Should You Let Your Little Girl Embrace Princesshood?

My latest at Jezebel looks at the “princess wars” and the debate over how much access to Disney characters parents should give their daughters. Excerpt:

While the reasons to be troubled by princess culture are myriad, parents like us who are more relaxed about our daughters’ enchantment with Disney’s royal entourage tend to fall into two distinct camps. One group embraces what Hinds calls “princessing” with uncritical abandon, seeing their daughters’ fascination with all things royal as an opportunity to inculcate a myriad of presumed virtues. Ever since Ariel (the Little Mermaid), Belle (Beauty and the Beast) and Jasmine (Aladdin) appeared in the early 1990s as part of Disney’s expansion of their historic princess franchise, fans have pointed to what they insist are the feminist leanings of this new generation of animated heroines. This faux royal egalitarianism is on full display in the latest offering from the House of Mouse, Sofia the First, a show that Hinds makes a point of refusing to allow his daughters to watch. In an episode that debuted just last week on Disney Jr., the title character bucks restrictive gender roles by becoming the first princess at “Royal Prep” to enter the previously all-boy equestrian steeplechase competition. (As one would expect, Sofia triumphs, defeating a sneering and scheming chauvinist nemesis named, to my daughter’s delight, Prince Hugo.) See, Disney and its defenders claim, little feminists can wear tiaras and defy stereotypes at the same time.

The other camp –- and this includes my wife and me as well as the parents of most of Heloise’s friends -– is wary of the claim that modern princessing offers much in the way of empowerment. Like Hinds, we recognize that “even the most feminist-friendly princess derives her social currency, her political power, and her personal identity as ‘princess’ from the make-believe patriarchy.” At the same time, we’re optimistic, perhaps overly so, about our daughters’ ability to leave the less healthy lessons of princess culture behind as they age. When I was Heloise’s age, I spent most of my non-school hours dressed as a cowboy, wearing a six-shooter on my hip. My mother trusted, rightly, that I’d grow out of a fascination with firearms. She also knew that forbidding me from having war toys would increase rather than diminish their allure. Toy guns are only one small way in which toxic messages about manhood get taught to little boys, and making them more appealing by banning them is a most ineffective vaccine against male violence. The risk in fighting an (almost inevitably unsuccessful) battle against princess culture is the false hope it gives that a de-Disneyed daughter will be a more empowered one.

Read the whole thing.

6 thoughts on “Should You Let Your Little Girl Embrace Princesshood?

  1. Pingback: The Pink Obsession | Clarissa's Blog

  2. For me, the concern is what do those disney stories actually teach young girls? That one has to be beautiful, rich etc to marry a prince? There must be more interesting stories with positive/moral aspects for young people to model themselves too?

  3. From here it all looks like a campaign to get people to buy, buy, buy more plastic crap. That alone is grounds for questioning it.
    When I was a kid, there was nothing I wanted so much as plastic crap–somewhat different, and used in still more different fantasies. But I also have memories of setting aside such plastic crap as I had and heading for the local swamp or creek with only a staff to test its depth. And that, somehow, was when I became closer to acting my, um, whatever I thought I was.
    You nailed it about how forbidding something only makes it more appealing. I still entirely understand the appeal of bright colors and shiny surfaces, and feel sorry for the kids whose parents don’t get them what they want, just as I didn’t get all the junk I circled in the catalog. But how to really teach them, or rather arrange for them to learn, that bright shiny stuff isn’t the only thing that’s fun, and some of it you can make yourself, in whatever shape you want, not the silly things Mattel and Disney crank out?
    This of course doesn’t address the thing the shiny stuff symbolizes and adorns–the idea of what a person can be or identify with. I kind of dodged that one, and the only thing I can come up with is, read to the kids while they are real little–all sorts of different stories–and then they will take to reading like I did and have more chances of finding some good stories, more seeds from which to grow their own stories. Then the princesses won’t be so passive or stupidly entitled. Especially, find ways to erode at the gender crap–so that if the little princess still likes bling she won’t be dependent on some prince, and if the little boy still likes guns he will still know you only want him using play ones. All right, let’s not get started on the gun thing, but I can’t help notice that the toy section, as well as the clothes section, is just as gender-riddled as it was when I was a kid.
    Oh, and make sure there’s a creek or swamp handy, and a stick for testing its depth.
    Seems to me this blog has gotten kind of dead lately. I don’t know whether it’s been because of the rarity of posts or from people being driven off by the trolls because no moderator. Some smart people have hung out here in the past, so what kind of feed can bring them back to the bird-feeder?

  4. Angiportus, as you might imagine, once I started being a regular columnist elsewhere, and once I had a second child, my time for blogging here essentially disappeared. This blog now, I’m afraid, largely exists to link to my writing elsewhere now…

  5. I prefer commenting here, infrequent as it may be. I don’t comment on regular internet articles generally speaking because it isn’t possible to ever have an actual “conversation”, so to speak, with a thousand people. A little too much “screaming into the darkness” vibe for me. At least here, I might have the opportunity to exchange with someone meaningfully.

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