The little girl and princess tags are clever ways to keep daughters under control

Last Sunday, when it was Father's Day, the air was so thick with syrupy sweetness that you could have fried gulab jamuns in it. Thousands of twee messages from grown women saying they would always be daddy's little girls or daddy's princesses flitted about on social media.

Now, I'm all for freedom of expression and I do believe that fathers can be very special people to their children. But let's get over the daddy's princess/little girl labels, shall we? They're so LIMITING.

Here's my conspiracy theory to explain why these endearing labels were created: to keep daughters under control.

Let's tackle the tags, one at a time.

First up, daddy's little girl. Why do some of us go all gooey inside when we're called daddy's little girls? Why is it made out to be a compliment when its counterpart "mamma's boy" is clearly not one?

The label daddy's little girl strongly reeks of the connotation that you are a cutesy child still dependent on Papa. Or that you can coyly twist him around your little finger and get things done your way. Both images are quite sickening, I think, because they make us out to be either delicate darlings or manipulative minxes.

There's also the danger that Papa considers himself all-time provider for his little girl and, therefore, will continue to exercise authority even after his daughter has grown up. And, often, the "little girl" is excluded (under the guise of protection) from serious matters like the family's finances.

If the happy-go-lucky little girl stamp is a hard one to rub off, the daddy's princess label is an even tougher challenge. We all love the princess fantasy: that of being a special person, so unique and charming. But note how a daughter is not just a princess. She's daddy's princess and that use of the possessive form is something to be very wary of, as it signals ownership.

It's all hunky-dory as long as we go along with what daddy thinks is best. We might take up singing lessons because Dad wants us to or wear a colour that he likes. But sparks are going to fly when our choice of college course/ career doesn't neatly coincide with his or when we turn down an arranged marriage. These matters could be solved with healthy debate, but with social conditioning of daughters what's usually likely to transpire is that we give in because we want to please Dad or because we don't want to hurt him.

Remember Sara Crewe in "A Little Princess"? Sara imagines herself to be a princess to rise above her miserable circumstances. Her case is quite different from what I'm referring to, of course, but that's the trouble with thinking of ourselves as princesses. We either become martyrs like Sara or, at the other extreme, spoilt brats wanting fathers to be lifelong caretakers.

Message to dads: Your little girls need to eventually grow up. And, let's face it, there are so few princesses around. The real world is tough. Let daughters make mistakes and learn.

Message to daughters: It's OK to make decisions unpopular with family. While that's no call to hurt our dear ones, thinking we have to do something to stay the good little girl/princess does us no good.

If you still want to be a little girl and have daddy buy you kittens, this is what is going to happen.

(Kannal Achuthan often ponders on philosophical conundra, and writes down some of it. Write to her at kannal.achuthan@thehindu.co.in)