Monday, June 11, 2012

On Pirates and Princesses

For about the last nine months, Max has been obsessed with pirates. Gone were the train discussions he had loved for so long - it was now all about Captain Hook, ships, and a rallying "Yo Ho!" cry. TV shows, clothing, songs and books all featured pirates prominently. He rushes home from school to create his own treasure maps, and turned bookshelves in the winter and the swing set in the summer into his own pirate ship. He often wears his pirate costume, and sleeps at night with his sword by his side - you never know when you might run into an evil pirate.

Max's preschool class "studied" pirates, and while the girls in his class were eager to move to other topics, many of the boys haven't been. Max tells me that they still regularly pretend to be pirates on the playground. He says the boys all love his new skull 'n crossbones rain boots. Instead, the girls want to talk about princesses.

Ah, the princess phase, which I remember so well from Hannah's glowing adoration of plastic high heels and endless viewings of Cinderella. In recent years, there has been a lot of hand-wringing over the princesses and what they might be teaching our girls. But what, exactly, are pirates teaching our boys?

There's a lot about pirates that we've obviously tried to shield him from, but like I said, he sleeps with his sword. Pirates are violent, to put it mildly, and it's been a challenge to not glamorize that fact. He thinks "cannonball shooters" are really cool, but I don't think he gets that they're used to sink other ships and harm people. He doesn't know about the "rape and pillage" aspect of pirates...just like Hannah didn't clue into the "I need a man to save me!" aspect of princesses.

I deliberately used the word "phase" above, regarding the princesses, and I know the pirates will be a phase too. While Hannah may have only worn dresses for over a year, she's definitely against anything too frilly or pink now. To her, the princess obsession was just a fun way to learn something more about the world, and not something to get swallowed up by. Hopefully, soon Max will move on to something else too.

Just not before we get to go on this pirate ship together.

Thanks to Abby Glassenberg for helping me realize this was something I should discuss here.


  1. I think the underlying message for boys is, "You can take what you want without asking. You're in charge. You set the rules." And for girls the message is, "Be pretty and wait. Be passive and stay innocent." Veiled under the guise of pirates and princesses these messages somehow become palatable, or at least highly marketable, but it's worth being cognizant of their presence as parents and pointing out their pitfalls to our children.

  2. I think you're right that kids don't always take away a message from this stuff. It's a fine line, isn't it? Because if your kid doesn't grow out of the phase quickly, it's not like you can step in after so long and change their point of view.

    We are still in trains. And now I'm feeling okay about that. :)

  3. My 4 year old is also obsessed with pirates (thanks, Jake and the Neverland Pirates)!

  4. My 4 year old just entered a serious pirate phase fact, I have this same topic on my blog post to-do list. His interest is also directly attributed to Jake and Neverland Pirates. I don't worry too much about the underlying messages, because he is never going to get to the deeper pirate history at age 4. All he knows is that pirates get to dress up, ride in big ships, and bury treasure (which he has already tried in our backyard). It is very cute - and it is a MUCH refreshing change after 2 years in a hard-core train phase! Maybe we should get them all together for a pirate party! :)