Monday, January 15, 2007

What's Wrong With Cinderella?

"To call princesses a 'trend' among girls is like calling Harry Potter a book," claimed Peggy Orenstein in a New York Times commentary (via Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood).

Sales at Disney Consumer Products, which started the craze six years ago by packaging nine of its female characters under one royal rubric, have shot up to $3 billion, globally, this year, from $300 million in 2001. There are now more than 25,000 Disney Princess items. "Princess," as some Disney execs call it, is not only the fastest-growing brand the company has ever created; they say it is on its way to becoming the largest girls' franchise on the planet.

Last week, I asked readers of New Moon's e-newsletter to read and share their OWN opinions. Have marketers gone too far with the princess theme? We got a lot of thoughtful responses from parents, and one from a girl! Read on to see what they had to say, then share YOUR opinion by leaving a comment or writing to blog@newmoon.org.

I think that for little girls to play pretend and play that they are princesses is OK. I am a girl who strongly believes EVERY human is equal. But in my opinion, girls do seem to like playing house a little more than boys and they like dolls a little better than boys. This is not to say that boys are not allowed the freedom of a Raggedy Ann or that girls can't play boat or war! When I played those kind of games, even when I played adventures, I always wanted to be the girl princess or nurse. I do agree with Peggy on one thing. Most girls I know hate the color pink. It to me is more a color to say what the sex of a human is rather than their favorite color. I hate when someone calls me “hon,” or assumes my favorite color is pink. I must admit that sometimes I find it a little odd that people think all girls are pink-loving, sweat-hating angels. But then again some people go a tad bit overboard with the whole “girls don’t like pink they want to play in the dirt” thing. I myself do like to do that, but I also know girls who can't stand being dirty. I say let the children play and pretend. They will come to their own realization when they are older. Every child has a mind, some for princesses and some not. –Gui, age 12, Arizona

The princess thing is a moment in time. Our oldest, now 10, won't wear pink anymore, and at 4 and 5, she wouldn't wear blue. Embrace your child's natural bend and assure her it’s great to be girlie or a tomboy ... or a little of both! The notion that as women there's sides to this issue reminds me that we haven't come as far as I'd hoped. I see this even with mothers ... some of my more feminist friends look down on me because I get a manicure every once in awhile. –Robyn, Kentucky

The issue my sister and I have been fighting since our children were old enough to want Happy Meal toys is the question from the cashier, "Do you want a 'boy toy' (car/adventure toy) or 'girl toy' (Barbie/My Little Pony, etc.) with your Happy Meal?" There were many times my sister's son wanted a pony toy or my daughter wanted a car, but when we would remind the (usually teenage) clerk that boys and girls all play with many different kinds of toys, we would just get a blank stare. My sister even e-mailed McDonald's corporate office about this and asked them if it wouldn't be just as easy for cashiers to ask, "Do you want a car or a Barbie," but she got no response. Now I just bypass the issue by saying when I order, "I would like a Happy Meal with a car (or Barbie)." –Lisa, Ohio

As a Speech-Language Pathologist who works with disadvantaged preschoolers, Iuse the "princess" lure to my advantage, building on the girls' enculturation with princess images but modifying it to include role-playing that empowers them to be princesses who take action. I read them books like "Paperbag Princess" and "Feminist Fairy Tales." Who says princesses have to be wimps?! –Chris, Wisconsin

I agree with Peggy 100%. Little girls—and big girls—should aspire to so much more than being a princess. If we touted role models like astronauts, engineers, and scientists and much as pink princesses, we would have a woman for president right now. And boy, could we use one! –Jan, Colorado

Disney princesses are actually a fantastic learning tool for young girls. My own daughter will be 11 soon, and she loved each and every princess. I don't know how other Moms handle these situations, but I always talk to my daughter about the message being sent and I try to do this in a positive way. For example, we watched Little Mermaid together. Afterwards, I said that I felt Ariel was a beautiful sea creature, special and magical, and that no one should ever change who they are. All of her friends are sea creatures as well—surely she wouldn't want to leave all of them behind? My daughter completely agreed. Why then, I asked my daughter, did Ariel want to become a human? My daughter couldn't explain it. With each movie, I helped her understand the "real" story behind the Disney version. I compare the characters to real women and girls who don't have big eyes/lips and who don't flash skin, who my daughter admires and loves and considers to be beautiful. This has worked for me and sometimes, my daughter has analyzed the latest fad toy or doll without me saying one word. I believe that as long as I am doing my job, pointing out the marketing strategies these companies use, what messages they're sending, what messages they really should send, etc., then my daughter (hopefully) will be just fine. The princess phase is just that—a phase. –Kelly, Indiana

I think marketers will only push products/themes that they know will sell. I believe in supply and demand. If there was not a demand for princess-themed items in the market, then we would not be seeing them in advertising or in the stores. It is up to parents to decide if they allow their children’s self esteem or aspirations to be effected in any way by what is marketed in the media. They can do this by limiting exposure, or by watching with them and explaining their point of view at that time, and the most effective way is to NOT BUY the item(s) for their children! My experience has been that some girls go through phases in their development where the color pink, princess themes, and frilly dresses may play a big part of their lives. Then it may turn into a phase where sports, pants, and t-shirts are the most important themes. Hopefully as parents we can guide our child through these and enjoy the benefits without getting too caught up on the stereotypes adults tend to worry about. –Linda, Michigan

My mother-in-law sent me a copy of the article because she knows how much the whole princess craze drives me nuts! My daughter is 4 1/2 yrs old and MY mother is very into Barbies and princesses and has given my daughter a ton of CRAP associated with them—which I politely try to "leave at grandma's house to play with there" because quite frankly, I could not get through the badly-written copies of the annoying Disney princess storybook series without having to change the stories to be able to stomach them as a feminist who cares about my daughter's self esteem! –Melissa, Illinois

What would Peggy suggest that marketers use to reach little girls instead of pink and princesses? I think it'd be interesting to see what they would come up with instead. Don't we grow out of pink anyway? I don't know of many women walking around with plastic (or real) tiaras or pink feather boas with plastic heels on. I think the reality of having to go to work, or working at home while raising children, is a daily reminder that we are not all princesses. It doesn't mean we can't feel like ones, such as on my oldest son's wedding day when I wore my hair up and had my makeup done. –Rudy, California

7 comments:

New Moon said...

Tammy says: "I think it sets them up for a lot of fall and dissapointments."

New Moon said...

Amy from California says: "Yes, I agree that the princess fad needs to stop. This opinion is based on the things you mentioned in the newsletter, but also that the storybook princesses aren't exactly perfect role models. In the 'The Princess and the Pea' story, the princess complains, after feeling a pea beneath over fifty mattresses, that it felt like she was sleeping on boulders and then the prince's mother is satisfied and they are married. Is this the message we want to send to our youth? That being spoiled and rude are desirable qualities? There are several other examples of questionable antics. Also, in almost every fairy tale I've read, the princess and her 'Prince Charming' seem to know each other for less then a month, if even a week, before deciding to tie the knot. Although I'm not sure, I'm afraid this sort of message may subconciously be encouraging the idea of early marriage in young girls. That's my two cents worth."

New Moon said...

Siobhanand, a girl from Arizona, says: "Personally, I think there's nothing wrong with calling a girl a princess. Every girl is a princess in her own way. But when someone is being called that 24/7 ... well then, that's a bit ridiculous. I've grown up my whole life being told by my mother that girls and women are just as strong as heroic as any male out there. We're not little helpless beings that need to be rescued and babied--we can do things for ourselves, too. I'm sure my mother would agree with this case of how even today, poeple are trying to make young girls think they have to be ladylike and act like princesses. This mom totally did the right thing. What mom wants her daughter to grow up being a bubble-head? I'm pretty sure not one would."

Devin said...

I thnk as long as they know they are NOT REALLY a princess, it's ok, but being over obsessed with something is not good.

Anonymous said...

I think that all princess stuff is cute, and an awesome toy for girls. My cousin loves their stuff. I think that people get mad about their stuff because they're all skinny and pretty and dressed in frilly dresses. But seriously, who cares? What do you want, a fat, ugly, barbie dressed in boy clothes? I doubt that girls would like that! And barbies do not send a bad messages for girls. Thank you for your time and sorry if anybody got offended by the words I used.

Corey said...

Corey, age 10, says: "New Moon --- Some of my friends favorite color is pink. I prefer colors like
blue and red but I personally don't see anything wrong with liking pink. The kind of things that get to me are when girls feel the pressure to be just like princesses -- feeling they have to be pretty to get anywhere in life or just can't wait until they are old enough to put on the globs of makeup that will make prince charming come their way. However, take Pocahontas, for instance. As a young girl, I admired her and still do! She was brave and
adventurous and never paused for a lipstick check. She also saved the life of John Smith I don't see anything wrong with that!"

Anonymous said...

Harry Potter IS a book.