Tabitha Carvan is Senior Staff Writer in the sciences for the Australian National University, and a freelance writer on the side. 

Fairy princesses can be mighty girls, as long as we don't shame them first

Fairy princesses can be mighty girls, as long as we don't shame them first


My two-year old daughter took her first steps in the week following Trump's election.

She literally rose up.

For the previous year, she got around by shuffling along on her bottom. As her peers one by one started tottering, then running, she stayed on the ground.

She wore through a lot of pants.

That week following the election she would have shuffled past her mother sobbing in various locations around the house. Her mother sobbing on the toilet, her mother sobbing as she peeled carrots, her mother sobbing while staring at her phone.

I was crying for her, and also for me, because her life would be no different to mine.

If Hillary had won, I would have looked upon that shuffling bundle and declared, "The future is yours! You can do anything!" I would have high-fived her sticky little hand and broken out in a rendition of Everybody's Shuffling, sung to the tune of Everybody's Hustling, which was a family favorite at the time.

Instead, her future as a woman seemed it was going to be my past, with all the pain and anger that you drag around with you, until it's not just your pants that are worn out.

"You can do anything," I told her. "But you will have to fight for it every single step of the way."

So she took a step.

When my daughter turned three, Harvey Weinstein was fired.

She wanted a "fairy princess birthday party", so I was making wands out pink glitter-glue and pipe cleaners and cutting the crusts off fairy bread while obsessively refreshing my Twitter feed for more news about the extent of Weinstein's depravity.

The invitation to her party was a photo of my daughter wearing a tutu and crown, photoshopped to make it look like it appeared in the pages of a storybook. She loved it.

After the invitation went out, I received messages RSVPing to the party, but they also asked a question, the same one over again: "Are you okay with this?"

As all I was doing with my phone at the time was reading about Harvey Weinstein, it would take me a moment to contextualize these messages popping up on my screen. They were asking if I was okay with betraying my feminist values with whole fairy princess thing, not Harvey Weinstein ejaculating into a pot plant.

Am I okay with this?

At my local library I hear women groaning when their daughters choose the pink, glittery books about mermaids and unicorns. Sometimes they flat-out refuse to borrow them. At my son's preschool I hear mothers apologizing for the tutus their daughters arrive in.

"She just loves all that stuff!" they cringe. "She definitely doesn't get it from me!"

My daughter doesn't get it from me, either. I watch her doing interpretative dance to Let It Go in the lounge-room and I think, who even are you?

I feel the same way when I see my son, who is five, mesmerized by the wheels of his model train, a sight which has had him transfixed for five years now. When he grows up, he wants to be, in his words, someone who works at the model train exhibition.

But when my son had a train-themed party, no-one asked me if I was okay with that. In fact, I recall multiple people commenting that it offered clear evidence of him having developed his own independent interests, since after all he was the progeny of two people who couldn't care less about trains.

No-one says anything about his train t-shirts, or the way he moves his arms like an engine's rods when he runs, or his limited train-themed career aspirations.

I expose him to other things, of course, and even ask him if maybe he'd like something other than a train for Christmas this year, but he never does. What can I do? He just really likes trains.

By contrast, as a good feminist parent I am expected to not only expose my daughter to diverse pursuits, but actually limit the "bad" ones, the ones which send the wrong message. I am expected to teach her that her love of fairy princesses is not her own, but a product of market forces and gender stereotypes to which she has fallen victim.

I am not okay with that.

When the whole world is sending signals to our daughters that they exist to be belittled and disrespected, I'm not going to denigrate a girl's interests. I'm not going to teach her to be ashamed of what she likes. And if I only applaud her choices when she picks the book about fire trucks from the library shelf, not the one about the mermaid, what is that telling her?

I want to praise her for the very act of choosing, and for having agency. When she's older, I will teach her to interrogate what's driving her choices and to be skeptical of any kind of gender typecasting. I will talk to her about the patriarchy because, honestly, it's practically all I talk about these days anyway.

But she's three years old. Right now, all she hears is "yes" or "no" and all she can read in my face is approval or disappointment. She needs to see me wincing at discrimination and prejudice, not tutus.

At the end of the fairy princess party, after the guests had gone home, my daughter was walking around the house in her pink party dress, toting the little handbag she'd received, and singing. On her head was the spectacularly ridiculous headband my sister had given her, which incorporates a sparkly crown, a pink bedazzled veil, and even shiny pearls dangling like earrings.

If she'd looked up, she would have noticed her mother crying again. Not because of Trump this time, nor even Harvey Weinstein, but because of my pride in her great, big strides.

As she paraded past, I heard her funny voice, so tiny, singing that Katy Perry song, which my daughter calls 'The Lion One':

'Cause I am the champion

And you're gonna hear me roar.

And off she went, wafting a trail of pink sparkly tulle behind her.

This place is a time machine

This place is a time machine

The sound of silence: listening for nuclear tests in the Australian desert

The sound of silence: listening for nuclear tests in the Australian desert