Unless you’ve been living on Mars, you’re aware that we’ve got a big party here in the UK tomorrow as Kate Middleton is finally getting married to her prince. It’s all very exciting (well not really) and I admit that I’ll end up watching it on the tele just like a billion or so other people around the world. I’m sure it will be glorious and lavish, she’ll be beautiful, William will be handsome, just what the fairy godmother ordered. In all seriousness, they actually come across as two genuinely decent people and I hope they enjoy another one of our lovely spring days and live happily every after.
But in the madness surrounding the wedding, I can’t help but wonder if we’re glorifying this whole thing a bit much and reinforcing the idea that becoming a princess could be a girl’s crowning achievement. As I rode the tube home a few weeks ago and flipped through my copy of the Evening Standard, I came across an article about a Princess Prep school, a summer camp designed to teach young girls etiquette and horse riding, among other things. You’re kidding me, right? Nope.
According to an article in the Express, it’s targeted for the American market and will set you back £2500 to have your little girl immersed in everything royal for a week. Their website even says that little girls will be cared for “in the regal manner to which they plan to become accustomed.” It’s no surprise to me that this comes from America where more and more parents are sadly happy to exploit their own children and allow their 5 year olds to wear more makeup than I do at 40.
Jerramy Fine, the founder of Princess Prep, said in the Express article:
“I got a lot of backlash asking why I didn’t set up something like a Nobel Prize winners camp instead but I think princess qualities such as generosity, gratitude and good manners, are all very important in life.”
I actually couldn’t agree more. But I don’t think we should label generosity, gratitude, and good manners as something you need to be a princess to display. I’m all about teaching children of both sexes about manners and politeness. But, isn’t that what parents are for? Surely I don’t need to send my child to summer camp for him to learn to say please and thank you.
Couple this with an article I read in PC Magazine about the continually widening gender gap in technology. Jobs in the technology sector are growing yet women continue to be underrepresented. From my own personal experience, I know this is true. I’ve worked in the technology sector for the past 15 years in small startups, dot coms, and Fortune 500 companies in both the US and UK. And, universally, I have typically been the only women in the room.
There are of course exceptions to every rule and I’ve worked with many other talented tech savvy women. What I find interesting though is that, usually, none of these women are American. They are Indian, Asian, and European. One of the most talented women I worked with in the US was Russian. American technology companies are out there paying for work permits and visas to bring in skilled women (and men) from overseas. I agree with President Obama when he says there are more pressing issues that need his attention than the silliness of his birth certificate. Like what’s happening to the American education system. If I had to hazard a guess, little girls in China aren’t going to princess camp. They are learning about math, science, and technology.
My “summer camp” consisted of hanging out on dad’s college campus playing in the physics lab, the biology lab, the planetarium, the darkroom, typing silly messages on punch cards and making holograms of little dice. Lest you think that makes me too much of a geek, I also had a Barbie and she lived in a smashing townhouse. Now, not every little girl has a dad with a PhD in physics and access to a college campus. But, surely there are better choices for the parents of little girls than a camp that reinforces gender stereotypes as recent research shows that these start at an early age.
Maybe Professor Brian Cox, who is a shining example of making science interesting and accessible, should startup a summer camp for girls. We don’t need to encourage girls to learn about the wonders of becoming Cinderella. What we need is to encourage more girls to learn about the wonders of the universe around them.