Is ‘The Princess Mentality’ Undermining Career Women?

Amanda Steinberg is the founder and CEO of DailyWorth, an online community that helps women earn more, save more and spend smarter. 

Somewhere between Cinderella and The Princess Bride, we were seduced into a princess fantasy. MBAs, law degrees and all, on some level, too many women still pine for rescue in some form.

Is this princess mentality, whether we’re conscious of it or not, a problem?

“Possibly,” says USA Today columnist Laura Vanderkam. Her recent op-ed called The Princess Problem,” suggests that our collective fondness for princesses could do more harm to our overall sense of security than to our self image. “Princesses lack what psychologists call an ‘internal locus of control,’” writes Vanderkam. “This is the belief that you are responsible for making your way in the world.”

Yes, we’re working, earning degrees and climbing the leadership ranks at a stunning pace. Women will outpace men as breadwinners in the next generation! Still, this princess-problem is negatively impacting our earning power, Vanderkam notes. She cites a study in which “more than 80% of women felt that their worth was determined by what their companies chose to pay them (e.g. it wasn’t their own responsibility to control their own worth), just as Cinderella is chosen by her prince.”

What are we, as a gender, really buying into as “ideal?” This whole princess-rescue-fantasy epidemic is further exacerbated by our relationship to money. About 50% of marriages will end in divorce, while 75% of women still delegate investing (read: FUTURE SECURITY) decisions to our husbands. “I don’t know where to start with investing” so many women say to me. By the year 2030, women will control two thirds of wealth in the U.S.. We must educate ourselves on what to do with so much wealth as it will increasingly become our responsibility.

Let me help you. To start saving for retirement, at the very least, open a Roth IRA with Fidelity or Schwab and move $1,000 into an index fund. Investing for your own future is exhilarating, I promise.

So, now that we’re past investing, can we get even more radical–more radical than women investing?

Here’s a question for you. How much should we worry about moms who choose to opt-out of work for years at a time, sacrificing their own earning power and self-sufficiency. Can any woman really afford to do that? Now, before the Park Slope mommy brigade comes after me with their Bugaboos, take a deep breath. Now almost 35 years old, I see what the flip-side looks like for too many women who don’t work. While a few I know feel secure, too many others are trapped in marriages they can’t afford to leave, trapped by bills they can’t afford to pay, and rejected by a workforce not interested in hiring women who have been out of the game for too long.

Dear manufacturers of the princess fantasy: We need an upgrade.


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    • Lastango

      You raise several good points, but is the notion of rescue the best place to start?

      The #1 princess fantasy plaguing educated young women may not be rooted in a desire for rescue. Instead, it may be entitlement: the idea that it’s possible to have rights, opportunity, and positive outcomes without responsibilities or burden. It is always someone else’s job to make it all possible, and to pay for it. We don’t have to go far for an example of some of that thinking:

      With reality popping the global free-lunch bubble, Princess had better buckle down and get to work because she’s going to be pulling her own wagon.

      (Not that rescue is entirely out of the picture… if things don’t work out she’s entitled to be rescued!)

    • Amanda Steinberg – Founder,

      Lastango, love it! My next piece shall be on entitlement. Thanks for the idea. Indeed, we can be an entitled gender.

      “Princess had better buckle down and get to work because she’s going to be pulling her own wagon.” – boom. There’s an upside to the pull, as we can choose the direction. Lotsa good stuff here.

    • Avodah

      I could not agree more. Thank you so much for this piece!

      Nobody will make our futures for us except ourselves!

    • G

      Great article, but “Career women” – really? Didn’t the Grindstone list this as a banned word just the other week? Change the title to “…undermining women’s careers” and it will be perfect.

      Nobody says “Career man” do they.

      • Kristin

        THANK YOU.

    • mm

      I haven’t actually read this article yet, although I’m about to. I just want to say that after seeing the title my mind instantly went “YES!”

      Now I’ll see what you have to say! =)

      • mm

        Woohoo! Not disappointed. As a young woman entering the workforce at full throttle, I completely understand this article. I grew up on princess movies. I was 10 when The Princess Diaries came out, and it was my favorite movie for years. In high school, I never took control of my own life until I got too miserable with where I was going that I had no choice. Now I have a job most people my age would kill for. Why aren’t there any movies about that? It’s so much more empowering to show women making goals for themselves and going above and beyond even their own expectations. Someday when I own my own production company, I promise to start the change. It needs to happen!! Besides, who wants to marry rich when you can have your OWN money?

    • Jacqueline Ross

      Agreed, although I think there are many who don’t realize or won’t admit to just how firmly entrenched the ‘Princess’ and ‘Rescue’ mentalities are, even today!

      I might get some flack for this comment but I further think there are many stay-at-home moms who use putting their kids or family first as an excuse or as a ‘Get-out-of-taking-responsibility-for-my-own dreams/goals/happiness/retirement/future/etc.’ card.

      There is so much technology, information and options available today there is no reason w

    • M

      What a joke. Where in all of this nonsense is the idea of the “princess fantasy” properly identified? (If it exists!) Are we suppose to accept a female psychologists assumption that women lack an internal locus of control because of princess movies? Nowadays, I know plenty of men that also lack the belief that they must make their own way in the world. What is the condition that psychologists give them? Surely it isn’t the G.I. syndrome?! Tout the fact that women are projected to be higher earners then men, be proud of it even, but what is the actual argument of this article?

      Women will make more than men, soon, but not soon enough?

    • Pingback: Hey Princess! Are you in charge? | Sofiie tellALL()

    • marie

      I am a career woman and I like to think I am on a successful path, but there is still a small part of me that has always wanted to be “rescued” by a man. I am married and I learned real quick after the honeymoon that nobody can “rescue” you but yourself. Make your own money, be as educated as possible (both classroom and world experiences), and don’t rely too much on others. Very hard advice for me to follow, but I try.

    • Rachel

      As an entrepreneur and single mother of three kids, the metaphor I’m going for these days is not Princess but Queen. I have power AND responsibility. I want to live royally and command respect, plus I feel a deep desire to serve and give to those around me. I’m definitely not looking for Prince Charming – experience has shown me that charm is totally over-rated. Instead, I’m looking for my King – someone with strong character, who feels a sense of responsibility to lead, serve and provide for his family and community. Time to up our game, ladies and climb up the fairytale ladder a couple rungs.

      • Leslie

        I fully agree with you Rachel. I’ve always related better to Queen than Princess – although – it wasn’t until my own divorce that I have been conscious, prepared and strong-in-self enough to embody and own my Queen.

    • Eli Z

      As a career mom with an MBA and a six figure income I think this post – like most – really oversimplifies something that is much more complex and personal than a “princess fantasy” – and also – is completely off-base. I didn’t grow up wanting someone to rescue me, I worked extremely hard to get where I am and so did my husband. However, now with two young children and both of us working high pressure jobs we’re realizing the amount of energy and time we both are putting into our careers comes at the expense of our family and our stress levels, and is not necessarily making us happy. Although we both have high income jobs, his income has far outpaced mine in recent years and our practical financial sense makes it obvious that if one of us is going to cut back it will be me – I know of many cases where this scenario repeats itself. I work in financial services and completely understand the repercussions – however I’ve also come to understand alot of the pros from other women that have made a decision to cut back to part time or stay home. And in my circle of MBAs, Lawyers and Doctors the decisions we are making around family and careers in our mid-thirties are very comples and well thought out, those that have cut back on their careers certainly did not do it out of some misguided princess fantasy – I feel they did it because the endless work hours for more and more money just wasn’t as fulfilling as they thought it was going to be – and spending more time with their children was more so. I don’t believe this is ever an easy decision for any women, certainly not highly educated, high income women that do have the concern they will never regain their footing in the corporate world if they take time out – and who know they will be judged harshly. Which is one of the reasons articles like this vex me so much – why on earth would we call women that decide to make career sacrifices for the good of their family princesses? I know for a fact as hard as I work at work — staying home with two children is no easier.
      There are plenty of brilliant women who take 3-5 years at home and are great candidates to return to high level careers and often will work harder and more efficiently than someone that does not have as much to prove based on our culture’s demeaning attitude toward stay at home moms.
      Articles like this — implying their decision to stay home was a princess fantasy belittles women and their intelligence – and perpetuates a mentality that prevents women from being able to return to satisfying careers if they choose to spend time working part time or staying at home with children. They are just as infuriating as articles that castigate women for not raising their own children if they are working moms. We should be helping eachother – not justifying our own decisions by painting the decisions others make in a negative light.
      For those of you that are bright eyed and bushy tailed before getting married and having children – and are sure you will never be a stay at home mom, all I can say is that actually being a mom cannot be understood until you are one and you may change your mind, regardless of how much you protest now… I once was you, and now I’m not so sure of what the next few years hold, I may cut back on my career, I may not. I never expected to, but I also never expected the amount of compromise I would feel by only seeing my kids a couple hours a day during the week, sometimes less. Most of the mom’s I know feel similarly conflicted – and we all need to make the best decisions for ourselves and our families. We didn’t all want to be engineers – maybe what is right for you isn’t right for your best friend – let’s just stop judging each other.

      • Sandra Ellzey

        No matter what your position is on the author’s POV, I loved this part of your response, and every single woman should read it: “We should be helping each other – not justifying our own decisions by painting the decisions others make in a negative light.”

      • Avodah

        “Know for a fact”. It can be proven I guess?

    • Jill H.

      Thank you, Eli Z. for writing exactly what I wanted to write but from the other perspective. My husband and I have done it all: day care with our first son, my husband stayed home for three years after the second son, and then I took over as the stay-at-home parent. Our family life is so much more relaxed because one of us spear-heads the home/kids and one brings in most of the money. My husband has a wonderful saying: we are working to live not living to work. I work part-time now and perhaps my future earning potential has suffered but I do not judge the success of my life by monetary units. That does not mean I have no “internal locus of control”. We have savings, investments, 401ks and IRAS; plus I hold the pursestrings so I feel I’ve been very responsible for my own financial health.

      The whole purpose of the feminist movement was to give women the opportunity to CHOOSE. The author should be ashamed to imply that a stay-at-home mom is somehow symptomatic of the “princess-rescue-fantasy epidemic”. How much should you worry about us, you ask? Don’t. Please, just keep calculating your own net worth in dollars since that is obviously what is most important in life.

      Dear female manufacturers of mean-spirited labels for other women: we need an upgrade.

      • Avodah

        I don’t think the author intended to belittle housewives. I think she was referring to girls and young women who hope to be whisked away by a knight in shining armor to a 5 bedroom house with a pool in Greenwich, a country club membership and a nanny who keeps the kids’ Brooks Brothers outfits spotless.

        If you only wish to be a wife and a mother there is nothing wrong with that. Also, I think it is nonsense to assume someone can and will always provide for you. Those two things are not mutually inclusive.

    • Marie

      It’s possible to have a career and not neglect our children – but trying to do everything at once is a recipe for stress, anxiety, and dysfunction. The author asks, “How much should we worry about moms who choose to opt-out of work for years at a time, sacrificing their own earning power and self-sufficiency. Can any woman really afford to do that?”, and I ask, how much should we worry about children who are raised in institutions because the parents didn’t plan ahead of time, and save money before having kids, so one parent could be home with them in their formative years? Can any parent afford to have children who have separation issues, are depressed, and never fully develop emotionally because they were raised by strangers? I know from experience, from working with children and youth for 25 years. Take the time with them while they are young.

    • Smith

      These sort of females come from a family that is well off, if these parents are smart they will get them into a class on how to live without their money fast as they are the image of what some are calling gold diggers…..

      For those who work, we want someone who works with us and brings us up to the next level of life and living.