empowering women of color to celebrate themselves for what color they are, not what color they should be.
  • Emma Watson, who at a conference for HeforShe at the United Nations in 2014 stood up for feminism and gender equality. The video of the speech went viral within minutes.
  • Michelle Obama, the first black First Lady in the White House.
  • Sonia Gandhi, one of India’s most influential politicians.
  • Barbara Walters and Oprah Winfrey, two of the most influential news broadcasters in the United States of America.

There are so many women to choose, especially with modern day technology. No school will ever teach children about all of these women, but you, as a parent, can.

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Reminder: This is a story from one of your fellow readers. Please be kind in your comments.  It takes bravery to publish a personal story. Unnecessarily harsh comments attacking the author of this reader story will be removed or edited.

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About the author: Katie Grant is a 26-year-old Army daughter. She was born in a tiny town called Bamburg in West Germany; she moved to the States when she was nearly three. She’s lived in four other states aside from the one she lives in currently. She was diagnosed with Autism at a very early age; her mother has been a backbone in aiding her education so she kept up with other kids. She is three classes away from an Associates Degree in Art from the College of Lake County. Her passions include crochet, jigsaw puzzles, fairy tales, mythology, and comic books, especially Batman. Often seen with her Decker Terrier, Zena, she has a love for all canines and is currently expanding her love to horses; she’s currently doing therapeutic horseback riding at a stable near her home.

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Looking for tips on raising empowered girls in a princess world? Check out Rebecca Hains's critically acclaimed book, "The Princess Problem."

Learn how to raise empowered girls in a princess world: The Princess Problem by Rebecca Hains.

Rebecca Hains, Ph.D. is a media studies professor at Salem State University and the author of The Princess Problem: Guiding Our Girls Through the Princess-Obsessed Years, a book meant to help parents raise empowered, media-literate daughters. 

Rebecca is on Facebook and Twitter. If you enjoyed this post, you may follow Rebecca’s blog by hitting the “follow blog” button at rebeccahains.com/blog.

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