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Confronting the princess stereotype

Airdrie opinion

With the arrival of Disney+ to our streaming subscriptions, my efforts to shield my daughter from princess culture has had to evolve. 

The prevalence of princess-driven marketing in everything from storage bins to fruit gummies was hard enough to avoid before giving my preschooler access to almost the entire catalog of the Disney library. Now, when my kiddo looks at the options available (yes, my kid gets some screen time – don't @ me) it's near impossible to explain why I would rather she not watch classics like Cinderella, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs or The Little Mermaid – she is only three, after all. Instead of forbidding these, I'm taking their faults as an opportunity to start a dialogue I hope, as my daughter matures, will spark her own critical thinking about the values they promote.

What is so awful about these "quintessential kids' movies?" Well, as Rebecca Hains from The Washington Post put it, "The Disney Princess brand suggests that a girl’s most valuable asset is her beauty, which encourages an unhealthy preoccupation with physical appearance. The brand also implies that girls should be sweet and submissive, and should expect a man to come to their rescue in an act of love at first sight."

There are others who applaud the acceptance of princesses into our children's lives. Jerramy Fine, author of In Defense of the Princess: How Plastic Tiaras and Fairytale Dreams Can Inspire Smart, Strong Women, contends Disney movies are actually "narratives of female power and heroism and assertion." He told USA Today, "...attacks on princess culture could be harmful because it tells our daughters that "something that they perceive as girly is wrong, which will make them feel bad about being a girl."

While I don't dismiss Fine's assertion, the evidence against princess culture cannot be overlooked. A 2016 study from family life professor Sarah M. Coyne, published in Child Development, suggests the culture "can influence preschoolers to be more susceptible to potentially damaging stereotypes. These stereotypical behaviours aren't bad in and of themselves, but past research has shown that they can be limiting in the long term for young women." Though there is nothing wrong with a child embracing "girly" tendencies, gendered behaviour can become problematic if she avoids experiences that aren't perceived as "feminine" or believes her opportunities in life are different solely because she is a woman.

While this is just one study that confirms my already-established beliefs, I personally cannot fathom how Ariel, who gave up everything she knew and loved for a man she had never spoken to, is an example I'd want for my daughter. However, as Frozen II has reignited her love for Elsa, I must admit Disney is also evolving. As much as I want to protect my little girl from anything that could downplay her strength, I too must evolve and accept my kid will be who she will be. She adores David Bowie, though, so I can't be failing too badly.