Thoughts on a Pink Princess Party: Gender & Children

princess-emojis

Sometimes being a parent influences my teaching and other times it is my parenting that is influenced by my being an anthropologist, a scientist, a teacher. I no longer know how to keep these roles separate, and indeed am not so uncomfortable when I fail to separate them.

We learn the appropriate ways of thinking and feelings behaving in our society through the process of enculturation. Similarly, socialization is the learning process for the skills we need to successfully interact in our social groups. Teaching gender as a social construct means that anthropologists recognize that socialization and enculturation teach us how we must behave as a gendered individual AND how to recognize other behaviours as gendered within a cultural context. This means that while we are assigned a gender at birth, we must learn what that means.

My husband and I assigned our kid a female gender at birth on the basis of their assigned sex at birth. We gave our kid a name that is identified as female within our culture. However, recognizing that the identities we are assigned at birth do not always “match” our personal identities as we grow and learn, we wanted to ensure our kid was exposed to diverse experiences, objects, and points of reference. Basically we wanted our kid to know that “female” does not necessarily mean sparkly, pink, princesses or other gender stereotypes. So books were purchased showing people in diverse rolls, with skin colours and hair textures and facial features and clothing etc. that are different from those represented in our household. Toys were selected without attention to which aisle in the store they came from. Cars, dinosaurs, dolls, balls, blocks, and costumes all had/have a place in our home. Awesomeness was defined based on personal interests. And it turns out that the last point is an important one.

See my daughter is a sparkly, pink, princess who is obsessed with all things Disney, and she wanted nothing more than a princess party for her fourth birthday. So that’s what she got – an over-the-top princess party. Now this post isn’t to brag about how great of a parent I am because that is far from the truth. It certainly does make clear the privilege I have on so many levels, because that I am privileged is the truth. What inspired this post is one of the things I saw in planning the party – I rented a princess.

It turns out that this is actually a thing (which will not surprise some of you with littles). You can rent an actor to come in full costume and character inspired by those, more often than not, belonging to the very large Disney universe to perform at your child’s party. There are several different companies in our city and each offer different takes on characters (to avoid copyright lawsuits) and packages. Unsurprisingly the more you spend, typically the more “stuff” that’s included in your package. I looked at the companies that focused on Princess Parties but some also had superhero or other characters available as part of their offerings.

What was extremely interesting to me was how the companies addressed gender.

Most companies clearly focused on stereotypes around not just princesses but females in western culture. Activities offered as parts of the packages included make overs, tea parties, and princess etiquette lessons. Some companies would note that other activities could be offered for boys in attendance but these mostly seemed to just include references to dress up items for knights and/or pirates. However some companies are trending towards a more gender inclusive approach.

While clearly a gendered term and while the actors who attend as princesses are female (they are meant to represent specific, beloved, and obsessed over characters), “princess” need not be defined nor represented exclusively as female. Several images used on promotional products for the company we went with show all children participating in various gender neutral activities such as face painting, crafting, singing, and dancing. Our princess painted the faces of any kid in attendance who wanted to have their face painted (I really appreciated the language of consent that was used “Would you like your face painted? May I touch your face?” btw) and offered two choices (shell or fish) based on her character’s world. The craft was for a crown or reindeer antlers because she “recently met a reindeer that another princess has and he was so cute [she] thought reindeer antlers would be perfect for our cold winter day”. She sang a song from “her” movie and read a story about “her” life. Only my daughter was referred to as “princess” because it was her birthday, all other kids were simply “friends”. So the “princess party” was themed to the character but not explicitly to a gender. Further it was inclusive in that the options were participation/non-participation based rather than female/male.

To wrap this up, my experiences with planning the perfect pink princess party as a parent and as an anthropologist reinforced the growing awareness that gender is a cultural construct. At the party I saw kids playing with a character that represented something important and meaningful to them – a princess who my kid described as friendly, fun, silly, kind, and who had a lovely voice. My kid saw qualities they liked, they aspire to embodied in that princess. I can’t find fault with my kid wanting to celebrate her birthday in a way that we might interpret as gendered but which she saw as simply “awesome”.

p.s. I  am also a little biased because I think one princess in particular is very awesome…

princess-kt

Note: I didn’t get compensated for this post. It is really hard to talk about princesses without mentioning Disney because let’s be real, they’ve locked the whole princess thing down!

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27 thoughts on “Thoughts on a Pink Princess Party: Gender & Children

  1. Shilo

    I love how, without even a pause, the princess asked my son if he wanted his nails painted. He totally did (silver to match his knight armor). That was great!

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  2. Hanna

    I really enjoyed this post. I especially enjoyed how it is based on your own personal experience with your daughter. Unfortunately, parents forcing gender stereotypes onto their children is a very real thing. I especially love that you are not necessarily doing that. Just like we have been discussing in class, we may be assigned a gender at birth, but we have to learn what it means to us individually.

    I agree that children should be exposed to a diverse experience. Children should be aware that just because they may be female, that does not mean that they have to like princesses and fairy tales. Toys, clothing, entertainment, colours, etc. should not be gendered. I was lucky enough to be raised just like your daughter is. Without set gender “rules”, and being told what to be interested in and what toys to play with. Because of this I grew up not worrying about gender stereotypes and knowing that it is okay to have a Hot Wheels collection, along with a pretty impressive Barbie collection.

    When I first read this post, it made me really think about how gender stereotypes have a toll on us as children. Being told that as a female it is ‘proper’ for you to play with dolls and be interested in princesses, helps shape who you grow up to be in what I believe to be a negative way. It strips away a sense of individuality. Suddenly you feel like you should be this cookie cutter version of a female. I love how this post is from the perspective of the parent, and we see your side of raising a child without gender stereotypes.

    My question for you is how do you think gender stereotypes affect children? Especially those who are raised with strict beliefs of what being “male” and “female” should be?

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  3. Anth 110 student

    I really enjoyed this blog as it offers a new perspective on the classical gender stereotyped spin Disney seems to offer to our society. It shows how people are altering and changing their personal perspectives on what is classified as gendered, and the growth communities are experiencing when it comes to being gender inclusive and gender aware.

    This blog relates to the course, it talks about gender, and how society has viewed it and the interpretations gender is taking now in a more modern realm. In one of our lectures, we touched on the stereotypes of Disney and we talked about toy stereotypes for children, and how we introduce to our children from birth, shaping their child rearing and understandings on gender and gender roles. I think this blog addresses the topic in a realistic way, it allows readers to apply the concepts they have learned about gender and age anthropology to a real world, relevant example. I strongly believe that an anthropological perspective is applied, it moves along reading with adequate terms from the course, and touches on topics of relevance.

    I would say that this post, along with all the lectures on child rearing and parenting have given me a new perspective on how one should or could parent, and it has shifted my ideological standpoint in these areas. I connected with the post as it shaped my knowledge and allowed me to think outside the box. I selected this post by scrolling through the articles on the blog page, and when I saw the word ‘princess’ it jumped out at me as I am a Girl Guide leader for the age group of 4-5 and it reminded me of our princess tea parties, and how gender specific this group is and can be, after all, our uniform is pink.

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  4. Dwight Schrute

    I like that this blog post talks about how people are looking towards gender inclusiveness and their understanding of that not everyone is born under the gender that is associated with their sex and themes of birthday parties are a great example of that. Your post about the birthday party connects to our topic about gender and gender diversity and how societies are slowly beginning to understand that there are not only two genders but there are also more than that and how a person’s gender does not necessarily relate to a certain sex and their roles, in the case of the children, it is up to the them to decide on what they find awesome and should not be told what to play with. I decided to do the response to this post because it is showing that societies are changing and recognizing that gender comes in all forms and by also that kids at an early age are being introduced to gender inclusiveness which will be beneficial for them in the understanding of gender diversity as they grow older. Overall it is a great post. My question for you would be that since we are moving into a culture that is much more understanding of gender neutrality and of different gender diversity, has there been kinds of conflicts or maybe any discussions with any of your family members who may have thought that your decision of raising your child as not the gender stereotypical way is not a good idea?

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  5. Ashley S

    This was a great read Dr. Biittner, I find it interesting as I never would of thought of a little girl’s birthday party to be framed in this context. I particularly enjoyed the introduction where you talk about how you delivered the concept of gender to your daughter and allowed her to forge her own gender identity. It was also interesting to read how diversified this company seemed to be, and when reading the one comment by Shilo, and hearing that his son wanted his nails painted and it was done no questions asked. That is so refreshing to me. It is a good representation of how the environment and the cultural standards that you seem to adhere to are practiced within your children’s generation. Growing up I never experienced exposure to forming a gender identity, and definitely did not have the opportunities to learn about cultivating gender identities. This clearly demonstrates the idea of gender we have discussed in Anthropology 110 and it reflects how you identified gender in the classroom. It brings forth the Anthropological Perspective and shows how we as individuals possess the right to diversity in our Western Culture. Also, it demonstrates how privileged we are to have the support to express our gender identities differently from our assigned sex. The Princess fairytale although as you mention can be a stereotype, is a very real concept. Many children are not as fortunate as your daughter to be exposed to cultural diversity and only know the typical stereotypes. After reading this I realize even I am guilty of gender stereotypes which is kind of ironic because I am a lesbian. However, it is such a relief when I read something like this and know the children of today get opportunities to explore who they really are. When I came out it was difficult as within my family, and small town it was taboo. This article inspires me and brings me hope that modern day children will not be as confined as I was. Thank you for this post Dr. Bittner, I have no questions, I just want to say that I respect the freedom of choice and expression you allow your daughter to explore.

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  6. Adam Trimmer

    Great post, I really appreciated when you wrote about how you and your husband assigned your daughter the gender of female at birth, you recognized how in time this assignment may not math how she identifies and thus you decided to ensure she is exposed to various experiences. I think this post greatly connects to the course theme of gender and identity because it reinforces the idea of fluidity in gender and how one’s identity might change or evolve with time and experiences and thus they should not be forced to conform to a decision they had no say in. I also appreciated how you made sure that the party you threw would be inclusive to both boys and girls who would attend by doing adequate research on which company you would hire. I was able to connect with this post not through direct personal experience but rather through interactions I’ve had with friends who have had to grow up in families with very rigid ideas of what gender is and should be and with friends who have had opposite experiences and grown up in families with a very fluid idea of gender. Through both of these kinds of interactions and conversations, I’ve been able to gain a little insight into how the way someone is brought up in regard to gender identification can greatly influence their lives forever. Because of this, I really appreciate how you are so open and willing to allow your daughter to essentially find her own identity, be it what you assigned her or be it something different.

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  7. McKenna

    I absolutely loved this post. Not only because did Dr. Bittner’s chosen “princess” include the boys and the girls at the party, but because it did so in a tasteful and creative way. I especially appreciated when she talked about the boys being asked if they’d like their faces painted, or the comment by WordPress user Shilo about her son being asked if he’d like his nails painted. Unfortunately, it’s common in our culture to exclude boys from activities deemed too “feminine” or “girly”, and vice versa with girls and activities deemed too “masculine”; I’d like (and I know millions of others would as well) to see this change. I have a little cousin, who is biologically male and was assigned a male gender at birth, naturally. He’s about 5 I think, and all he ever wants to do is play princesses. And I’d likely for that to be more globally culturally acceptable. So, incredible post Dr. B! Furthermore, I believe it relates well to course themes, especially topics six and seven, Gender, Sex and the Body. In this topic we discussed gender ideology and the “proper” roles for men and women (or in this case, young boys and girls), as well as gender stereotypes and how they promote gender stratification. If we allow boys and girls at a young age to begin to decide which roles they’d like to play, like Dr. B did with her daughter and the other children at the party, then perhaps we’d have a better chance at eliminating gender stratification in future generations.

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  8. Emily

    I really liked the idea behind this post. With the advancement in the last 20 years of the progressive lens that we see gender through, it is not surprising but rather delightful to see the inclusion of everyone regardless of gender, in an activity that is culturally tightly linked with it. This goes hand in hand with the idea of culturally created gender stereotypes and how they can be broken. The way that the princess referred to all of the children as ‘friends’ rather than boys or girls shows as extremely simple way to create an environment of inclusion for everyone to be whoever they like. This post makes me curious about other ways that we can change activities that seem to be linked so closely with gender to be more inclusive while still upholding the basis of what they were founded upon. With the princesses, the idea is founded one a very gendered principle of patriarchy but the princess that you used seems to break the cultural construct of gender, not completely but through making the activities about participation rather than what the children should do based in their gender. While we do choose our child’s gender at birth, we can still allow them to express themselves however they choose, with the lack of gender specifications in programs like these, the children can become more comfortable with doing things because they LIKE them, rather than doing activities because this is what a boy should like to do or what a girl should enjoy. This post initially sparked my interest with the idea of the ‘pink princess party’ and how we reflect our culturally constructed ideas of gender onto our children whether we notice this or not but pleasantly surprised me with the inclusion the princess had. This is something that I struggle with daily at work, working with young children. When I teach young children, they are very susceptible to the ideas that we give them whether we notice it or not. When I split the kids up into groups, rather than dividing them into ‘boys’ and ‘girls’ as groups, we are taught to split them up as foods or animals, ‘watermelons’ and ‘strawberries’, this allows us to be more inclusive and strays away from dividing based on gender.

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  9. Madison Howdle

    I really enjoyed this post by Dr. Biittner because it gave insight into what it is actually like to plan a gendered party and the options that are available for children of different genders. I also liked the fact that Dr. Biittner had stated that her and her husband had chosen not to follow typical gender stereotypes and give their daughter toys from all sections of the toy store, not just the “girl” section. This post relates to our course as it demonstrates gender stereotypes that start at birth, such as girls wearing pink and playing with dolls and boys wearing blue and playing with cars, that are brought forth by Dr. Biittner. This can be seen through the gender roles that women play in society such as doing cooking and cleaning and taking care of the kids while the men work. However, in some societies such as the Samoan society, the Fa’afafine have the sex of a male but take on gender roles of a female. The other group of people we have looked at are the Berdache, where little boys pick between a basket and a bow and if they pick the basket they take on both male and female gender roles. I believe the anthropological perspective is applied in this post as it links cultural relativism to the topic because it shows how things in a society influence peoples behaviours and also the idea of holism. I selected this post because I find it is very interesting when parents stray from societal norms and gender stereotypes with their children and title really caught my attention. Overall I think the post was very well written and provided insight into what the planning of this party was really like and the different options that are presented for different genders when the party was really geared towards one gender.

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  10. Sounds like a fun party! I’ve been looking at gender and age recently, and this is an interesting case study. It makes me wonder why the princess’ market is so… marketable? Even when gender roles are not forced on children by parents, they’re still prevalent. Perhaps the rent-a-monarch market is evidence of a cultural accommodation of these enforced gender roles. The roles have been established, the lines are drawn, and businesses like this one are just along for the ride. It’s cool that the company does have gender-neutral activities that everyone can enjoy. Also, the point about teaching children about consent by how the actors approached face painting was excellent to see.

    One other thing that really piqued my interest was the language used when referring to the “female gender.” When you say, you and your husband “assigned [your] kid a female gender at birth.” It would seem that you’re making a correlation between specific genders and the sexes. The sentence is beautiful, it conveys exactly what it needs to, and to be honest I have no idea how else to word this. But it is interesting to note how our language helps to connect specific gender roles to particular sexes.

    The whole situation does make me wonder if this separation of taste and expectation can be changed. Should it actively be changed? With proper parenting that allows the kid to do what they enjoy, maybe this difference in preference will fade with time. Who knows? Certainly not me 😛

    Sweet Leia costume BTW, is that you?

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  11. Lauren

    The aspect I liked most about this article is the use of a real life/ relatable example that most people would not necessarily view as being culturally constructed and stereotyped, in this case, for princess parties since it is so engraved in western society. I really enjoyed this topic as it describes how these stereotypes are used early in children’s lives to almost condition them into thinking this is what they want. Having girls in the ads for a company getting their makeup done and nails painted may deter a boy from wanting a princess at his party. The same can be said for girls wanting a pirate theme where the ads only show boys playing with swords or dressing in knight costumes. This applies to the course theme as it argues that gender and the stereotypes that go along with it are cultural constructs. A young girl is often assumed to want a pretty, princess party as that is what society has conditioned us to think. In this article, the author touches on the gender inclusivity of the princess rental places, which I think is an important aspect as it shows that, hopefully, these stereotypes are shifting to be more encompassing of gender fluidity. I was able to connect to this post because when I was a child the boys had superhero, pirate, sports themed birthdays and the girls typically had tea parties or princess parties. It is encouraging to know that these stereotypes are being shifted in some ways so that all children can participate in all activities without feeling as if they are outside the social norm.

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  12. jasmeen

    I really enjoyed this blog post for a few reasons, however the real eye catcher for me was definitely in the title. “Pink Princess Party” got me hooked in seconds. You could say I am a typical embodiment of a “female gender stereotype” in being that I love anything pink and princess themed (yes, I am a 21 year old with a little kid heart). I guess it does not help that I also share a name with a popular Disney princess. Anyways, enough about me, back to your post. I liked it because it was entertaining to read, it gave a good mental picture on how your daughters birthday party was designed for the princess she is, yet established a equal gendered balance in activities for all the children there. I also really enjoyed how even though assigned a female gender at birth based on her biology, you and your husband did not define her that way and let her experience her youth in gender neutral terms. Toys, books, life experiences where all based on the “awesomeness” she experienced, rather than “this is for boys, and this is for girls” and I really praise that as parents, because my personal belief as well is children should be children, and be allowed to experience their lives they way they want to (with rules of course). I also found it very interesting in how while researching for the perfect princess, you came across companies who advertised pictures and activities for both boys and girls. I think this post can be in direct relation to the course because it is talking about the gendered stereotypes children seem to have when it comes to “boys stuff and girls stuff” and because they’re young, their age has a lot to do with this course as well. Since at birth many of these stereotypes are established, and with age it increases. Just think about it, take a six or seven year old child to a halloween store to choose a costume, and they will most likely have two separate kid sections: one for boys and one for girls. It does explain the topic of gender stereotypes from the course, and I do remember you talking about this during a lecture, and the example you gave was how before Toys R’Us would have separate signs and sections for boys and girls. You also mentioned how studies have shown that children are more interested by the toys they get or the activities they participate in if they are told it is for their gender. I do think this post adequately reflects the anthropological perspective because it’s directly based on gender differences in a society and how children are “suppose” to adapt to these stereotypes. This post, in relation to the material learned in class has made me realize that there are so much gendered stereotypical displays in our everyday life, and before this, I never really took the time to notice any of it.

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  13. Anonymous

    This specific post caught my attention when Dr.Biittner mentioned it in our Anthropology 110 class; I knew I had to find it. I not only appreciate that it is embedded with a ton of our course themes, but I also appreciate the complex thought put towards gender stereotypes and the variety of perspectives and approaches towards gender that were addressed. This blog post is the epitome of our course and its main themes gender and age. Moreover, not only does it talk about how socialization and enculturation form our behaviours, thoughts, and feelings about topics like gender, the blog also ties in factors of age. For example, Dr. Biittner talks about her perspective as a grown adult, as well as her child’s perspective and approach towards gender, which wonderfully addresses the anthropological perspective of holism. I picked this topic because it related to a conversation I had a couple days ago with my friend. He asked me if I knew that the colour blue was seen as a more feminine colour and pink more masculine in the 19th century. I did know this and I simply answered “yes” and put no more thought into it, but when Dr. Biittner talked about gender stereotypes a couple days later in class it really made me think a little more deeply about the negative implications stereotypes, like gender specific colours, have on individuals and our society. Gender specific colours not only imply that there are only two genders, but it also implies that there is something “unnatural” (Just want to address that the definitions of what is natural/unnatural vary cross-culturally) about an individual if they steer away from this colour stereotype, which can ultimately have terrible consequences. One consequence being in relation to one of our topics on gender identity, and how by only focusing on the genders, male and female, it makes it difficult for individuals who do not identify with their sex in relation to their gender to adjust to societal norms. This ultimately makes a society with these stereotypical thoughts, feelings, and behaviours a difficult place to express ones true self and feel as if they belong. This leads me to the question; do you believe that money is the main culprit of gender stereotypes since the gender specific colours were brought about as a marketing scheme, and media continuously displays gender stereotypes as a way of making profit?

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    1. Biittner, the Archaeology One

      From a holistic perspective, yes one has to consider the economic component/motivations to engendering colours and objects. It would be interesting to look at why traditionally gender neutral toys like Lego have shifted towards gendered products and to see if it has increased their profit. Or if making “gender-specific” items just is a lazy way of diversifying the products available. Great question!

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  14. Maha Jatoi

    I quite like this post because of how openly you’ve talked about how you’ve brought up your child, and how she’s free to choose how she sees the world. Even though I come from a privileged background, and I am educated, growing up in South Asia, and coming from a Muslim background, where we have strict gender roles in places, it is very interesting to see these different approaches to parenting. Even though gender roles are easing up in Pakistan, we still have a long long way to go. I love that even though you assigned a gender to your child at birth, you never confined her to it. You made sure to expose her to everything out there, which I feel is essential. Boys and girls from the get go are limited to following a certain pattern, that when they grow older, and realize that this isn’t who they are, struggle so much, which is why depression is so common in teenagers. In class we discussed how the elders in our family show us a certain path, and we are expected to follow it – a “heterosexual, conforming to our respective gender” path. It is absolutely vital that we let kids discover themselves and celebrate their individuality, not quash it. We as a society, and a culture, need to stop thinking the world ends at heteronormativity, because there’s so much more to people, and life, than that. Fairytales shouldn’t only be for girls, nor should dinosaur or superhero films be limited to boys. In the confines of knowing what’s right and what’s wrong, everyone should get the opportunity to choose what they like, and choose the life, or the gender, they want.

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  15. Kenz

    I love this post because it opened my eyes as to how a child’s princess themed birthday party can be gender inclusive. This is something I never thought possible, which is why I was so intrigued to read it. Growing up, I had a princess party and attended other girls’ princess parties, and there were never any boys in attendance. This post is valuable because it demonstrates how the highly gendered theme of princesses can become something that is not solely for girls, but rather gender fluid and inclusive.

    The topic of this post pertains directly to Anthropology 110 because it addresses gender in numerous ways – binaries, social norms, and how to challenge these structures. The post also directly deals with age in that it discusses young children. First, you address the stereotypes that are often a part of princess parties, and that many of the princess rental services in Edmonton play up these stereotypes, catering only to girls. I found the “princess etiquette lessons” particularly shocking because they uphold the problematic expectation that females need to be ladylike. “Princess etiquette lessons” also explicitly excludes other genders by using “princess” to signal that it is only for females. You then offer insight as to how something as gendered as a princess party can be gender inclusive with tactfully chosen activities and language.

    The concept of a “participation/non-participation” structure as opposed to a “female/male” one is the most valuable piece of information (and advice, because I am an auntie) that I have gained from reading this. Another commenter mentioned that the hired princess asked their son if he wanted his nails painted. By the princess asking the children permission to paint their nails non-discriminately, regardless of their gender, she opened the activity up to anyone wanting to participate.

    The emphasis you place on the princess’s use of “language of consent” is so important. Children are constantly forced into displays of affection towards family and friends, which can slowly teach them that they do not have autonomy over their own bodies. This brings in the age aspect. The normalizing of non-consensual touching begins at childhood, and contributes to the shame culture surrounding sexual abuse. By asking the children instead of assuming, the princess makes it acceptable for the children to say no.

    There are so many fascinating anthropological ideas intersecting in this post – namely gender, age, and consent. I appreciate that you address an everyday aspect of parenting through an anthropological lens, and offer great practical insight on how to plan a gender inclusive princess party. Clarifying to your daughter and your audience that it is okay for her to enjoy things that are stereotypically associated with the female gender is also something important, since it is sometimes framed as negative when speaking about gender inclusivity and challenging gender norms.

    What differences do you notice when you compare birthday parties from your childhood to the children’s birthday parties you attend now, in terms of gender stereotyping and even gender segregation?

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    1. Biittner, the Archaeology One

      Great question! Looking back I now realize that birthday parties were very segregated (so I was at all girl parties where the only boys were my friends brothers or dads or male cousins) but most weren’t stereotyped. It wasn’t until I was a teenager that I remember having boys and girls at mine and my friends’ birthday parties. Age was also pretty important; you didn’t invite kids younger or older than you unless they were in the same grade in elementary school but that shifted by junior high and high school. In contrast the last few kids birthday parties I’ve attended with my kiddo aren’t segregated and the themes have been gender netural and free of stereotyping. For example, the most recent one was at the John Janzen Nature Centre so the focus was on the wee critters that live in our river valley and all of the kids from their daycare room were invited regardless of the kid’s gender or age.

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  16. Bradley Kobzey

    I very much enjoyed reading your post about your daughters’ birthday party and how you as an anthropologist, scientist, and teacher all interact with you being a mother. I like the idea of how you are raising your daughter, you understand the idea that biological sex does not predetermine the gender someone will have. Gender and gender roles are the way members of society perceive what each sex should, or should not think and how they are expected to behave. I appreciate in this blog that you as a mother, understand that you need to assist your daughter by providing the knowledge that just because you are a female, does not mean you cannot play with something our culture has perceived as being for males. This blog relates back to my anthropology 110 class directly, it examines the relationship between sex and gender, and how gender is not given at birth, but rather learned as we growth. Also, in showing how our culture, the movies we watch, the toys we buy, all influence a child’s gender as they grow. This post really has me thinking though, you provided all these sources of gender neutral ideas to your daughter, but why is it that she wanted a princess party? It makes me consider all the different variables that goes into shaping someone’s gender. My only question for you would be, throughout the year’s store’s such a Toys” R” Us, have removed gender specific aisle sign’s, and big brands like Barbie, have shifted their understanding on what a female, and male, should look like, do you believe that these changes, and others, have started to break down the idea of gender and gender role’s? And do you believe that society as a whole will ever be able to get past assigning gender and gender roles?

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  17. Hanna Fenske

    I enjoyed this post because it seemed to take the relatively complicated and disputable topic of gender and broke it down into simpler terms and a simpler illustration by using a child’s theme for a birthday party. I really appreciated the comment near the end, “I can’t find fault with my kid wanting to celebrate her birthday in a way that we might interpret as gendered but which she saw as simply ‘awesome’”. This comment really clarifies, for me at least, the true motive behind gender equality. The child did not think the party was “awesome” because it did or did not conform to the ideal female gender roles and biases that society has constructed. She simply enjoyed it because it had elements that she enjoyed as a human being, not as a female. This is the idea behind gender equality: not minimizing the female gender roles or ideals in order to accommodate the male ones, and vice versa, but mainly to eliminate those rigid roles and ideals all together. This post made me think about the idea of “nature vs. nurture” and which one influences our choices about our gender the most. The freedoms that the child in this post had and felt towards choosing her own activities, themes, and colours for her party, and the choices she ended up making, are excellent examples of how nature and nurture both play a role in how we define our gender. This post reminded me of the progress that has been made thus far considering the ideal gender roles. I thought back to my childhood birthday parties and how uncommon it was for boys and girls to be invited to the same party because it was assumed that the activities and games that were intentionally constructed for a specific gender would not be enjoyed by any other. This became a process of enculturation where we all learned that certain activities like playing dress-up or playing super heroes were meant for a certain gender and we should not want to stray from our designated activities. It makes me happy to see, through this blog post, that more and more children are being given the freedom to choose what colours, and themes, and activities they would like to participate in or identify with, regardless of their biological sex.

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  18. Syed, M.

    I really like this post for a number of reasons. I find that something like princesses, especially Disney princess, has become a significant part of childhoods and thus it is really important to understand the role it plays in term of understanding gender as well. Like mentioned in the post, being female is more than just “sparkly, pink, princesses” while the male isn’t just “knights and/or pirates”, and it is necessary that children do recognize that their options aren’t limited. Children do learn most of all from what they observe and witness. One thing that I really like and would like to emphasize on, about this post and also the gradual progress we see in popular culture and media that targets a child audience is the distinction we have begun to see on gender, being presented as an identity rather than perhaps a strict “way of life” and “rules” to abide by. It is definitely interesting to see the cultural shift as whole towards a more open concept and take on gender that is “all inclusive” rather than keep reinforcing the same stereotypes on children because “that’s that’s their gender and how it’s supposed to be”. Particularly, when it comes to companies that have an influence as big as Disney.

    However, the most important aspect is probably parental in term of enculturation of young minds. Now, I don’t say this through any sort of personal experience but rather based on what I’ve seen and witnessed in some parents and the impact they have on a child’s gender identity. Most parents now seem to offer a more open interpretation and approach to gender for their kinds but definitely not all of them. At some point in high school, I remember organizing a little casual activity for children and to appeal to an audience we tried to do activities that could include all kids. So, this meant that we kept to things like arts, crafts, face painting and little games here and there. This all ran smoothly, until a particular exchange between a child and their parent at the face painting booth. The little boy that came in with his little sister and mother insisted upon getting a butterfly painted on his face to match his sister’s but his mother strongly instructed us otherwise, stating “that he doesn’t know better. Give him something boyish like a superhero mask.” The little boy not happy with that tried to get her to let him get the butterfly to no avail for several minutes before she sternly told him that “butterflies are for girls and if [he] can’t pick something for boys, [he] can’t have his face painted at all.” I have read several similar stories online and it seems to happen far often than we’d like to imagine in a society we do consider to have come a long way past enforcing gender stereotypes on things as small a face paints.

    Looking back at it now, seeing that exchange through the new-found knowledge and insight from my Anthro110 course, it stands out to me even more than maybe it did when it occurred at that moment. The reason I emphasize on that encounter isn’t just because of role how enforced stereotypes force people to act a certain way within these roles regardless of age but the impact it seemed to have on the boy even then. He was not only very visibly upset for not getting what he wanted but seemed very perplexed because he didn’t know why she wouldn’t let him get the same thing she said looked very nice on his little sister. On that note, I would just like to come back to the point made in the post that it isn’t only important to note that gender is a social construct can be perceived very different things in different cultural contexts but also to what extent should we go to reinforce it upon children, if at all.

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  19. DW

    I appreciated that this post took an objective stance towards your own gendering of your daughter. You mentioned examples how you followed gendered norms, such as with her name, and also how you choose to go beyond the norms by introducing your child to various types of toys and interests. You said that you wanted your child to know that being female isn’t limited to the stereotypes that are presented in society, but I think that this perspective is still limited within the binary society that we live. In the description of the party also appreciated the attention to each of the activities that the actor engaged in with the children at your daughter’s party. It was really cool to read in the comments how the actor offered to paint their sons nails which the son agreed so his nails would match his silver armour. It reminds me of the time I took my mother and I to get pedicures for mother’s day. We chatted as the employees pampered our feet, and when the pedicure was done, my mother was offered which colour of nail polish she wanted her toes painted, while the employee working on my feet quickly exited without even asking me whether I wanted my toes painted or not.
    This post relates to our course and the issues of how young children learn and experience gender. Gender stereotypes are often marketed to young children in advertisements and toys. Having a parent that is informed about the issues of gender doesn’t mean that children aren’t exposed to strong forces that encourage young girls to want a princess party. You even pointed out how the activities listed for various princess party companies reflect stereotypical female gender roles such as tea parties and make overs.
    This post made me think about whether it may be healthier for children to try and work within the binary system and expand their expressions of the male and female gender or to try to break down the binary in our society and show that various gender can exist on a spectrum. While children are in the critical stage of developing their identities it seems easier to relate to either male or female because of their strong prevalence in western society. It seems important to study whether raising your child as non-binary bolstered confidence in their identity when compared to children raised as binary.

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  20. BB

    After hearing about this post at the keynote speech from Dr. Biittner and Dr. Shulist for the “Currents” transdisciplinary conference I knew for sure this would be a great blog for my response. This post directly covers two of the three big topics we discuss in the course. Let’s start with the obvious one about gender. Gender is explained very well in this post; it is a social construct and even though it is something in our culture that is normally assigned at birth, based on visible biological characteristics, it is something we must learn throughout our life and something that can even change over time. What this post also shows us in the way of gender is that we, as a culture, gender pretty much anything we can get our hands on. In the case of children’s birthday parties, princesses and pink are for the girls and super heroes and blue are for boys. This can inherently cause problems at a child’s birthday party as well because if there are both boys and girls at the party we can see some kids are left out. As was stated in the post by Dr. Biittner though, the companies that are supplying the serves for children’s birthday parties as quite good at trying to make these events gender inclusive. This industry has changed a lot since I was a kid. I remember when I was growing up that it was relatively uncommon to invite kids of the opposite gender at one’s birthday party, even if they were friends. Here we can see at least a hopeful a step in the right direction towards a more gender inclusive world because if we start with the children then we can hope that it continues into adulthood. This brings us to the second topic I would like to discuss, which is age. A big part of our discussions about age in this class have been about how rites of passage are normally linked directly with age and that this is how we construct things like age groups. We can look at birthday parties as rites of passage in their own ways. This public representation of an increase in age can normally be linked to the taking on of new responsibilities and new privileges. These changes may be different from household to household in our culture but we can see distinct changes occur. During my childhood, for example, an increase in age meant that there was an increase in your allowance and later bed times but also an increase in the complexity and quantity of household chores. Rites of passage are very important to our development because it shows the people around us our new statuses in society and that is significant as biocultural organisms. The reason that this article stood out to me so much is because of my current position in life. I am getting married in a few months and because of this I have been thinking about kids lately and hoping to have one in a few years. I am hopeful that I can be as upfront with my children and teach them these things about gender and age when that time comes. I want them to be very inclusive in their life and can make their own decisions about there life even if it is against the cultural norm. Reading post such as this really makes me think about what it will be like to be a parent and hopeful that I can teach my children to be open minded throughout their life with all their experiences.

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  21. Annecy H

    What a great example of how children are exposed to gender roles in our society. The planning of a birthday party includes walking down the aisle that is clearly “for girls” on one side, and “for boys” on the other. Gender roles are so embedded into our society that they are practically impossible to be avoided. Although, Dr. Biittner’s daughter has been raised in a fostering environment of discovering who “you” are, instead of forcing gender expectations upon her, she is still drawn to what it is to be a girl.

    When I began reading this article, I was not expecting the positive message that came about from this post. That is that, we are beginning to see a change in society’s reaction to gender expectations. I have heard of renting a princess or superhero and I was stunned, but not surprised how popular this was, because of the exclusion of all genders in this type of party. However, I was happy to continue reading to see that there has been a change in how these “rent a princess/superhero” parties are being run. By simply changing the use of labelling children as “boys” and “girls”, there is better acceptance of everyone and how these children might be feeling. If a boy wants to participate in getting his nails painted, by labelling it as a “girls” activity, he may feel conflicted to why it is not acceptable. The neutralization of these parties is a step in the right direction. Although, since gender expectations are so embedded in society, they cannot be avoided, however, we can change how we address the situation.

    There is no way of avoiding these messages on gender expectations in our society. We see numerous ads while driving, pictures in books, and on television of how one’s gender should be acting and appearing like. The market for gendered children’s toys has decreased as people are beginning to see the issue with enforcing such messages into our children. Toys have started to evolve into more gender-neutral approaches. However, as not all people are educated on the impact of stereotyping gender roles and are unaware of the cultural construct of gender, we will continue to have a battle of eliminating the gender constructs of our society.

    We face the issue of intergenerational beliefs on gender. The idea of a nuclear family – husband, wife, and children has been embedded into our society as normative for many years. Homosexuality and other forms of relationships and gender identity are foreign ideas to individual who grew up with traditional gender expectations. Overtime, I expect that gender will be accepted as a fluid idea, and we will see a continuation of more gender neutrality. This post demonstrates that there is hope for change in the future.

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  22. Shanthro student (Shannon)

    This blog post was very interesting and addressed some more positive aspects of gender inclusion in western society. Normally, there is a lot of negative media surrounding gender inclusion, or the lack-there-of, and it was heartwarming to be made aware that there are efforts being made by generally gender specific fields -such as princess rentals- to be inclusive to all genders. I liked the fact that you provided background information on raising your daughter with intent to allow her to choose her own interests, regardless of her gender, because it adds validity to your knowledge and experience regarding gender neutrality outside of your anthropological career. Within the blog post, the pictures were okay; however, more imagery could have improved the aesthetics of the blog. Pictures of the stereotypical pink princess party and pictures of the gender inclusive party activities would have been beneficial. By adding additional imagery, it could have assisted in creating a visual comparison between gender inclusive and gender specific pink princess parties. As a whole, this article was well written, and the information provided within the blog post is very valid to course content.
    The topics of age and gender both are emphasised in this blog post. By mentioning the fact that you allowed your daughter to make her own decisions regarding her interests, regardless of gender, plays into the idea that at a certain age, you are able to create your own identity and become your own person through the expression of your interests. More so, gender is a prevalent topic in this blog. Gender and socialization is also mentioned, due to the fact that generally, society expects feminine females to take interest in stereotypical feminine things such as princesses. By mentioning the gender inclusion within the stereotypically feminine environment of a pink princess party, it begins to draw attention to the idea that society is beginning to change regarding gender inclusion. When gender neutral activities are included in what is considered a gender specific interest, it shows that society is beginning to be more inclusive to all genders in all situations. Even mentioning that your daughter was the only individual at the party referred to as “princess” and her party guests were simply referred to as her “friends” rather than princesses and princes, shows an attempt at creating gender neutrality and inclusion. This blog post was very positive in the sense that it speaks of positive progressive efforts by society to be gender inclusive, even in gendered specific fields.
    This post did spark something inside of me, it was almost heartwarming knowing that there are ways in which society is beginning to be more gender inclusive. Normally I am made aware of the lack of gender inclusiveness in society and although our western society is not entirely gender inclusive, it is nice to know that there are efforts being made to change this. The only question that I have after reading this blog post is are there efforts being made in other generally gender specific fields to be more gender inclusive such as superhero themed parties, sports and community activities? Overall, this blog post was informative, positive, enlightening and an overall great read.

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  23. JM

    This was an insightful take on how parental upbringing and what is considered “gender norms” can clash. I liked how you demonstrated that within your household both you and your husband raise your daughter in an all-inclusive environment where gender stereotypes are removed. Whether she chose to play with a barbie doll or a toy car did not matter because what you defined as “awesomeness” is encouraged.

    I agree that individuality/personal interests are an important concept that should be a part of every household and throughout a child’s life. As we learned in class our environment influences what we deem as our own values and beliefs and our first environment that we are exposed to is our family environment. Therefore, it is the family’s responsibility to recognize that identities change, and it is not our place to tell children what is right or wrong in how they choose to express themselves based on societal gender constructs. If your son likes pink it is not your place to say no pink is for girls or to encourage such gender stereotypes. What we should do is accept that this is what he likes, and this is how he demonstrates his awesomeness. However, the cultural construction of gender tends to take away from this, like you said you can rent a princess and companies sometimes play off these gender stereotypes for marketing purposes. As discussed in class the nature vs. nurture debate is somewhat to blame for this because it links gender and sex together and since sex is viewed as unchanging (natural) so should gender and the roles associated with each.

    Initially, I was drawn in right away with just three words found in the title “Pink princess party.” I wondered how a princess party could relate to gender under the guise of a kid party, what do kids have anything to do with gender roles and stereotypes, they are just kids. This post has provided insight on how society portrays gender in the eyes of a child. I’ve also come to realize that Disney is probably one of the worst companies that abuses the use of stereotypes. This post has also instilled the importance a parent’s role is in reducing these learned gender stereotypes within a child’s upbringing. We should not limit or prevent them from being who they want to be, whether assigned to a sex or not children have the right to be who they want without judgment. Although it is nice to hear that these party companies are starting to use advertisements that are gender neutral, we still have a way to go before gender becomes a thing of the past.

    Here are some questions: If you didn’t raise your daughter the way you did would her personal interests be different? How important is an individual’s environment to you in shaping their own values and beliefs regarding gender? Do you think this would be an appropriate topic to be taught to kids in school at the elementary level?

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  24. MD (Anthro 110 student)

    Out of all of the blog posts I read and contemplated responding to, I found that this one most significantly struck a chord with me. This was not only because of how relatable the context is, or my personal connection with it (which I will discuss later), but the way you approached the topic of gender while opening the door for discussion on age as well. I thought the explanation of gender in this post was extremely well executed, and it was done in a manner of addressing the social construction of gender expectations and roles in society but by taking a contrasting approach and demonstrating how a rather gendered subject like princesses can be all-inclusive. I truly respect how you and your husband took a very open-minded respectful approach to your daughter’s gender at birth and only assigned her a gender based on her biological sex.

    In various ways, this blog post directly relates to 3 main topics discussed in class, being gender, age, and sex. Right from the start, gender and sex are discussed and approached using a real-life example of your daughter from her birth. This post examined how gender and sex are connected, and how easily gender can be constructed if not carefully addressed. In the post you conveyed how gender stereotypes are very common to princess parties and that quite a few services you found offering these parties largely displayed these stereotypes by not being sex inclusive, as they solely target girls. The examples you used such as the make overs, tea parties, and etiquette lessons provided a good insight into how stereotypes are constructed by these services, and that although boys are welcome to partake, the listed activities are intended for young girls. I believe the topic of age is also greatly demonstrated in this post as you gave both the perspective of yourself and your young daughter, allowing age to play a role in the understanding of the situation. I found it very significant that the princess who was painting faces at the birthday party asked for consent from the children before beginning to paint their faces. This directly relates to discussions we had in class about age and consent, and how society seems to not to place as much significance on consent of youth as they do adults.

    I chose this blog post because at this current stage in my life I find it very relatable and important. I regularly babysit a very young boy, who I have watched grow up since he was a newborn. How this blog post relates to this, is that after reading this post I started to question everyday activities I do with this boy and I have started to realize that although my intentions are not deliberate, I have been guilty of assigning him a gender based on his biological sex. He is not even able to talk yet; however, I have already accidentally stereotyped him based on biology. Not only has this course opened my eyes and perspective on gender and its relationship with sex, but this post has caused me to explore the importance of being respectful in knowing the difference.

    My question for you is do you believe it is detrimental to conform to and assign a gender to a child until they are of age to make their own decisions regarding their gender? I am wondering since I take my role of caring for this young boy very seriously and I would like to hear another’s perspective.

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