He tried to keep Cinderella and Rapunzel away from his daughters, but the girls found them anyway.
There's no room in my family's life for any more princesses. Despite seeming to have no princess saturation point, my three-year-old twin girls don't need any more space in their imaginations taken up by poofy gowns, sparkly slippers, dainty manners, and gilded palaces. Though I tried to protect the twins from the Princess Industrial Complex, I'm afraid that they—that we—have developed a princess problem.
Four years ago, the news that my wife and I were going to have twin girls coincided with the moment of my most fervent dedication to the notion that gender is, for the most part, socially constructed. Many academic types abandoned this attitude long ago, and regular people tend to as well, especially after being around a child of one gender or another for any length of time; but I clung to it. And sure enough, after spending most of my waking hours during the last three years with my little girls and their friends of both sexes, I had to admit that I can see some basic differences you can usually count on between even the youngest boys and girls. The degree to which those differences are innate or socially nurtured is up for debate, but there's little doubt that popular culture and the marketplace go to great lengths to emphasize and capitalize on them.
Before the twins were born, friends and family inundated us with hand-me-down "girl clothes." We had a mountain of plastic bins that took up half of the future nursery, and most of the clothing inside them was pink and frilly. I figured that it didn't really matter what the girls wore when they were babies, but that, once the flow of free clothing dried up, which should coincide with the emergence of their sartorial self-awareness, we would start buying them clothes in gender-neutral colors. When sorting the loot by size and season, however, I made sure to put anything with princess logos or imagery into the giveaway pile. The princess trope represented passivity, entitlement, materialism, and submissiveness, and no daughter of mine would wear a onesie that celebrated such loathsome values.
During the first two years of parenthood, I was able to maintain the princess blockade in our home with very few breaches. Although my wife and I never talked about princesses in front of the kids, they heard the word constantly, because it's the default term of affection total strangers use when addressing them. Because the word had no associations for the girls, however, it probably meant no more to them than "cutie pie."
Inevitably, though, Disney Princess items started appearing in the playroom. One day when the girls were primping with purple combs emblazoned with images of Cinderella, Belle, and Rapunzel—trifles from birthday party gift bags—they asked me what the glamorous figures were called.
"Um..." I sputtered, unable to think of a good euphemism for the dreaded P-word, "...little ladies."
So princesses were called "little ladies" for several months, even after an anthology of Disney Princess stories somehow made it into heavy bedtime rotation, and branded plastic trinkets started spontaneously generating and multiplying in their toy collection.
When my wife, who had never been as stridently anti-princess as I had, took advantage of an online sale of children's costumes, she succumbed to the cuteness of a sparkly yellow Belle outfit, and a shimmering blue Cinderella dress. There were other costumes—a doctor, a pirate, and a firefighter—but the girls immediately gravitated toward the frilly frocks.
As if the anemic spell I had placed to keep them from crossing over into Princess World would be broken when I spoke the magic word, I still refused to call their new favorite playthings by their real names. We called the princess costumes "ball gowns" for as long as the charade would last.
Sometime after my daughters' third birthday, I gave up. My resistance to princess culture only made me look like a crank, and an impotent one at that. And frankly, my cold, black heart melted whenever I saw my little girls in their royal finery. As long as my objections did little to stem the tide, I figured I might as well enjoy it. Anyway, how much more intense could their princess fixation become?