Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Can We Learn From Princesses?

Recently I saw an article about the effects of Disney princesses on little girls.  I think it was in one of the parenting magazines I saw at the doctor, though I can't recall which one.  Basically, the article was stating that, for the most part, the majority of Disney princesses can have a negative impact on young girls.

I do let The Girl watch princess movies.  I don't think they're going to scar her for life, but I suppose it doesn't hurt to think about the messages in some of those movies.

The Little Mermaid -  What lessons are we to glean from a film about a mermaid who becomes a human and lives happily ever after with her prince?  Lets see, Ariel doesn't feel like she is good enough the way she is.  She needs to change for a man and/or she has to give up who she is for a man.  Oh and don't bother listening to your dad - just do what you want.

Cinderella - Patient suffering and working hard at menial jobs will be rewarded.  If you work and suffer without complaint, an external source will come to deliver and reward you — as long as you have small feet.

Sleeping Beauty - This is the great Greek tragedy of the fairy tales. Your fate is preordained from birth and no matter what you do to subvert it, you cannot escape.  Both your doom and your salvation are out of your hands: you might as well kick back and sleep for a hundred years while passively awaiting your savior.

Snow White - Pretty girls are always jealous of prettier girls.  But it’s OK, because if you have a modicum of courage and truckload of domestic skills, you can escape and make a better life for yourself — temporarily.  In the end, it’ll still require a prince’s kiss to save you. Also, apples are not necessarily good for you.

And then there are always what I call the three unspoken lessons of Disney princesses . . .

1. Good girls are pretty girls.  All Disney princesses are thin (sometimes eerily so — have you looked at Jasmine’s waist?) and beautiful.  Nothing good ever happens to ugly girls in Princessland.

2. Princesses need a lot of stuff.  A lot of bling and a lot of pretty dresses are an absolute must. Little girls who love princesses need all the princess stuff so they can be princesses too, because conspicuous consumption is the mark of a good princess.

3. Falling in love and getting married is the Best Thing That Can Ever Happen to You.  Even Mulan comes home from war with a guy and gets hitched. Without question, love and marriage are the ultimate goals for the Princesses. Personally, I’d be happy to bastardize old Hans Christian a little further with a version of The Little Mermaid where Ariel decides Prince Erik is boring and leaves to go on tour with her girl band. Or a Beauty and the Beast  that ends with Beauty going, “You know, you’re still a beast inside … I’m going to go start a mobile library for underprivileged leper children.  Catch ya later, Beast!”

On the flip side, Disney princesses also have some good points . . .
  • Jasmine - Okay, so maybe she isn't the best role model for modest dress. Still, this Sultan's daughter is fiercely independent and won't buy into the arranged marriage her father wanted. Jasmine teaches girls to challenge the old ways and make a life for themselves - even if it means following your heart beyond the palace walls. She has the distinction of being the first Disney princess to marry a guy who isn't a prince. If only she'd wear a turtleneck once in a while!
  • Snow White - She was "the fairest in the land" but look how far that got her! At least girls can learn from Snow White's mistakes. If the she hadn't chatted up a stranger (the old hag), she never would have bitten that poison apple. Like Grumpy told her, don't open the door for nobody. Lesson learned.
  • Tiana - Okay, this is an easy one. If you really want something you've got to work hard for it, but don't get so focused you miss out on life.
  • Belle - Belle was a studious outcast who rebelled against the village that only appreciated her for her beauty. When the other girls were fawning over that muscle-brained Gaston, Belle was escaping with a good book. She was fiercely loyal to her father, even when he proved a bit kooky. Most of all, she was open to the idea that beauty is more than skin deep and true love is not based on appearances.

But when it's all been hashed out and analyzed the fact is that I'm going to let The Girl watch these films.  She enjoys them, she enjoys her princess dresses and play jewelry.  I'm going to assume that she will not grow up thinking that marriage is her only aspiration in life.  When she's pretending her teddy bear is the prince and dancing around the toy room I'm going to think about all those times she got her kitchen stuff out to play Princess & The Frog and told me she had to do a good job so she could get her restaurant.

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