There are probably great reasons to hate Disney, but the reason I keep hearing recently is because it gives little girls the wrong messages. In some ways, I agree with this. If you summarize many of the Disney stories the messages are quite creepy. However, I also think this is a reason people need to be a little nuanced and careful. It is way too easy for people to go from criticizing the message that Disney princesses give, to criticizing the love little girls have for Disney princesses.
Not all little girls like them, but many do, and on behalf of those that do, I think we should be aware the ways in which demonizing Disney princesses can be harmful too. Messages from those wishing to protect girls from Disney can range from messages about how they can be more than just a princess, to messages that wanting to be a princess is a sign a girl is shallow and weak. Often the message ends up being that there is something wrong with the people – predominantly little girls – who like them, and that type of misogyny is ridiculous.
Do I believe that it is inherent for little girls to like pink things, princesses, dresses and such? No. I believe it is socially conditioned. When my three year old daughter goes out in a dress everyone compliments her on it. People tell her how sweet and beautiful she looks. There’s social pressure on her that I didn’t want and don’t want her to be exposed to, but its there. I can try to balance it off with compliments about her abilities and skills, her curiosity and energy, but that won’t change everything for her. Society works on shaping little girls one way, and at the same time criticizes them for being that way.
I do not like or defend the pink aisles of “girls toys” in toy stores. I will do my best to convince my children that the division between toys is arbitrary and unnecessary that that they are all free to play with whatever they want, but if my daughter picks a toy from the pink aisle, if she dotes after Disney princesses and sparkles, I will not suggest to her that her doing so is a failure in any way. It does not make her less of a modern woman to choose to play with the toys marketed to her. It does not make her less capable or less intelligent. It does not make her less anything.
Yet that’s what I see some parents doing. I see them speaking about those who love Disney princesses as though the girls are just brainwashed fools. Or as though the girl who loves Disney obviously has substandard parents who didn’t buy her the appropriate Waldorf style dolls or limited-edition lego women scientists set.
Raising gender neutral children does not mean eliminating everything “feminine” or treating “girl stuff” as bad. It does not mean that it is cute and good for boys to play with stereotypical “girls things” but not for girls to play with those same things. Gender neutral must accept that some little girls like bright pink things and sparkles.
Watching fairy tales is not going to convince a little girl that she has to be passive and quiet. There are many influences on people, and the television shows they watch will just be one.
Telling little girls that what they love is wrong, or what their friends love is wrong, can become just as much or more of a problem for the girls. Life is hard enough without encouraging them to judge themselves and one another for it.
People should be aware also, of the temptation to criticize Disney princesses simply because its an easy target. Disney is the McDonald’s of the food world. Its something easy to hate. When people complain about it, I try to look at whether their complaint is one of the real problems with it, or whether the complaint is like when people include the word “organic” in their recipes: a way of trying to make the person sound cool, like they are part of the in group that can afford the expensive possibly more ethical things and not someone who might use “common” things.
There are problems with Disney. There are problems with the stories. There are problems with the lack of corporate responsibility but those are adult problems. We need to deal with those problems as adults, with adults, and keeping kids out of it. We can argue for better role models for little girls without suggesting there’s something wrong with those who like the role models they are offered now. We can also keep in mine that the problem is as much with the Disney princes as it is with the princesses.