I'm passionate about philosophy, but after having my girls I'm even more passionate about Mommy Matters

Friday, April 5, 2013

What is a Princess? {Part I}


      Here are a few movies I've been watching (a loose term) with Squeaker: Finding Nemo (I've heard they're coming out with a movie called Finding Dory in 2015, I hope it doesn't disappoint), The Princess Bride, and Cinderella. I've missed watching these movies so much, being a kid is awesome and I'm so happy that I get to watch my children experience it all for themselves. 
    While watching Cinderella, and even The Princess Bride, I've decided that we need to encourage Squeaker to watch more films like Mulan and Brave. There just aren't very many strong female characters or actresses to admire out there, especially for young girls to look up to and emulate. The one thing that most princesses can be sure of is that they will be saved by a strong and handsome prince. I won't mind it if Squeaker goes through a princess faze and decides that everything she owns needs to be pink, although I will be very happy when she gets over it. However, it would be nice if she decides to be a strong and independent princess, not committing to the role of a damsel in distress. You know? 
     On the other hand, as a child I remember playing the damsel in distress and loving the color pink, but I turned out to be a strong feminist anyway. Maybe all girls go through something similar in order to affirm their young self-esteem and femininity, but in the end they choose for themselves the role of damsel in distress or independent woman anyway.
     Not too long ago I heard about a book called Cinderella Ate My Daughter and on the local radio station KRCL Peggy Orenstein was interviewed about writing this controversial book. In general her book deals with this exact issue and I decided to read it, now that I am confronted with raising a daughter of my own. So far in my reading Orenstein starts a full attack on the Disney Princess industry, one that is actually fairly new. Before the year 2000 Disney apparently didn't sell their own princess line of dresses and accessories. A man named Andy Mooney created this massive brand after noticing at a 'Disney on Ice' show that all of the little girls around him were dressed up in homemade outfits; a massive selling opportunity had been overlooked and Mooney capitalized on it. It turns out that before this time Disney hadn't ever marketed its characters separately from the character's film release and it was seen as a big risk, one that obviously has paid off. Now there are few little girls in all of America who don't own some sort of Disney Princess regalia. I wonder though, like Orenstein does, where Mulan, Merida (princess from Brave), and Pocahontas fit in. I wish these strong and independent characters were better represented. 
     The question still remains at this point though: does playing princess and owning such merchandise damage little girl's self-esteem or encourage them to take on similar roles to the ones of those damsels? More specifically, would watching the Little Mermaid and owning Ariel merchandise encourage little girls to think it is OK for them to give up their own voice in order to be with their handsome prince? So far in my reading Orenstein does not directly make headway on this topic, but I look forward to continuing the book and finding out more about her argument. 
     In the end, I think that little boys have it just as difficult as little girls. Many times if a boy wants to play with certain "feminine" toys, such as barbies and baby dolls, then his parents worry about his masculinity being compromised. However, many times if a girl decides to play with "masculine" toys, such as tools and GI Joes, then it's OK and no one worries about her femininity being in danger. 
     I am not saying that all parents react in the way that I just described or that if parents do react in a similar way they are not good parents. All I want to do is investigate this issue further, possibly discovering the hows and whys of children solidifying their gender and self-esteem as they develop. I would love to hear from you about your ideas and feedback, maybe in my next post (after I have completed my reading of Orenstein's book) I will be able to answer more questions, or even offend some of you by deciding that Disney princesses are evil. 


  1. Hey Alysha! I just saw your blog on Facebook!

    This is something I have thought a lot about too, since I also have a little girl. I don't mind Disney Princesses at all. I am not into buying the tacky princess stuff, but we enjoy the movies and Elanor loves dressing up. I am not a huge fan of Ariel and Jasmine based on how they are dressed and some of the older movies (Snow White) are a bit lame. However, that movie was made in the 30s so people need to give Disney some slack. They have since gone on to make a ton of great models for girls : Rapunzel, Pocahontas, Mulan, Merida, Belle, Tiana and even Cinderella. Also, at the Disney store Mulan, Pocahontas and Merida get quite a bit of the limelight, especially Merida since she is new. You can buy the dresses, dolls, etc. for those three. Though you are right, Mulan and Pocahontas and also Tiana do not get as much credit as they deserve. It is partly because they are not as popular with little girls, which could be a race thing. I know Tiana was not as well received as Disney hoped and a lot of it had to do with the fact that she was black. I also do not think a girl needs to be all tough,fight in battle etc. to be considered a good role model. In fact, Disney has so many better girl role models than for the boy role models. Who do the boys have? There is Peter Pan, Aladdin (both older movies) and Flynn Rider, and some Princes who are rather nondescript (in Snow White and Cinderella), but there are not any movies really about a boy. The girl is usually always the lead. Any "boy" movies are not about human boys but rather, cars, toys, animals, etc. (not saying I don't love those movies), but in my opinion boys have the harder end of the deal. Also, any movies about boys or men they are almost always fighting, even if for a good cause, kids cannot always differentiate good and bad fighting. They just see violence and boys thinks boys must be violent. In my opinion girls, in many ways, have it much easier than boys. They can do so many things from sports to ballet to art to karate and no one cares and they are supported. Boys are limited to sports and are often looked down upon by society for wanting to dance or do art, etc. Women have been strong and fought for their rights and I think we mostly have them and can pretty much do what we want, except perhaps be stay-at-home moms (which sentiment I dislike, obviously), but men are rather fenced in in what they can do. I think raising a boy will be much more difficult for this reason alone.

  2. Sorry, that was ridiculously long! :) I do agree with you and it is tricky to parent with the media and society telling us what a girl/boy should like/be like. I think there is a problem with children feeling like they are entitled to everything (and the princess culture could lend a hand there), but it is a boy and girl thing. My opinion is to do whatever you think is right and as much as possible not let outside influences (movies, society in general, etc.) take over parenting. Of course teach girls to believe in themselves and have confidence to do what they love, but boys need it just as much. Sorry, to go one for so long and agree with you on everything you said, but having brothers I have seen how much harder everything was for them and I often feel like people forget about boys and you did mention them of course. I love talking about parenting and stuff like this so lets get together and talk!

    1. I'm so glad that you pointed out these other points, I completely agree! I was an only child and don't know first hand how boys solidify their gender as they grow up, so it's helpful to think about what you said about them. I think that Disney is progressing as well and I hope it keeps getting better. We do need to talk, I would love to know more about what you have done for Elanor as she has been growing up. I'm new to all of this and have just started to really get into research about parenting. :)