Friday, September 16, 2011

Positive Princesses? Perhaps.

My daughter is three.  What can I say?  She loves princesses!  Specifically, the Disney variety- but we have some 'generic' princess movies she likes too.  WAIT - what?  We let our child watch movies?  On a TV??  I understand that some parents don't allow kids to watch TV and we do try to limit it since we understand that research shows that screen time may turn tots' eyes turn to jelly and their brain into goo.  So far, on less than 2 hours a day ( the recommended limit I believe), no sign of jelly or goo.  Plus - no shows with sex, guns, drugs, violence or cussing.  But bring on the rock-n-roll! We're good.  Moving on.

We have approximately a thousand movies.  Maybe less.  I got a sweet deal on VHS tapes on Craig's List.  She has diverse taste, but Big Sister will usually choose a Disney/princess or Barbie/princess movie.  I struggle with the Princess movies and the whole capital-P Princess phenomenon.  I too loved them when I was little but I have grown up and it's hard for me to not see the negatives:
  • The motif of an absent biological mother and and evil stand-in-mother figure, usually a stepmother or witch of some sort, set against a bumbling, arrogant or otherwise flawed mostly-absent but wealthy man.
  • The consistent theme of marriage being the girl's ultimate dream, goal and the 'happy ending' of the story - usually at the age of 16!!??!!
  • Somebody else having control over the girl-slash-princess's freedom
  • The clear depiction of beauty=good, ugly=bad, or just defining a certain look as being beautiful (long flowing straight hair and dress, perfect skin, youth....)
  • The woefully underdeveloped "prince" characters
  • The portrayal of animals as talking.  Animals don't talk!  Dragons don't exist!  Clearly I'm KIDDING - these are great parts and if anybody finds a magic wand please let me know I want one!
Is this really what I want my daughter to be learning about the world and how it works?  On the other hand, do I want to endure the battles that would ensue if I eliminated princesses from her world? 

No, and No.

So I've decided that it is my job as parent to explain these shortcomings to MY SON AND DAUGHTER (despite their puzzled facial expressions) and also point out the positives about the princess stories.   Positives you say - what are they?  Funny you ask.  I've thought about a few:
  • Ariel (the Little Mermaid) is curious about the world, has a rebelious streak and has a great imagination, telling stories about the objects she collects.  Also she saved the prince's life, instead of the other way around.  She is perhaps my favorite.
  • Snow White is a survivor.  She ventures into the woods, makes a life for herself without help from anybody (the dwarfs weren't much help at all) - and emphasized proper hygiene.  She's an honorary Peace Corps volunteer and public health worker if there ever was one.
  • Belle loves to read and speaks two languages.  She also loves her father very much.  (Again, where are these girls' mothers???)  Other than that, her story is - in my opinion - among the worst.  Enslaved by a beast until she loved him?  Gross.
  • Cinderella is a toughie.  She is kind to animals and to everybody.  She embodies 'turn the other cheek' which is a good skill to have sometimes
  • Sleeping Beauty is tougher still.  She walks in the woods and sleeps a lot which are good for your health.  That's all I got.
  • Pochahontas, however far from the original, has a lot of good lessons.  Protect water, trees and animals.  Stand up for what you believe is right.  Learn about and value other cultures.  And it doesn't have the marriage-as-a-happy ending thing.
  • Rapunzel is brave and adventurous and goes for a thief instead of a prince, whose life she saves at least once.  I like this girl. 
  • Also, Princess Fiona in Shrek 4 is awesome.  A mom-of-triplets turned leader of the anti-dictator rebellion.  My hero.
The other princess movies, we don't own or I haven't watched enough.  I'll put it on my long to-do list!  Right below "Invesigate good role-model type movies for boys that my son can enjoy" (am accepting ideas!) and "Make sure my kids grow up to be kind, thoughful, brilliant, family-oriented but independent people."  Check!


  1. You need to read the book Cinderella ate my daughter. It is a longer discourse on this topic with research and basically makes the same point. I can't decide if Disney hates mothers or has zeroed in on the idea that not having a mother is the most dreadful thing a child could imagine... Alicia

  2. I love this one about princesses, but can I still buy her tutus??? Just asking.
    Grandma Cox

  3. I love this!!! I completely understand and agree. I struggle against the compulsion to give unsolicited therapy to Mother Gothel - otherwise I love Tangled the best. I think, within limits, *what* they watch is less important than how we filter and interpret it for them. Libby's whole world revolves around princesses but I'm constantly reminding her that it's what's inside that counts...I can hear the "oh, mom" now...

  4. Have you heard about the new Pixar (I think) movie coming out next year, Brave? Celtic/Scottish warrior princess! Now THAT'S a princess I can get behind :)

  5. It's difficult to find a good role model movie for boys...all have have too much of agressive, action packed drama.With princess stories, one can cautiously hope to include them in :) I loved how you characterized each princess!!!!!

  6. Mulan is a pretty good one. She rocks. Plenty of strong female lessons in that one.

  7. Awesome article. I talk to my teenage clients all the time about relationship dynamics in pop culture memes like Twilight, music, and Glee. Most recently, in an episode of Glee the glee club teacher proposes to his girlfriend, and the teenage boy proposes to his girlfriend. I pointed out to the kids how when Mr. Scheuster proposed to Miss Pilsbury, he highlighted the ways in which they help and augment one another. When Finn proposed to Rachel, all he did was talk about how worthless he feels about everything except her. One proposal appears to involve two adults as equals; the other is one spectacular and superhuman perfect Madonna and a loser who needs saving. Pop culture is rife with lessons about self and relationships.