A recent study on the results of young children engaging in “princess culture” — specifically Disney-created princess dolls and media — has shown that, after a year, said engagement was associated with more female gender-stereotypical behavior. Sounds like everything “bad” we want to believe about our favorite childhood princesses has been verified, right? Well, I am a skeptic. In fact, I believe princess culture is actually feminist.
This study assumes that kids (or those in the study, who ranged from preschool to kindergarten-aged) will then go on to lose confidence in math and science, and avoid learning experiences that aren’t “typically feminine.” What I can't seem to take seriously and, in turn, what I consider to be the most disturbing part about the entire study, is that it calls out the exhibition of “female gender-stereotypical behavior” as negative.
I’d be worried if my kid wanted to drop out of school and, instead, find a prince to marry. I’d be worried if she perpetuated class stereotypes and her time playing was exclusively spent pretending to rule over indentured servants who were at her beck and call. I’d be worried if princess culture was the only thing she was learning, but it’s not. She’s exposed to a zillion other types of behaviors or aspirational occupations at home, in school, on the playground, and in books and (non-princess) movies. If we are worried that princess culture will swallow up our children, then we need to be doing a better job, as caregivers and role models, to balance the equation. Everything in moderation. Yes, even royalty.
We can talk about all the harm that our favorite, fictitious princesses are doing to future generations or even specific groups of kids, or we can simply focus on the good they are doing, like making this foster kid’s day by showing up at her adoption.
Is it really a princess doll or a movie like Cinderella, that encourages our girls to shy away from STEM subjects? Or, is it our refusal to acknowledge that we, as parents, are failing to offer up alternatives to the ancient fairy tale narratives, broadening our children’s view of the world and who they can be in it, while still allowing them to play with dolls and watch their favorite movies?
The best thing we can do when it comes to princesses (because, let’s face it, they’re not going anywhere) is teach our children (and, in particular, our daughters) that wearing a tiara comes with a certain amount of responsibility. That’s why I think these reasons prove princess culture is actually feminist: