Let’s Talk about Pirates and Princesses Day

I am straying from my usual format for this post. There won’t be a quote from a child. Kids are not likely to speak up about today’s topic, but I have recently had several interactions that make me feel that this post is necessary.

Several months back, an adult client asked my advice about a situation involving her 7-year-old daughter who had come home from a local elementary school with a flyer announcing Pirates and Princesses Day. Her daughter, who is not a “girly girl,” preferred to go to school as a pirate. Mom was worried that her little girl would be teased.

Last week a friend commented, in a Facebook post, that she is uncomfortable with the concept of father-daughter dances in schools. She grew up without a mother and remembers how embarrassed and marginalized she felt because of the assumption that all families are the same, that all children have two opposite-sexed parents.

Today is Valentine’s Day, and all sorts of contrived declarations of love are happening in schools across the country. Most of us are lucky enough that we can publicly express our feelings to our beloveds because we are straight. We do not fear ridicule and we do not fear retribution.

Almost every girl will prefer to go to Pirates and Princesses Day dressed in a pink dress and wearing a tiara. Almost every boy will want to wear an eyepatch and carry a sword. Almost.

Most of the children in elementary schools that have father-daughter dances or mother-son picnics have a mother and a father. Most.

Many of us feel completely comfortable and delighted to receive a bouquet of roses or a singing Valentine from our sweethearts at our school or workplace. Not all.

It boggles my mind that, in the year 2013, when there is so much talk of equality across gender and sexual orientation, these archaic practices not only exist, but take place in   schools – institutions that are supposed to be places of safety and emotional growth for children.

After reading the responses to my friend’s Facebook post, some of which were in favor of practices such as sweetheart dances, I commented:

 I think we should just encourage children to love who they love and invite who they want to special events. Even the concept of a “sweetheart dance” implies something I doubt we want to encourage – that girls should be doted over by older men. And don’t even get me started on a local school district’s practice of Pirates and Princesses Day! [Apparently, the Facebook thread got me started…]

and…

Mindfulness about these issues rarely seems important to individuals who come from two-parent traditional families, who are secure in their sexuality and gender identity, and have never had the unfortunate experience of being marginalized due to gender, race, ethnicity, nationality, sexuality, gender identity, religion, etc… I think we are ALL called upon to be mindful about them, especially because the people most likely to be quietly harmed by these practices are children.

I am not suggesting we throw the baby out with the bath water. Instead of Pirates and Princesses Day, how about “Come as a Favorite Character Day”?  How about a Family Dance? Instead of a traditional Valentine’s Day event, why not a Random Acts of Kindness Week where students draw a name on Monday and then have a week to do something nice for that person?

Maybe because it’s Valentine’s Day and I’m feeling sappy, but I believe it truly takes a village to make the world a safe and loving place for all. If you are a parent whose child attends a school that hosts events such as father-daughter dances or Pirates and Princesses Day, reflect on these practices. If you feel led to speak up, please do. If your child will not feel marginalized because of such events, it is even more important that you speak up. If you are not a speaker-upper, print this post and mail it to the principal. School administrators don’t have to listen if it’s only a handful of parents, whose children have trouble fitting in, who object. We need to be allies in the truest sense of the word; we need to band together as parents and speak up in one strong united voice.

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About Dr. Sayers

I am a child psychologist and mother of two. This blog is about the lessons we, as parents, can learn about parenting from the things that child clients have told me over my 20 years in private practice. I continue to work with children and families at Southampton Psychiatric Associates (www.southamptonpsychiatric.com) which serves Bucks, eastern Montgomery, and northeast Philadelphia counties in Pennsylvania. In addition, I train psychology graduate students and psychiatry residents at Temple University.
This entry was posted in Children of all ages, Elementary/Lower School and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to Let’s Talk about Pirates and Princesses Day

  1. ana74x says:

    I love this post, so many great points we need to remember. Brilliant. And I think the assumptions made from such a young age do far more damage than we realise.

  2. My daughter went as a princess pirate two years ago for Halloween – she’d definitely have a field day with Pirates and Princesses day, unless she couldn’t do both…

    I think I don’t have a problem that they don’t include everyone on the face of it, but at the same, I certainly understand why people do. That said, the few like events that I’ve seen in my area are pretty clear that they are open to everyone, and I think they do aim to stay away from the “stereotypical” family archetypes, and aim for more neutral terms (“family” instead of one parent or the other).

  3. “How about “Come as a Favorite Character Day”? A Random Acts of Kindness Week?”
    Indeed.

  4. Dr. Sayers says:

    I’ll take that as agreement. Thanks, Red Chuck. Enjoyed the Astronauts on the Beach.

  5. Eli says:

    Love the blog! I was curious if you listen Radio Times with Marty Moss-Coane on WHYY. I think you would enjoy it.

  6. hesparkles says:

    In light of some events that have taken place recently in my Noah’s life and at his school, this post really hit home to me…thanks so much for this!

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