Saying “No” to Girls Gone Wild

Shauna Niequist

My best friend Annette and I laid on our towels until we realized that someone was standing in our sun. We squinted up at a big man with a big camera wearing a Girls Gone Wild hat.

He told us that if we went out in the water and kissed and took off our bikini tops, he’d give us each a hat. We stared up at him. Where to start, really?

We sputtered out unrelated phrases like, “Um, those are our husbands, right there in the water…” and, “You know, that’s not really our deal…” and, “Uh, we’re like a lot older than you think we are…” Finally, we gave up explaining and said, “No, thank you. No. No, thank you.”

He shuffled away, and a few minutes later, there were lots of girls in the water, kissing and taking their tops off.

Huh. Questions abound. Our first question: “Wait—did he really think we were that young?” But then our second question: “Wait—​did he really think we were that stupid?” We were dumbfounded, and then a little angry. Just for conversation’s sake, where am I going to wear that hat? On a job interview? To my grandma’s house?

My friends Brannon and Chris have a little girl named Emme, and before she was born, Brannon and Chris declared their house a princess-free zone. There could be pink, there could be dresses and lace and babies galore, but no tiaras, no wands, and no princes coming to rescue any little princesses.

I love this. I think maybe we should all live in a princess-free zone. I think the current cultural messaging that tells women it’s attractive to play dumb and fragile and hope that they’re saved by their beauty is incredibly destructive.

*Photo by edenpictures, Creative Commons

I’m not anti-feminine. I operate, in many ways, within squarely traditional gender roles. I love to cook, I hate to drive, and I’m terrible with technology of all kinds. I fit squarely within the stereotypes, and then also not, largely because I was raised by a strong leader who recognized aspects of himself in me. I wasn’t raised to play dumb, or play cute, or play princess. I learned to work hard, to develop my skills, to contribute on a team and in society, and it drives me bonkers when women depend instead on their sexuality or their fragility. I think there’s a better way.

If you’re a woman, and you get what you want by batting your eyelashes or faking fragility, and then you wonder why you’re not taken seriously in your career or given responsibility in your church, I think you may have believed the reigning cultural lie about what makes us attractive. And if you’re a man, and you celebrate femininity only as it presents itself in beauty and tenderness, please consider widening your view of what it means to value women. Consider strength, intelligence, passion, and compassion.

I want businesses and government systems and certainly churches to be led more and more often by women. I believe that men and women would both benefit from it in dozens of ways. But if that’s going to happen, I think we have to declare a princess-free zone. No tiaras, no Girls Gone Wild, no pretending we can’t carry things. No fairytales, no waiting around to be rescued, and absolutely no playing dumb.

• • •

*Excerpted from Bittersweet
*this is a re-post from the archives

Shauna Niequist

Shauna Niequist

This is a post by Shauna Niequist, one of the Storyline Contributors. Pick up a copy of her latest book, Savor on her website and make sure to follow along on Twitter (@sniequist) for regular updates. To read more of her posts on the Storyline Blog, click here.

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  • Lucinda S. Sutton

    Hmmm…Love this story, but I have to say I respectfully disagree, and here’s why:
    https://monomythblog.wordpress.com/2014/04/07/princess-revival/

    I think all art / entertainment is a rorschach (inkblot) test. You get out of it what you bring to it. I would rather redeem the princess stories and give them their proper, spiritual, allegorical context (but yes, let’s PLEASE make sure they know their fulfillment does not come from the princes of this world) rather than condemn millions of girls for liking something that lights them up so much.

  • hurstsummers

    I totally get what Shauna is trying to say, but swinging the bat ‘wildly’ at princesses and tiaras is a strange way to say it. Maybe it’s just me, but I married a very brilliant, talented, and strong woman with ambitions and goals, and we have two daughters. We found no reason not to endorse the princess phase, but found no correlation to it and the culture of dumbing down females. Maybe I’m naive. Or maybe I’m well adjusted, and I think girls can wear a tiara if they want and still become hard-working contributors to society. This blog post was a strange way to say some really good things.

  • Carrie O’Toole

    I used to dislike princesses, but then realized if God is the King of the Universe, and I’m his daughter, I’m a princess! I’m not stupid or in need of rescuing, but I am a princess. Let’s make it a no fake princess zone!

  • Callie Boisture

    As the mother of three young daughters (and a fourth on the way) I think it is very important to set an example of strength and courage to them. We have not seen most Disney movies and steer clear of Disney characters, although that is more because of the magic and fantasy elements than the princess element. The girls spend the majority of their time playing with dolls and house and mothering everything and everyone they play with. Through this, I have seen the importance of not just caring what media influences them, but what I am doing to show them what strength and dignity look like by caring for myself and being respectful of them as smart and capable people (as much as I can with a four-, two- and one-year-old). They are more likely to imitate the woman that shares most of their moments, adventures, falls, triumphs and risks than a princess they saw in a movie a few times. That being said, my four-year-old told her preschool teacher (and continues to proclaim it when asked) that she wants to be a PRINCESS when she grows up….oh and a Mama :)

  • Gretchen Pacheco

    Thank you for sharing this. Right on with the main idea, although I disagree on some of the finer points. We’re raising our daughter like most everyone, the best we can. She woke me up this morning by telling me I’m Elsa, she’s Anna and followed up with “Do you wanna build a snowman?” So much fun! Her favorite princess is Merida from Brave and mine is Belle from Beauty and the Beast, neither of them are waiting for anyone to save them. In our family, we have decided that when/if the princess thing comes up that rather than avoid princesses, we will encourage being a warrior princess. We pray our daughter will learn to seek God in all things and look to Him and the gifts He has given her when she finds herself in distress.

  • Carly

    Totally into the idea of girls not being rewarded for being fragile or relying on their beauty for things, but I honestly don’t think that has anything to do with princesses. Princesses (and queens) can be taught about from a political power standpoint. They have a job, they make decisions for their people. Take Tangled & Frozen & Brave: all disney princesses who were loved because they were kind and all had responsibility. There is a big different between letting your child play dress-up with a tiara and putting her in beauty pageants.

  • carla rae

    What if we have this stereotype against girls’ play not because princesses are actually portrayed as fragile and dumb anymore, but because little girls (not little boys) like to play princess and we intrinsically prefer the things that little boys like to do and diminish the things girls like to do? Maybe we think that dressing up as a princess means that the girls are playing dumb or weak, because girls do it (not boys) and those qualities are generally attributable to girls. Those parents who apologize for our girls who like pink and play princess are perhaps buying into the persistent biases about how “girl” things are not as strong / challenging / interesting as the things that boys like. Maybe we shouldn’t add this to the many messages girls get that they’re doing it all wrong.

    • AdriAnneSoundsLIke

      Oooh, good points, Carla Rae. I have a friend who is doing a masters paper on a similar issue.

  • Julia Bracewell

    My mom laughs and says… “Just wait till you have daughters.” Definitely some incredible points that you have made, however swearing off princesses extremely won’t do the trick. For one, I am a princess (my Father is the King Jesus) and I do need to be saved. But by no human man… by God! If the right amount of intentionality is at play and you explain a biblical standpoint, it would be much better. We have gender tendencies.. for example, my mom tried not to give my brothers guns because she didn’t just want them to fall into stereotypical “traps” when they were toddlers. But what happened? The sticks outside became guns, their forks became guns, everything became guns! The same will happen for a young girl. I was the girliest princess ever parading around our house, but i was also taught independence, bravery, strength, dignity and self respect. Of course I carry the feminine desire to be pursued and cherished (A God-given desire, one He, as the image we were all based off of, also carries- God wants us to purse and cherish Him) BUT I know the only man who needs to save me is no man it all, its God. And He already has! Thoughtful article, but children have tendencies and it only takes intentionality to escape these negative messages.

  • AdriAnneSoundsLIke

    I don’t necessarily agree with equating princesses and a little girl’s desire to be pink, or “girly”, with playing dumb or weak, and it seems like a huge leap of logic to do so. I have worked with kids for years, and some girls gravitate towards so-called princessy things, and some don’t. Just because a mother has an issue with women acting foolish, does that mean that a little girl should feel like her leanings towards a puffy skirt or a tiara are wrong? As a little girl, I always loved wearing high-heels, nail polish, and princess dresses… Yet I grew up to be strong, self-respecting, and make my parents proud. I would urge you, the author, to reconsider that maybe by banning ‘girly’ things, you could be making your child feel ashamed of their natural leanings and longings because of your own fears or disapprovals. I mean, it’s up to you how to raise your kids, and I am sure they will turn out fine, but maybe examine where this anti-princess feeling is coming from a bit more closely before you make it the rule.

  • Judy Thomas

    I don’t see the connection ,sorry .And I have to totally disagree, I can’t see anything bad about children playing and feeling good about themselves.Nothing wrong with it, kids have been playing at being princesses for well over 100 years, were they doing Girls gone wild back then?