Prev Next

Welcome aboard HMS Princess Euphoria

By Alice Bradley

For the next two weeks, Wonderland by Alice Bradley will hereby be known as Blunderland by Jenn Mattern. I’m not a pundit, but I borrowed a winged maxi pad from Alice once, which led to this temporary gig while Alice is on brief hiatus. Most of the time I can be found weeping copious word counts over at my blog, breed ’em and weep and writing unnecessarily gloomy plays.
I’ve been sworn to low-level secrecy, but at this very second, your beloved correspondent Alice is either
1) saving the world through a top-secret engineering project involving chopsticks, rubber bands, and nursing pads
2) rocketing into space, stroking a one-eyed marmot and cackling fiendishly through the oversized window of a shiny pink rocket that looks suspiciously like a Tampax Pearl
3) really busy
Yeah, in no time at all you’ll be flinging edamame and chicken nuggets at my head and demanding your leader back. I’ve seen your comments. I know you people are smart and you like to talk news.
The thing is, I don’t know how to talk news. I could have Cheney, Condi, seven foreign dignitaries, four pop-culture-savvy percussionists, and the Sunday editions of both The New York Times and The Boston Globe in my lap, and I’m telling you I still wouldn’t know how to talk news.
I was told that Wonderland is “a lighthearted romp through the week’s events.” Regretfully, my enormous aging breasts make lighthearted romping through a daisy meadow of the week’s events completely unfeasible, not to mention bovinely pornographic. Yes, I recognize that Wonderland is not yet available in webcast form, but webcasts are springing up everywhere with no warning. A female journalist in New Zealand recently gave birth to a live webcast named Emmalee Ayla, and you can imagine what a shock that was for everyone involved. A writer can’t be too careful these days.
Despite my journalistic limitations and fear of webcast sneak attack, I shall press on. I decided to rely on the writer’s maxim: Write What You Know, Then Make It Look Like News by Linking to Semi-Current Articles and Using Lots of Boldface Font.
I have two little girls, 6 and 3. That means that I know princesses. Thanks to my daughters, I know the Disney princesses nearly in the biblical sense, as I frequently roll over in the middle of the night to find a 12-inch topless Belle or a cheerfully nude Cinderella pressed into my rump. I’m not proud of it, but my job as a two-week, two-bit journalist is to deliver the cold, hard, plastic facts, Ma’am. Sir. Disney Lawyers. Whoever you are.
Like a lot of other wee lassies, my 3-year-old insists that she wants to be a princess when she grows up. I tried to explain that becoming a princess would likely involve a number of tricky steps, i.e., avoiding “The Bachelor” casting calls; marrying a properly birth-ordered prince and yawning with boredom in a $850 bikini on the royal yacht as you wait for the necessary family to die off; or purchasing your own somewhat cramped country and declaring yourself princess. My daughter remains undaunted by the challenge.
Yes, she’s 3. Yet I find myself ill at ease in Princessland, the borders of which seem to be expanding at the speed of wishes-come-true light. I know I’m not the only one puking up tiny chunks of Women’s Studies 101 when my otherwise spunky offspring lies “dead” for fifteen minutes straight, “because the Prince is coming to make [her] be alive again.”
Peggy Orenstein of NYT rocked HMS Princess Euphoria back in December 2006 with her piece “What’s Wrong with Cinderella?” According to Orenstein, there are now more than 25,000 Disney Princess items, and sales have skyrocketed to an astounding $3 billion (from $300 million in 2001), making it the largest girls’ brand in the universe (assuming alien invaders aren’t swiping Bratz in higher quantities when we’re not paying attention).
But what’s the real cost? Is there another, invisible, price tag? As Orenstein puts it:

As a feminist mother — not to mention a nostalgic product of the Garanimals era — I have been taken by surprise by the princess craze and the girlie-girl culture that has risen around it. What happened to William wanting a doll and not dressing your cat in an apron? Whither Marlo Thomas? I watch my fellow mothers, women who once swore they’d never be dependent on a man, smile indulgently at daughters who warble “So This Is Love” or insist on being called Snow White. I wonder if they’d concede so readily to sons who begged for combat fatigues and mock AK-47s.

More to the point, when my own girl makes her daily beeline for the dress-up corner of her preschool classroom — something I’m convinced she does largely to torture me — I worry about what playing Little Mermaid is teaching her. I’ve spent much of my career writing about experiences that undermine girls’ well-being, warning parents that a preoccupation with body and beauty (encouraged by films, TV, magazines and, yes, toys) is perilous to their daughters’ mental and physical health. Am I now supposed to shrug and forget all that? If trafficking in stereotypes doesn’t matter at 3, when does it matter? At 6? Eight? Thirteen?

But Pauline Millard of The Simon (among many, many others) thinks Orenstein’s take on the dangers of princess culture is a lot of hoo-ha:

Orenstein tries to make the argument that playing dress-up and being obsessed with princesses will hurt girls’ self-esteem by making them feel like they always have to be thin and pretty. She tried to link the effect of playing with princesses to both eating disorders and obesity.

Princesses do neither, but instead encourage girls to reach all their potential, even on a basic aesthetic level. Most grown women would tell you that they feel their best when they’re dressed and groomed well, not when they’re running around in sweatpants and unwashed hair. Companies want not only competent employees, but ones that present themselves well. If princesses excel in one area, it’s presentation. Who wouldn’t want a daughter who takes prides [sic] in both her mind and her appearance?


Turns out the princess phenomenon has jumped the pond to, you know, that place with actual princesses and princes.
I think they call it Great Britain:

Some mothers I spoke to were worried about the messages that pink princesses have been whispering in their tiny children’s ears. One little girl had said: “You couldn’t be a princess, mummy, you’re not the right sort of person. You’re not beautiful.” Another child, half-Indian, believed that princesses wear white because they have white faces, not brown. Although, the same child is also the proud owner of a Disney Jasmine doll—one of three ethnically diverse Disney Princesses—and she added that if princesses did have brown faces they would just have to wear blue instead. One mother told me, “When I was her age, my parents were buying me stethoscopes and space Lego, but my daughter is only interested in tiaras and make-up. What have I done wrong?” She fears letting her daughter out in public in case she is castigated for letting down The Cause.

My daughters have gobbled up the irresistibly sparkly princess bait, hook, line and sequined pink sinker. Where do you stand, Readers? Mired knee-deep in the bog of “The Cause,” or shrugging and sprinkling Princess Dust from the jewel-encrusted towers? Or wandering somewhere in the Ambivalent Forest of In-Between?
And here’s something I’ve been wondering daily: Is there an equivalent obsession for little boys?
Help me out here, or I’ll have to go back to writing about my true topic of expertise.

Alice Bradley
About the Author

Alice Bradley

Alice Bradley was a regular contributor to Alpha Mom, writing about current events as they related to parenting. You can read about her daily life at her personal blog, Finslippy.

...

Alice Bradley was a regular contributor to Alpha Mom, writing about current events as they related to parenting. You can read about her daily life at her personal blog, Finslippy.

icon icon
chat bubble icon

Comments

newest oldest most voted
Notify of
Lori
Guest
Lori

In one word- CARS. I can expand that field to include anything that has wheels and/or is motorized. Although, my little 2 yr old boy does have a baby doll that he lovingly shares his sippy cup with, hugs, and pats her back. I am not afraid that my sons obsession with motorized and wheeled objects will negatively affect him. I do hear what you are saying about the princess syndrome. Scary stuff; and let me say again I am glad I had a son. DO not get PO’s mothers to daughters of the world- I only say this because… Read more »

Janssen
Guest

Great post! I couldn’t get any of the links to work, though.

VenturaMom
Guest

Immediately buy The Paper Bag Princess by Robert Munsch. It’s a feminist take on the whole princess fable. Now my 3.5yo daughter asks each boy she meets if he’s a prince or a bum (you’ll have to read the book to get the joke).

Another Anna
Guest

I’m not sure the princess thing is anything new, or necessarily all that bad (within reason). I loved Free to Be You and Me when I was little, and I probably wore my favorite pink skirt and frilly dress and lacy cape and sparkly tiara while I listened. As far as I can remember, my parents had a policy of tolerating my pink princessy obsessions as long as they didn’t get out of hand. No makeup before I was 12, only one generic barbie, and no inappropriate clothing. Most importantly, they always had lots of encouragement and support for my… Read more »

Lisa Milton
Guest

Look at you, hosting wonderland. Good for you, although you are a liar. You can too talk news. Anyhoo. I have stumbled mightily in land of ambivalence. I don’t want to squash my girl’s fun and make her the weird politico chick for my sake, but I do talk about reality and question the whole ‘one day my prince will come…’ kind of talk. With boys, I worry about the need to blow up/shoot/beat things. We watched maybe 3 minutes of GMA a couple of days ago and my sweet boy seemed enamored with this week’s shooter and his guns.… Read more »

maria
Guest

This is exactly why we don’t have a tv, don’t watch videos, and generally try to avoid the whole popular culture thing.

the Mater
Guest

Now that I’ve been indoctrinated by multiple Barbie Princess DVDs and the whole Disney crowd … I found that these modern-day versions do mostly present princesses who can be heroic and intelligent and take charge too. I don’t think the fairy-tale will ever go away though.
As long as we talk to our daughters and point them to other strong female role models as they grow up, I think they’ll move beyond the romance and fluff.
I tried too, but cannot open the URL links.
Good luck on your new gig! You’re off to a fine start.

oya baka mama
Guest

I’m not sure whether or not I took the high road or the low road, but when my daughter was two I decided “no Disney”. At four she started preschool and met all those bland characters through her school friends. We read lots of princess stories–just not the Disney ones. We have princess dresses and tiaras..just not those shiny cheap dress ups made out of chicken wire. I came close to losing it when Ella was invited to a “Disney Princess Birthday Party”. It was gross. I tell her that Disney took all the good parts out of the story,… Read more »

slouching mom
Guest

Welcome, Jenn! It’s great to see you here.
This is one reason I am soooooooooo glad I have only boys. Maybe the only reason. Still.
I too listened to Free To Be You and Me in my pink tutu while surrounded by seventeen incarnations of baby girl dolls, including one that peed. Oh, the days.
I don’t think the Barbie princess phenomenon is going to ruin these girls.
However, the Bratz dolls are another story. They are just kind of slutty, IMO.

Vikki
Guest

My son is obsessed with sports and my daughter is obsessed with pink. As you can see, on the battling gender stereotypes front, I am a Feminist Mother success story. We don’t watch TV though we do allow the occasional movie. I think there are SO many influences in this arena. If and when the princesses come a knockin’, I’d like to think I will allow the experience in moderation. I’ve seen friends who banished them and their daughters wanted them even more. Just anectdotal but enough to scare me into moderation.

Nell
Guest

Ah, Disney Princesses, the bane of my existence. Actually, it’s gotten better now, my older daughter just turned five and is almost over them, and somehow the little one has decided she likes Cars – the movie Cars, but still, at least she’s crossing gender lines. Also I have managed to train my children so that all I have to do is say, “Disney is…” and they reply, “evil!” VenturaMom – The Paper Bag Princess makes an excellent antidote. Another Anna – Free to Be You and Me is still around, a friend gave it to my girls for Christmas… Read more »

Crystal
Guest
Crystal

I have a graduate degree, consider myself a feminist, am politically active, and just don’t buy the “princesses are evil” bandwagon anymore than I buy the “porn is bad” bandwagon. I grew up idolizing some princesses, went through a disney phase here and there, but mostly my interest in princesses drew me into the fantasy genre at a young age. Reading fantasy spurred me to read more challenging books and I always read 3-4 grade levels ahead of my peers. I certainly read a wide variety of other work, some of it quality literature and some of it trash, but… Read more »

Jill
Guest
Jill

Since my only child is a rambunctious, grubby-faced, 2.5-year-old boy, I have not yet had the joy of cringing over a daughter’s seemingly ill-advised choice of idol. Someday, though, it will come, and what will I do? The feminist in me wants to peel my skin off and boil it when I see a Bratz commercial, but the pragmatist in me tells me that if I deny my children something, they will want it even more. My beef with princesses, though, is not their looks or their riches – but their dependent attitudes. Every Disney princess has either given up… Read more »

Kirsten
Guest

Yikes, when I think of you with Cheney and Condi in your lap, I get indigestion. As for the princess craze: call me nuts but I believe that young children strive to imitate some of the archetypal figures that can be embodied by princesses and knights: purity, loyalty, bravery, all values young children like to imagine themselves around. Enter Disney and the limiting images of Cinderella and her pals, and the whole experience no longer comes from the imagination of the children themselves, but are imposed on them by adults who want money. In our house, princesses, knights, pirates and… Read more »

Jennifer
Guest

Forest of Ambivalence here. My girls are downstairs playing with their Barbies as we speak. They love unrolling a (Montessori) mat on the floor and setting up a whole house, room by room, on the mat…much more time and attention goes into the construction than is ever invested in the actual playing. However, the same is true of the outfits; they’re as likely to dress & redress the dolls and try to get me to pick which one is prettier. (By now they know to preface it by saying, “I know Barbies aren’t your style, but if you *had to… Read more »

Anne
Guest

Oh God, we are steeped in Princesses. My daughter has just turned 4. This morning at the supermarket we bought Princess tissues and a Princess toothbrush. I’m not sure how much more of the Princess products I can take. Peggy Orenstein is probably right but I will try to redress the balance by making my sons wear her Disney nightdresses when they get bigger.

Brianna
Guest

I don’t have children yet, but I remember the games my sister and I used to play with our barbies. There were princesses and evil queens and an occasional handsome prince, but the star of every story was a princess, although sometimes she was a rock star. 🙂 We received Disney movies for Christmas and birthdays and I can remember watching them over and over. In addition to these influences, our parents instilled in us a great love of books and music. Instead of fairytales, I read romance novels now, which is pretty much the same thing. Though I would… Read more »

anonymom
Guest
anonymom

I fall into the moderation camp. Both my kids (6 yo boy, 8 yo girl) play princesses from time to time. They also play astronauts, Narnia, trains, board games, spies, the list goes on. I limit tv and video time, just like I limit sweets. I have taught them to scrutinize commercials and packaging and be aware of how advertisers seek their $$. Mostly I just keep talking to them and gently reinforcing our values. Time will tell if I’ve found the “right” balance.

JChevais
Guest

I think my daughter (6) is smart enough to realise that Snow White has got nothing on Mulan. Mulan isn’t a princess but wow, she saves China!

G
Guest

The Cheetah Girls have a great song about princesses. “I ain’t gonna be no Cinderella waiting in a dark cold dusty cellar for a Prince charming to come get me . . . I’m gonna rescue myself” or something like that. http://www.azlyrics.com/lyrics/cheetahgirls/cinderella.html
Here are the lyrics, actually, they’re pretty ok!

Mom101
Guest

I thought the most important, most memorable revelation in that article was the notion not that princesses are inherently bad, but with the ratio of princess items to non-princess items, girls hardly even have a choice any more.That is inherently bad.
Nice job Jenn. I likes the Blunderland.

Ailidh
Guest
Ailidh

my concern is that the princess stories culture women into a narrative where success and happiness are dependent on male attention. not only does the happily ever after not necessarily follow marriage, boys are not being taught their side of this cheesy romance. this gender divide continues into adult pop-culture productions…. and contributes to the problematic gender/culture divide. not that any of that presents a solution!

wickedstepmama
Guest

Hm. My SS is 8 and he loves to play knight. He’s always off fighting dragons and orcs. His best friend is a 9 year old girl, and when they play pretend she is usually the princess…but a princess who’s darn good at archery. And when the knight rescues the princess it’s definitely the princess who’s telling him what to do, and fighting the monsters from the tower. There are certainly aspects of the girly culture that bother me (I can’t stand Braatz dolls ), but I’m not overly concerned with princesses. Try reading your daughters Patricia C. Wrede’s Enchanted… Read more »

geminimama
Guest
geminimama

There is an equivalent boy obsession (or obsessions). From age 1-3 it’s the internal combusion engine (my first favored farm tractors, but also loved the road equipment and firetrucks, my 2-y-o twins seem to prefer airplanes); from 3-5 it’s all forms of weaponry (I tried to ban guns, but he just built them out of legos and pens and crayons taped together, so I gave up. I read that playing or depicting violence is not violent; perhaps the girly corolary is playing or depicting prissiness is not actual prissiness); from 5-almost six it’s bodily functions. I think the ultimate would… Read more »

Sonja
Guest
Sonja

I think it starts with the parents. I don’t know for sure, as my oldest is only 20 months, so perhaps too young for princess obsession. But when I became a mom for the first time 20 months ago, I became friends with other women with babies, and I was astounded by how much princess stuff they put on their baby girls, who were obviously too young (at under 6 months) to be asking for it. “little princess” this “princess in training” that. It was EVERYWHERE. And also the girls were in head to toe pink. I was definitely the… Read more »

Jen
Guest
Jen

As a mom of three boys…the first was a train boy, the second was a dinosaur boy, and the third was also trains. I can’t help but feel that watching (mostly old) Thomas videos emphasizing being “a really useful engine” does give a different message than say Disney princesses. ;-D They all like(d) cars, legos, books, and swords. But, the two olders now say that “Mulan” is “the best Disney movie ever.” Their middle and high school age guy friends agree. who knows what that means? I’ve gotta agree with the other moms above though, limiting screen time and upping… Read more »

liz
Guest
liz

My five-year-old is still obsessed with princesses and Barbies (we have 17 Barbies at last count; only three purchased by me). However, she also has an ungodly number of Matchbox type cars (they vastly outnumber the Barbies) and when the boys play superhero she informs them that’s she’s Spidergirl and proceeds to kick butt. Some boys in her class told her that the stuffed lizard she brought to school for show and tell was a boy toy. She informed them that lizards are girl toys too. The teacher told me that on her birthday, she wore her princess tiara the… Read more »

Beth
Guest
Beth

Hmmm, interesting. I dread the princess phase, though my daughter, at 15 months, is obsessed with airplanes, so maybe we will have an Amelia Earhart phase instead? My rule is: no licensed characters, period. We’ll see how long it lasts once she goes to school. And I totally agree with the posters who lament the lack of choices for girls. It is impossible to find clothes and toys that aren’t gender-branded. Even with generic, non-licensed toys and higher-end clothes, everything is either pink and lavendar or has dinosaurs or sports equipment printed on it. This just wasn’t the case when… Read more »

Melanie
Guest

We are mired in dinosaurs and Playmobil pirates and toy cars and monsters and 1000 other boy stereotypes. It’s just as bad over here.

Rhonda
Guest

Liz, you are totally right about self-confidence to like whatever they want to like. My daughter was 3 when she picked this stuff up at preschool. Suddenly it was Princess this, Hello Kitty that, Barbie whatever. After my immediate fit of revulsion, I tried to distract her with other toys, but it didn’t work. Then she had a birthday party and we invited her friends and guess what kind of presents they brought? I figured a little pink never killed anyone. A little princess play is no big deal. I bought her the occasional tasteful Disney or Sanrio item, and… Read more »

Tammy
Guest

“Most grown women would tell you that they feel their best when they’re dressed and groomed well, not when they’re running around in sweatpants and unwashed hair. Companies want not only competent employees, but ones that present themselves well.” Ha! Did a person who purports to engage in what the rest of us like to call “rational thought” actually say that? Did someone actually make the specious claim that being obsessed with one’s outward appearance is the cornerstone of a strategy to end up in the CEO chair? HOW ON EARTH have men been managing to get to the top… Read more »

Holly
Guest
Holly

It’s all about balance. My daughter loves Ariel but she also loves trains, gardening, playing in dirt. She had a Cinderella easter basket but eggs full of matchbox cars. I grew up watching the Disney movies and loving Disney. I still do. It’s a fantastical place of enchantment…but I do recognize where things can go wrong for kids if parents let it. My mother raised us to be strong, independent feminists. I pride myself in teaching my daughter the confidence that she will need to form herself into a well-rounded person. What does worry me now though is the sexuality… Read more »

Suburban Kamikaze
Guest

Ambivalence and hindsight.
See “Royal Controversy” at
http://suburbankamikaze.typepad.com/suburban_kamikaze/2007/04/royal_controver.html

AmyO
Guest
AmyO

The princess craze is, in a word, annoying. I did not expose my three year old daughter to Disney, and did not buy books, toys, or other products featuring princesses – mainly because I’m pretty conscious of gender-typed media for little kids and prefer to avoid it. Well, as soon as she started preschool she started talking about princesses and fairies, and telling me about certain girls who wear tiaras and fairy wings to preschool EVERY DAY. This is a bit excessive people. Seriously, almost every morning that I drop her off, some other girl show up wearing a tutu… Read more »

Dianne
Guest
Dianne

Princesses? How about disguising princess culture as an educational tool? Suburban Kamikaze has a great post on the American Girl dolls. AMERICAN CHURL:

Liz B
Guest
Liz B

It’s in how you use it. We encourage it as a jumping-off point for our three-year-old’s imagination. Her first princess obsession was Mulan, and she wanted to run around the house attacking Shan Yu with her sword. (After this, Shan Yu would decide to be a good guy and apologize.) Then we had Belle, whose only apparent purpose was to provide the music we sing when she dances with Daddy. (Everyone with me, now: Awww.) Now it’s Cinderella, and in a twist, she pretends to be the evil stepsister and either I or a doll play the part of Cinderella… Read more »

volcano
Guest
volcano

i’m so glad to read this post since i’m totally hooked on finslippyness, blunder/wonderland words that make me laff. jeez louise the freakin’ princess thing is half the time driving me crazy and half the time i’m just going with the flow. My daughter “is” a princess almost every day. i try to tell her that princesses have to work for the people of their land, protect them, help them, feed them etc. but she ain’t buying it….its all about the dresses. She loves to decorate herself and always notices piercings and hairdos when we are out. I love decorating… Read more »