To my sons: if I catch you treating a girl like a princess, I will break your kneecaps

My friend Megan Conley was in a library the other week, and overheard a horrific conversation between a couple on a first date. Well. We’ve all had our share of cringe-worthy first dates, of course (unless you’re me, in which case you’ve had your share of no dates at all). But this one, oh, this one got under my skin.

Meg wrote a beautiful response for the girl she wanted to take aside, which I hope you’ll read. But I am raising boys. With Meg’s kind permission, I’ve written this for them. 

My dear, lovely boys,

I don’t know when you’ll be reading this. Perhaps you already keep to your room most of the time and roll your eyes when you talk to me, because I’m the most uncool person you know. (Just as an aside, right now you think I’m the best thing since chips and ketchup, so there. (Extra aside: am I better at being an adult, now? I hope so.))

I’m willing to bet, though, that you’re already interested in girls. And that’s good. Because girls are what I want to talk to you about. You hear a lot about dating at the moment, I’m sure. A lot of it is good, sound advice. We’ll have talked about all this already, in person, so I don’t need to say anything here.

Here’s what I do want to say: if I catch you treating that girl like a princess, I will break your kneecaps.

I am so tired of all this girl-as-a-princess talk. Do you know what princesses do, in stories? They are kidnapped. They sit in towers guarded by fire-breathing dragons. They are the prizes in competitions of strength and manliness. They are the victims of spell-casters twirling their moustaches, and lie in enchanted sleep or as sad little swans on the river until they are rescued. And rescued they have to be, almost always, by the handsome prince on his white horse.

Oh, that prince. He is dashing. He is determined. He chops down the forest of thorns and defeats the evil witch even when all hope is lost. He works out the problem to be solved and doesn’t stop searching and trying and thinking until the princess has been found and there’s a happily ever after. I know it’s not always this way; I know there are princesses who think for themselves. There are exceptions to every rule. But for every Mulan there is an Aurora, and for every Belle with her library book there’s a Cinderella waiting for the ball, in fact twelve Cinderellas, a hundred Cinderellas: a princess at the top of every tower you can think of, and all of them waiting for you.

My dear boys, this is utter, utter pigswill. The girls you meet are not sitting in suspended animation, waiting for your manly shoulder to cry on, your voice to explain everything and make it alright. The girl you fall in love with has opinions, loves, passions, tragedies, strengths and weaknesses all of her own. She was born an endlessly complex, endlessly marvellous creature, and has spent her life thus far remembering and discovering who she is. She has spent her life in a world where too many stories told her that she had to stay put and look pretty, that all her value lay in what a man thought of her, wanted from her, was willing to do for her. I hope she is fighting against it. I hope she has come out spitting.

It’s not much fun for you either, this handsome prince lark. Of course it’s nice to be needed, but the pressure to always be the strong one, always chopping down that damned forest to get to her, can be suffocating. At best, you feel an added pressure to always be in control of yourself, to never show weakness or emotion, and to carry the weight of you both even when you’re sinking. At worst, you begin to assume that only you know the answers to the questions that bother you both. You make the decisions, you tell her what to think, you explain things, endlessly. It’s disrespectful to both of you, that sort of thing. It leads nowhere good.

This is what I want you to say, when you find a girl that makes you feel like the best version of yourself: to hell with the stories. Do you hear me? To hell with them. Neither of you have to be anything you’re not. Both of you are endlessly complex, endlessly marvellous creatures, and you’ll spend a lifetime learning each others’ strengths and bolstering your weaknesses. Sometimes you’ll be on the horse, and sometimes you’ll be in the tower. Sometimes you’ll be back-to-back, chopping down the thorns with a sword in each hand.

Let her be, in all her wonderful imperfection. Let yourself be, too. It’s alright. Together you’ll leap every obstacle and storm every castle and make something so fine we’ll hardly be able to look at it straight.

Oh, I love you to your bones, my darling boys. So will she. Be worthy of it. Or I really will break your kneecaps.

Your mother.


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24 thoughts on “To my sons: if I catch you treating a girl like a princess, I will break your kneecaps

  1. Pingback: To My Sons (Don’t Make Me Hurt You) | Meg In Progress

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  3. I’m mum to a preschool daughter who has only recently discovered princesses (damnit) and I absolutely loved this post!

    I cannot convey how much contempt I hold for that sap, Cinderella – and any other of her ilk. I can take Rapunzel and her frying pan (til she starts singing) and a big hell yeah to Merida! But I am worried for my daughter’s spirit – even though she still likes to dress up as a power ranger and has an arsenal bigger than the small country of Liechtenstein.

    I think she’ll be okay, as long as she only dates boys who will help look out for her by breaking their boy’s knee caps if they try to pull any of that damsel-rescue sh*t… 😉 x

    • Cinderella was actually enslaved until she finally got a break…a lot of people, not just women, go through that today (not in a fairy tale way). There’s nothing wrong with a man fighting for his lady. These feminist girls all realize that when they wake up and find themselves alone. Yea, great article…

      • That wasn’t really the point of the article: I wanted to express how passive women are generally in fairy tales, and how this often becomes ingrained in our culture and expectations. No, there’s nothing wrong at all with a man ‘fighting for his lady’ – but I think the expectation that a man must ALWAYS be the ‘rescuer’ of any situation is unhealthy for them both. In a relationship, you support and love and rescue each other, whatever is needed during your changing circumstances – that’s the beauty of it.
        Thanks for reading!

    • Absolutely. And I think that treating a girl like she’s breakable eventually makes her think she is, and it’s no good for either of them. If only we could make all of their decisions for them, with the benefit of hindsight 🙂

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  5. Sharing! I have a boy and two girls, and we don’t buy Disney Princess stuff or keep what we’re given… 🙂 Thank you! I may write a letter to my son about superheroes. We went to a friend’s house who likes her son to idolize superheroes because she wants him to have good role models. I was hoping she was at least talking about animated superman or something – but then she put on Iron Man III to watch – they’re four years old! – and I took my babies home. Thank you for being bold!

    • Thanks so much for sharing! My view count went up hugely that day 🙂
      It’s a tricky one because I feel like there’s a lot of good in fairy tales too – morals about bravery and integrity, etc. And there’s nothing like a fantasy for firing up the imagination. But there are better role models than Disney Princesses out there, and I want to make sure my kids find them!

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  10. I am from Florida as an objective observer I think on multiple levels Disney is worse for people.

    Movies aside, there is really only two “classes”

    Upper management and pretty much everyone else.
    It has turned alot of people who adores Disney everything into losing the fantasy for the guests.

    The machine squeezes every possible penny from the guests and as that is failing, it acquires more “assets” to pull in higher profits.

    I am all about empowering women, I have a friend that I helped her get on her feet.

    Not enabling inappropriate behaviours, tough “love” and pushing her to move forward.

    She has retained work long term, always going for the better work; and won’t let any boyfriends dictate her life.

    We are still friends, although we are not as close now as we were before.
    It has taken some convincing sometimes, that I am not trying to date her.
    I have seen some really heavy stuff with her that makes it impossible.
    I was not able to listen to what she needed to help her with past experiences that hold her back.

    As for the movies, I know Disney is trying to “empower” girls and women everywhere. I think the presentation of flawless with self discovery and overcoming “odds.”

    We are all flawed, we all overcome hardship and we are skill less until we work on it.
    Sometimes people have natural talent in skills, but not flawless.

    I like your article “although when searching for something else” I stumbled upon it,
    I was curious why alot of father’s turn their daughter into daddies little princess.
    I think the “spoiling” causes an unrealistic precedent; that when the boyfriend/husband stop providing the ‘illusion’ the ‘honeymoon’
    Phase is over, and since the brain is not getting the neuro chemicals as before. Well draw your own conclusions.

  11. Just stumbled on this 5 years later thanks to a Google search and holy shit I’m glad I did. Awesome post.

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