Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

The Issue - Little Princesses Need to Crown New Heroines

Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

The Issue - Little Princesses Need to Crown New Heroines

Article excerpt

Some girls love all things pink, but don't allow gender stereotyping in your classroom. Show them there's more than one way to sparkle.

They turn up for muddy field trips wearing silver sandals; their stories are filled with princes and tiaras. They are the "princess" girls, an ever-growing breed of three- to nine-year-olds.

Girls today are endlessly exposed to princess merchandise, with its message that tiaras, glitter and jewellery are the path to happiness and success. From nappies and toothbrushes to toilet seats and bicycles, there is no commodity that doesn't come in pink. When I bought my daughter a toy garage for her first birthday, I could have chosen a pink version with sparkly cars, which was obviously deemed more suitable for her little female brain.

Wander through the pink and blue aisles of any toyshop and you'd be forgiven for thinking that women's emancipation is yet to happen. Nowhere else is gender so binary. Female figurines have inconceivably tiny waists and improbably large eyes, and hang around in ball gowns waiting for six- inch plastic lotharios to drive them off into the sunset. Conversely, the boys' aisle is full of muscular figures who spend their days in charge of trucks, helicopters and lightsabres, single-handedly defeating the evil empire before heading home for dinner, no doubt cooked by their princess wives in their pink plastic ovens.

The world of children's toys and marketing has become such a parody of gender stereotyping that some companies are making an effort to redress the balance, albeit in a somewhat misguided way. Lego now sells a girls' range in pastel colours, and a US company called GoldieBlox is aiming to channel more girls into engineering with its construction toys targeted at the female market.

And the reign of the princess is not just limited to merchandise: the children's entertainment market is bursting with companies offering princess parties and makeovers for girls as young as 4.

But in this enlightened 21st century, when women can theoretically do anything, be anything and take control of anything, how, as a teacher, do you explain to princess-fixated girls that all that glitters is not necessarily gold?

Use unconventional books

Narrative is your most powerful tool to raise awareness of gender stereotypes and get children looking at things from a fresh perspective. Use stories that turn traditional fairy tales on their head. Princess Smartypants by Babette Cole is perfect for younger children and Robert Munsch's The Paper Bag Princess - about a princess who rescues her prince from a dragon, only to find that he no longer wants to marry her because she's wearing a paper bag - effectively readjusts the gender power balance. …

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