Hi everyone! I’m a long time reader of Feministing and I finally got the guts to write a little post. I’ve been getting over the flu lately so sitting in bed, I had the perfect opportunity to write down a few thoughts I’ve had about the debate about “princess culture” and the impact they can have on young girls.
For a few months now, I’ve been working with elementary school kids as part of an after school program and I’ve noticed a few things about the newest generation of little girls. One is that it’s not rare to find one or two in each class that has “Bieber fever” and the other thing is that they still love their princesses. Lately there’s been a lot of talk about “princess culture” and the impact it may have on young girls in both a positive and negative way. I for one, grew up wanting to be a Mermaid like Ariel and going to school with Belle on my backpack, so I didn’t think too much of the issue because I turned out being quite independent. However, something at school happened that made me start thinking about the issue more. It was physical activity time, and I had the kids playing a game called Kickball-Basketball (which by the way, is an awesome game! It’s all the best parts of kick-ball and basketball!). In no more than a few minutes into the game, a group of girls came up to me saying they didn’t want to play anymore. I tried encouraging them to give it another try, but two of the girls just said “But girls aren’t good at sports, we can’t play. can we just sit down?” This made me very disappointed. I simply told them “Look, I don’t think you can’t, I think you don’t want to because if you did, you’d prove the people wrong who told you to think that way”. ONE girl agreed with me and joined the game. The rest just stood there. This isn’t the first time something like this happened at school, but it was definitely the most memorable because the girls themselves were telling me that they couldn’t do something “because they were girls”!
So that’s when I started thinking, why are there so many little girls thinking this way? When I was their age it was all about “Girl Power” and proving old stereotypes wrong. What happened? That’s when I started thinking about “princess culture”. Sure Disney princesses were around when I was a kid, but it wasn’t the same as it is now. Back then, it was mostly about the actual movies and the stories behind each princess. Now there’s a whole franchise of the princess brand and it’s mostly about selling sparkly notebooks. In this way, the princesses lose their depth because they have simply become decoration. So, are little girls learning that their ambitions should be to stand there and look pretty?
Whether we like it or not, the media is a very powerful tool in shaping our attitudes towards ourselves and others, so I realized that growing up, it also wasn’t just about Disney princesses but all the really cool princesses that were a part of the pop culture of the 90s. Of course, there was Xena: Warrior Princess, who, just looking at her title you could tell, the warrior came before the princess. Also, though as a kid, her sexuality was a little confusing to me (wait, she likes a guy one minute, but she’s making out with Gabrielle now? what?) but it did end up teaching me an important lesson growing up, that LGBT’s are people too! Another princess I grew up watching on TV was Buffy. Sure, she’s technically not a princess, but she started out as a cheerleader, which in the high-school universe equals princess. So she was cute and a little preppy, but that didn’t stop her from kicking vampire butt and saving Sunnydale on a regular basis.
Then there’s Princess Zelda from the Zelda games I grew up with. Sure she was pretty and she wore pink, but she was wise and used magic to disguise herself from the bad guys and help the hero with his adventures. There’s a reason why it’s called the Legend of Zelda and not the Legend of Link. Lastly, there’s Princess Angelina Contesa Louisa Francesca Banana-Fanna Bo Besca the Third… or Dot for short. Dot was the Warner Sister, one third of the insane puppy children from Animaniacs. To me, Dot is just what a normal little girl is really like. She’s super cute and innocent on the outside, but full of energy and mischief. It’s like, yeah, your mom’s gonna dress you in those precious velvet dresses with the lace collars and mary janes, but that’s not gonna stop you from going outside to join your brothers making fart noises with their armpits and going “boingy, boingy, boingy!”
So what did I learn from these “Princesses” growing up? These princesses were smart, tough, and silly, but they maintained a sense of femininity. So in a way, they’ve got all these traits that are normally reserved as masculine, but they say screw that, I don’t need to act like a man to be tough! Anyone can be tough! This taught me to be proud of being a girl because nothing could stop me from doing what I wanted. I could aspire to be as bad-ass, as intelligent, and as wacky as I wanted to be, and still rock a girly dress while doing it. That’s a lesson I carry with me even now as a 24 year old and I hope that we remember to pass on that message to today’s little girls.
What do you think? What decade did you grow up in and what did you learn from the “princesses” of that time?