In defense of Disney Princesses

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In defense of Disney Princesses

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.

 

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7 thoughts on “In defense of Disney Princesses

  1. You know, I actively TRIED to “make” my daughter not be a girly-girl. And at 6 years old, I’ve given up – she is a pink and sparkly and frilly and sweet kind of little girl. She is who she is, and I love who she is.

    I do not watch ALL Disney movies, I watch a good number of them with my kids but not all. Abby LOVES Disney Princess ‘stuff’, but she has yet to really even watch half the movies that those princesses are even IN. She just likes them because they wear beautiful dresses and live in a castle. For my daughter, it really goes no deeper than that.

    Watching movies where the roles are altered (like, for instance, Maleficent recently) are good for her – she now thinks Maleficent is AWESOME and no longer sees her as the evil witch. So some Disney movies help to challenge its own institution – Brave, Frozen, etc all do that too.

    I don’t flat out say NO to Disney, but I do keep it to a minimum and balance it out.

    • We haven’t watched all Disney here, mainly because my kids would prefer to play computer games than watch television.

      Ella’s the same… its about the dresses and castles more than anything else. And the dance. I’ve tried to use it for good… the other day she was saying she’ll be a princess when she grows up… then she looked at her supper plate, saw mushrooms on it, and asked if princesses eat mushrooms. Of course I said they do. So she looks at the plate again, looks at me, and announces that when she grows up, she’ll eat mushrooms too, but not now.

      With the trying to get her to not be girly-girly… a while back I stopped, because I asked myself, really, why do I think there’s anything wrong with my daughter being who she is? I don’t want to give her the idea anything is wrong with her. It was my expectations that were the problem… expectations based on certain notions of “feminism” (not notions all feminists would embrace, but promoted by certain branches of feminism).

  2. Thank you! I’ve been wanting to writeup something on this exact issue. At times I find it hard to balance things,(compliments and talking down princesses) of course I want my girls to be strong & independent, yet I don’t mind them wanting to be “girly” but how do I not confuse them.

    I think you can be “girly,” love the pink stuff, and be strong mentally and physically, which is somewhat equated to boys’ behavior for some reason. My girls are showing me there is balance. You can love all the pink things in the world and still handle yours.
    I think Disney has heard our voice, and have finally created more stronger princess roles. I was happy with Brave and Frozen.
    Brave showed a strong willed young lady, who although was a princess could do things just as the boys who wished to marry her, and she did not care to find a prince, love saved them but not romantic love, family’s love.
    Frozen, again love wins, but sisterly love.
    Great Post! Pinned.
    XO

    • Thank you!
      I agree that they are creating stronger princess roles… and can be pushed to continually improve the roles.

      You’ve got the right point with your line about how we somehow equate strong (mentally and physically) with boys. We still do that, and we act sometimes like pink equals not-strong, and then freak out about the pink. Its silly.

  3. Thank you. I won’t give out my thoughts or opinions, but will ask if you have no objections to my using your article in my thesis, as this is what I plan to focus on, in a way: The psychological effects of Disney and how the view of fairy tales translate across the ages (or something along that line). Thanks!!

  4. I think girls develop their own identity and ideas. I don’t necessarily think that watching Disney makes girls submissive, etc – unless they are already that way. And, hello, there is nothing wrong with being the way you are. Just because a girl/woman is submissive, doesn’t mean that they are bad, wrong, weak… I think we have to look at ourselves first to see what bad thoughts we are actually instilling into our own children. Let’s stop looking (and blaming) at others.

    I grew up watching Disney. When I was young I liked pink. Now, I detest it. I hate wearing dresses, and I don’t want to be a princess. And, oh yeah, I never had an eating disorder. It’s about raising confident children. Be loving, be supportive of their thoughts and ideas, rather than dismissive, hurtful and harsh.

    Sheesh. It’s not that hard.

    Thanks so much for sharing on the Mommy Monday Blog Hop!

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