The Fairy Princess Effect – What Three Year Old Girls Can Teach us About Feminism.

I have come to accept the fact that boys and girls are often inherently different. When I found out my first child would be a boy, I promised myself that I wouldn’t stereotype him from birth. I wouldn’t buy him toy cars unless he wanted them, or call him buddy or mate or anything with a gender bias. I would be gender neutral and let him find his own little personality.He would grow up to be a sensitive, strong and well rounded man who liked walks on the beach as much as going to the cricket.

I had no idea how idealistically stupid I was being.

He had a personality right from day one and it wasn’t little at all. He gravitated towards cars and trains and noise and gross slimy stuff in the garden that he found fascinating. At five, he thinks poo jokes are the funniest thing in the world and farting should be an Olympic sport. And if the IOC saw things his way and introduced it as a trial sport he would probably be crowned champion.

If someone were to try and describe a typical little ‘boy’ they would pretty much be describing him.

I’ve learned to cope with all of that, and for the most part, it’s been a fun filled adventure and an absolute, (sometimes revolting), pleasure. We’ve coped with gender stereotypes as they arise and corrected him when he says things like ‘Boys are way better at jokes than girls because girls just don’t think poo is funny.’ We crossed every gross, weird bridge as we stumbled upon it and for the most part it turned out okay. At least, so far it has.


And then along came number two – a little girl. And I thought to myself, I have this nailed. I coped with a boy, how hard can a girl be? After all, I am one!

Again, I had no idea. I was definitely not prepared for the perils of having a little girl. Make no mistake, there are plenty.

Realising the second time around that little people indeed have their own personalities, and that there is very little point trying to change them, I resigned myself to the fact that my daughter would probably like girly things. I decided I would go with it while she was young, and try and mould her as she grew into a free thinking, world conquering woman who could beat any of her male peers in a game of pool while rocking a pair of mean stilettos.

I had visions of tea parties and quiet afternoons doing craft, of dressing her in her favourite cute outfits. As she got older, I would teach her, I decided, that being a girl doesn’t have to be about being ‘girly.’ That she can be anything she wants – climb trees, race the boys and win, play football, and jump in muddy puddles. That being a girl means you can be anything you want to be, just like a boy can. Most importantly, we wouldn’t buy into the whole princess phase – which I correctly imagined to be a time where everything in sight is frilly, pink and has sparkly butterflies printed on it. I would steer her well clear of that.

I had no idea what I was in for. I had no idea what I was up against.

For example. This is my daughter not long after she turned two.

Lucy 1

This is my daughter two minutes later, after she realised her jeans had buttons on them.

Lucy 2

She does not like buttons on her clothes.

Upon reflection, the ball was never in my court.

Reflecting back on the last three and a half years with this spirited little sprite who proudly proclaims to be the cheekiest person in our family, (and she’s probably right), I realise that my daughter knows infinitely more about feminism and indeed being a female than I do.

She is fearless and formidable, just like I had hoped. She has a barely concealed deep seeded desire to be a princess, (preferably wearing pink sparkles), and even as I try desperately to avoid the Barbie aisle in K-Mart she somehow knows who Barbie is and she wants to be part of it.

She lives on the edge of fashion, oscillating between appearing as though she was dressed by a drunken fairy who is on leave from a hen’s night and complete nakedness – the latter is sometimes accompanied by accessories such as shoes or a headband. She loves butterflies and flowers and anything pink. In fact, she loves everything pink. She sleeps in a tutu, (because, who doesn’t need a bed time tutu?), and has an incredibly strong personality. She is certain she is in charge whenever she walks into a room, and usually she is right. She loves climbing things, jumping off things and getting dirty, as long as her skirt is kept clean or carefully removed before any shenanigans.


In short, if you look past the blinding layer of pink glitter and jewelled princess tiaras she is as spirited as feisty as any boy and twice as cunning. I have no doubt she will be whatever she wants to be, because as you can surmise from the picture above, very few people choose to argue with her.

I think as we grow up, in many ways we learn how to ignore our instincts to fit into a society which thrives on ‘normal.’ We learn how to be pigeon-holed and suppress our inner three year old who is climbing the kitchen bench completely naked because she wants to jump of it and fly like Tinkerbell.

We make choices, yes, but we rarely make them because that’s exactly what we feel like doing in that very moment. We don’t jump in muddy puddles, (which by the way is heaps of fun), or laugh out loud at farts or sing at the top of our lungs just because we want to. Instead we overthink things and over-plan things and worry about how our kids will grow up.

And in my worry to make sure my daughter knew she was exactly equal to any boy, I hadn’t realised that it was an instinct she already had. That my job will be to teach her not to unlearn that fact, rather than to tell her what it means to be equal.

A strong hearted, strong minded girl who refuses to be stereotyped, insists on making her own choices and likes to wear whatever takes her fancy? I think she has feminism nailed.

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