Can we change princess culture?

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By: Kevin DooleyCC BY 2.0

When I speak of my disdain of the Disney-fication and/or princess-ification of girl culture, I am often met with a “Oh just you wait,” or a knowing “You’ll see!”, intimating that of course Disney and all its sexist princess-y glory is, you know, a given for all girls. And it got me to thinking. Maybe it is.

Certainly, once my kiddos head out into the world without me they are going to be immediately bombarded with all of the things (Disney princesses and morals included) that I have tried my absolute damndest to avoid.

So – if a princess phases is really somehow a given can we re-message and re-package what “princess” means and looks like in a way that makes princess life empowering and not merely about external appearance, wealth, and netting a hot young prince?

Can we revise the message of Snow White, for example, that tells girls that their beauty will make other women hate them? Can we find something empowering amidst prevalent messages that men fall in love with women for what’s on the outside, that men are women’s rescuers, that a heterosexual marriage (preferably to a wealthy, handsome prince) is the most important life goal?

I remain entirely unconvinced…but I’m open to suggestions.

Comments on Can we change princess culture?

  1. Here Here, as a little girl I loved disney movies but for the music (I ended up being a vocalist go figure) I think those movies def. warped me and only years later did I learn love can co-exist with autonomy and independence I hear the more recent disney movies are better, but I’d rather take my future child jogging and have them watch that mommy and daddy can both follow their dreams and work than let the tv/disney teach them their limitations. of course all of this can be done in pretty dresses and tutu’s as well as jeans and tee shirts for both the girls and boys, if we are good examples that’ll nullify the damsel in distress effect

  2. So – I am the oldest of 3 girls. Being in my mid-30s, I pretty much missed the rise of the Princess, but my sisters were a decade younger – the were 4 and 5 when The Little Mermaid was released.

    In our house, the princesses were present, but right from the beginning, my mother taught us to think about it critically. What was Ariel giving up? What was she getting in return? Was it all worth it?

    I do not think that you can avoid the Princess Culture – its omnipresent. But you can use it to start a much bigger discussion, and hopefully innoculate your girls against the worst of it.

  3. Let’s face it, the princess phase starts young, before the girls can take any deep meaning from the movies. They see pretty frilly clothes, singing, dancing and bright colors.
    By the time they are old enough to take any meaning from it, hopefully their parents have already taught and shown them that these things are just movies, silly fantasies and old stories.
    My daughter loves all things ‘princess’, which doesn’t always mean disney princesses to her. Any girl she sees in a pretty outfit (even if it’s pants), she thinks they are a princess.
    Let little kids have fun, you can teach over time and by example. Don’t assume they are falling prey to the cultural undertones of a disney movie if you are teaching them better and more accepting things every day.

    • I whole-heartedly agree with all of that.

      I’d like to add that when I was a child I learned the morals of helping others, being generous, and not being greedy a little too well, and became a little bit of a pushover (despite my mothers valiant efforts).

      I’m twenty-one, and with a little help from my friends I am finally going through a princess phase. Taking on the title of princess is teaching me to be assertive, fight for what will make me happy instead of what I think is “realistic”, and claim my beauty and my right to look pretty to myself no matter who else might be looking and what they might be thinking.

      • And that is exactly what a princess should be, someone who owns their own beauty and uses it to make themselves happy, not anyone else.
        We should be raising girls that think for themselves. Feminism means having the right to do the things we want, even if it means wearing princess clothes, lipstick and being a mommy.

        • I just wanted to add that I concur with both of you ladies, whole-heartedly. My daughter is five and has been infected with the Princess bug. It has been an awesome tool for me – it’s given me a singing, dancing, brightly colored medium with which to illustrate the struggles and successes of independence (Ariel,) Compassion and open-mindedness (Belle,) Industriousness and adaptability (Snow White,) equality between the sexes and the historic struggle to prove it (Mulan,) Moral obligation (Jasmine) and how you can achieve anything you put your mind to (Tiana.) There are more, but this comment is getting wordy.

          It also gives my daughter a chance to explore her femininity at an age where she is really beginning to recognize that society has placed firm lines between gender roles, and is upset by it because she’s being told by outside sources that doing certain things is not “proper.” She can dress up in her princess dress and go out and tinker with car parts with her uncle at the same time. She can wear her princess dress while she catches bugs and lizards, and climbs trees and does other “boy” things, and it softens the criticism she receives from others because she’s doing these things in “girl” garb. Our household strives for gender fluidity, so being faced with negativity regarding gender roles is difficult for her. For her, emulating these princesses while she continues to learn from us that physical gender doesn’t dictate who a person is softens those conflicting messages from others that don’t feel the same way we do.

          • AMEN! I just have to say that I was definitely bitten by the Disney princess bug when I was a girl. My parents sheltered my sister and I, and we were only allowed to watch G rated Disney movies growing up.

            However, the obsession with beauty and a prince to rescue me that people seem to think is all that these movies teach girls was NOT what I took away from the movies. I took away many of the messages that you mention, independence, compassion, the choice to live the life you choose and stand for something larger than yourself. These were the adventure that I wanted to have! I wanted to run through the woods free like Pocahontas and stand up against the ignorance of racism and bring cultures together (of course we all know now her real story was much different!), a man simply seemed to be a “movie magic” byproduct of all of these things. I will say though that these are the messages I took away because my parents reinforced them as I was growing up, they raised me to have a voice, be independent, and self sufficient. A family needs to maintain a healthy balance and focus on the right messages when allowing their children to engage in media of any kind.

  4. There is a documentry called ‘Mickey Mouse Monopoly’ which discusses some of the problems of disney – its attitudes towards racism, gender roles etc. It is pretty well done. You can find it for free on youtube. I have attached some links – it is broken up into 5 parts.

    Part 1 –
    Part 2 –
    Part 3 –
    Part 4 –
    Part 5 –

  5. i’m not a mom, but i’ve been doing rabid reading about disney princesses, and i stumbled on this blog last night, and read it all the way through.

    this mom is trying to get her daughter off of disney princesses, and without completely eschewing princesses, is helping to encourage more less scripted play.

    this posts probably outlines this best:

    • I know this is off topic but I followed your link and read her post about about “booty pop”. Laughed my ass off (no pun intended)!!

      That ridiculous product hasnt made its way to aus yet lol

  6. I think girls who are equipped with solid reasoning skills, independence, kindness and courage will be able to recognize and resist some unhealthy ideas, as long as they aren’t bombarded with them. What about balancing the princess model with the independent female model?

    I grew up with Pippi Longstocking stories. (If you don’t know who she is, google her immediately.) But my all-time favorite book as a child was one called “Ronia the Robber’s Daughter” about a girl who runs wild in the woods, fights off harpies, runs away from home to live in a cave, tames a wild horse, befriends the enemy’s son (and stands her ground with him as well), and hatches a plan to unite the two rival robber gangs.

    Then again, stories featuring strong girls are few and far between these days. Our generation should get to work writing them! If we wait for Disney to outgrow the old model, it will be too late for today’s girls.

    • I am with you on this one… I watched all the Disney princess movies, especially loved Beauty and the Beast even though I was a bit old for it when it came out. However, for my elementary life I wanted to grow up to be Laura Ingalls Wilder. Frilly Dresses and Princes? No Thanks. Bonnets, Prairie Dresses and Covered Wagons? Yup, and all paired with my rubber boots!

      I think it is way easier to find strong girl role models in literature, so as long as we expose our kids to all sorts of material, they will choose the path that is right for them. After all, I have met women who just wanted to get married and have babies. That was their goal in life… “find their prince” really. And you know what? They are extremely happy, content, and fun individuals, and I would never ever say that they made a bad choice. I just want to make sure girls today know they have a choice, and they don’t HAVE to get married when they grow up to be happy.

    • Both of those are awesome (My brother and I watched the Pippi movies MULTIPLE times as children and I had the audio version of Ronja.) and also by the same author who has also written lots of other awesome childrens books.
      Pretty much everything by Astrid Lindgren is worth checking out. In book form, but there are also multiple movies/tv series base on her work. It’s all a bit older by now and therefore dated in the real world references, but that was already the case when I came in contact with these books/media.

    • Yes! Pippi! My mum read me her old-school ’60s copy of Pippi Longstocking, and I freaking loved it. (Hmmm, now that I think about it, Pippi might have been to blame for my penchant for hanging out on the roof! That didn’t go down too well, but I never fell off or anything.)

      Lauren Child has illustrated a version of Pippi, and it’s just so perfect. Get on it, people!

  7. You know, call me crazy.. But I think that the way mommy acts is probably going to have more of an effect on a daughter than what she watches, or… hell.. what she has on her shoes.
    If you can raise your child in a loving, caring environment in which you show by behavior that you love yourself, value your political rights… by doing things like thinking, reading, dressing in a way that makes you feel respected and respectable… and trying to LIVE like an well-rounded individual. It’s more likely to outweigh the “negatives” that you see being imposed by social restrictions. Be sure to tell your daughter with your words that movies aren’t real. Be honest about what love is really like, and how confusing things are. “Isn’t it silly that those mice talk? Isn’t it silly that Cinderella doesn’t run away when she’s being mistreated. Gee. If I were being treated that way, I don’t think I would stay. Would you?”
    You may not be able to change what you see these movies and make believe women saying, but you can influence how your daughter critically views them.
    I think a lot of little girls act like their moms before they act like Ariel.

  8. I really hated Disney from a young age. I used to hide The Little Mermaid behind the couch so we didn’t have to watch it when my friends came over. I even owned a book called “feminist fairy tales” when I was little where rupunzel cuts off her own hair and rides away on a horse with another girl. BUT I also grew up in a VERY liberal part of the country. My personality just really shone through I suppose! Very young children often go through a HYPER gendered stage as they explore what gender means to them in our society. I know it can be a little disturbing but it really is a stage. As long as kids are exposed to lots of different things and opinions, I don’t think princess culture is too much to fear.

    Additionally, will it ever change?I think it has changed atleast somewhat compared to 50 years ago, but I’m not holding my breath for too much more.

  9. I think there’s good and bad in the Disney Princesses. If you choose to focus on the negative, of COURSE you’re going to hate them.

    Belle – Yeah, you can focus that she’s pretty – or you could focus on the fact that she’s weird, and made fun of for reading too much. I related to her as a kid. I was a ok looking child, mocked for being smart and reading. She made me feel not alone. Not because she was pretty, but because she was weird like me. She wanted an adventure. She made friends with the kids (beast, enchanted objects) that no one else did. She freaking dealt with a crappy situation – she chose to be a captive to save her father! What the crap dude, I would be SO PROUD of my daughter if she had that kind of fortitude.

    And Snow White? Yeah, crappy situation. Look at what she could have done – she could have become bitter, hated love (after all, didn’t her father “love” her wicket stepmother?), and turned hateful. Instead, she runs away, collects her thoughts, tried to make a new life (instead of storming the castle with angry peasants and killing stempmom – which is totally what I would’ve done) and is still tenderhearted enough to be kind to little grumpy men. Yes, she had to be rescued, but dude, she ran away to save her own life, and in the first place rescued herself.

    Jasmine – yeah, okay, she was valued as a political pawn – but she said “fuck that” and married the guy who stole her heart, no care to if he was poor or a prince! And if you watched the cartoon (okay, I’m a dork) she eventually changed her father’s and kingdoms views! How awesome is that!?! She saw that that was her only value, fought the system, and changed things. Hurray Jasmine!

    I think so so much of this depends on what you, as a parent focus on, and how you help your child interpret it. If you make it about being pretty, then yep, it’s about being pretty. If you make it about having courage and following your heart, it’s about courage and following your heart.

    **Sometimes** (I’m not trying to start drama, I promise!) Feminism can come off as cynicism and being hyper critical of any established girly ”norm”. And I think that can be as damaging, sometimes, as trying to push someone into a gender stereotype.

    • “**Sometimes** (I’m not trying to start drama, I promise!) Feminism can come off as cynicism and being hyper critical of any established girly “norm”. And I think that can be as damaging, sometimes, as trying to push someone into a gender stereotype. “

      That is so true! I have really girly-girl friends, who really embrace the “feminine ideal”. And you know what? It works for them. It is part of who they are. I am sure if their parents pushed them to be tomboys it would have felt just as out of place for them.

      • I’m so glad you get it! haha. I’m uber girly. I think being a stay at home mom is the best thing ever, and it’s what I want to do (eventually). I get a lot of crap for that from my current workplace and some of my friends. It’s like modern American culture looks down on it, and I have to even fight some women sometimes and say “HEY! this is a valid life choice I can make!! I’m not less of a woman because I don’t want to be a CEO!”

        Yeah, it hurts my feelings.

        • I absolutely 100% agree with both your comments!

          I grew up loving Disney Princesses and took the same thing away from them as you did and also get many “feminists” looking down on me for not wanting to run the world.

    • Bingo! Thanks for putting it so succinctly, so my sleep-deprived brain doesn’t have to. Each disney princess is strong in her own way, and does it while wearing something beautiful and feminine, which, let’s face it, appeals to a lot of women and girls. What’s the big effing deal with being strong and not looking butch about it?

      I get really sick of people ripping on disney gals in a reactionary way. It’s only a big deal if you make it a big deal. If mama and daddy point out the heroic aspects of the story more than the frilly aspects, that’s what the kids will grow up noticing. Then again, I’m also weirded out by the number of women my age who refer to themselves as Cinderella. And they’re all the ones with the most coddled and comfortable childhood imaginable as opposed to slavery and an evil family – but knowing their mothers, they were directed toward the beautiful and helpless aspects of the princesses.

      And, I don’t think that instant love Disney-style is impossible or impractical. I’ve had relationships that built slowly after a long friendship but ended quick and ugly, but my best ones, and my marriage, have been with men who I felt an instant mutual attraction for, and started dating right away. Many of the happiest couples I know are ones who felt the spark instantly, and courted quickly, so the Disney version always seemed right to me.

      Elisabeth, I also want to be a stay-at-home mom, and I’m frustrated by all the people who say that such a smart woman needs to not waste her time and intelligence at home with the kids.

    • These are some of the points I was going to make. It’s about what you choose to focus on. Personally I loved Disney stuff like that (Beauty and the Beast was one of my favorites, BECAUSE I connected with Belle being poor, and being a bookworm, just like me) and I don’t think it has to teach that we all have to be married to some rich guy. I think it’s all in what you choose to teach your child from it.

    • I agree re: the values in the Disney princesses. I still love classic Disney movies, and watch our old VHS with my son. I’ve noticed that a lot of Disney princesses has a lot more going for them than pretty and getting married at the end.

      Yes, they tend to get married and live Happily Ever After at the end — though it did take Jasmine three movies — but I think there’s a lot of good to be taken from Disney, if you want it.

      • i LOVE the disney princesses. i cant stay away. i grew up with ariel and belle and jasmine, and i always identified with their independence. (especially belle) i think that disney is just a two sided coin; there will always be a negative if taken to the extreme, but darn if those songs arent catchy.

    • Here! here! I am a feminist and a girly girl. No one taught me this … it’s just who i am. I grew up with disney and LOVE all of them and what they represent but also know the limitations of mass media.

      Maybe this doesn’t affect me yet as I have three almost grown sons who respect strong women. I am pregnant again with my last child and I may have to circle back around if I end up having a girl and these role models completely drown out my values … but somehow I think it will be ok.

    • Yes yes yes! My mother was very concerned about the Evils of Disney and tried to tell me that Beauty and the Beast taught girls to stay with abusive men because they can change them and find their heart of gold underneath. Which, okay, is there a little bit, but Belle herself is a weirdo bookworm who loves her crazy dad.

      Also, I don’t think that image is totally fair on Aurora (i.e. Sleeping Beauty). She is asleep for about 10 minutes of the 80, and spends a lot of time before that being charming and singing and being torn about not talking to strange men in forests. And you know what? Aurora and Philip both are determined to be with each other, even though they both think the other to be a commoner. And while I don’t think Aurora is the BEST of the best role models for kids, she’s not harmful. And honestly, the movie also has the fairies, who are lovely ladies. And who’s to say that girls can’t learn from Philip’s daring? I wanted to be just like him.

      Also, Disney clearly has modernized their princesses — Ariel is kind of a spoiled brat, but with Belle, Mulan, Jasmine, Pocahontas, and Tiana, they have a lot of good in there.

  10. As me2 pointed out, being in my early 30s I did miss out on the Disney princess fad that my siblings grew up in (my “Ariel” died in the end). But as a feminist with strong views about what I want to teach the children in my world, the gender norms taught in Disney and elsewhere can be troublesome.

    That said, I’m a feminist and I grew up loving Barbie (shudder) pink, sparkly princess-esque things. Sure, I’ve had to “unlearn” some of the ideas that I learned through the media/culture/society, but I would have had to unlearn them whether I’d loved princesses/Barbie/Disney or not because I found them all around me in other places.

    No matter how hard we may try to control what we expose our kids too, they don’t grow up in a bubble. I think that if we can try to talk to them about what they are being exposed to, the “princess” phase can actually be a blessing in disguise (I’m using the term loosely here) because it can be a means of starting that conversation. If we present our kids with strong, assertive, independent, thinking female role models, I think that has more impact on our children than anything else. After all, even though I grew up loving “girly things” I didn’t identify with Snow White. Pippi Longstockings was my hero!

  11. I agree with what’s being said here, about media messages not being all-powerful if parents give children clear messages at home. I LOVED Disney movies as a child, and I loved to pretend I was the princesses. But when I enacted my own stories, I imagined myself rescuing the prince sometimes (in a frilly dress, of course), vanquishing enemies, and doing plenty of other things that the Disney princesses never did onscreen.

    Now I look back at those movies and feel appalled at some of the content, but as a kid, that deeper stuff blew right over my head because I took my worldview primarily from other sources.

    I like the idea of talking critically to the child about issues raised in the films (or TV shows or commercials or anything they’ll come across). You can’t isolate a child from stupid media crap, but you can affect how they process it.

    How very non-alarmist this thread is! Attentive parenting will always trump mass-produced imagery.

  12. P.S. “Can we change princess culture?” Not directly, but if the next generation of girls is turned off by weak leading ladies, the machines of profit will notice and adjust their products.

  13. I am successfully raising a 4.5yo daughter sans Disney Princesses, Tinkerbell, Hannah Montana and Barbie. It takes a commitment to media literacy and longer shopping trips, but the end result is an empowered and wickedly smart little girl who has no concept of the self-esteem and body image busters you mention in your post. We have fostered other interests she has expressed, fed her appetite for science, and love of outdoor adventure.

    I feel so strongly about ending the gender stereotypes and sexaulization of girlhood I began my own company, Pigtail Pals. My mission is to Redefine Girly. Take a look

    Great post!

  14. I admit it…I watched Disney princess movies when I was little. I know there are a lot of negative sexist protrayals in Disney movies. I don’t think the Disney Princess phenomenon wasn’t shoved down my throat as much as it is today. For as many negative portrayals of the meaning of feminity there are also other good qualities that can be taken from them.

    Example 1, Ariel from The Little Mermaid. In the beginning she is portrayed as an explorer. She collects artifacts from the surface and is curious about another culture. I think that’s a really positive message about being curious and interested in a world outside your own. I also recall that when they attempt to defeat Ursula both the prince and Ariel work together and Ariel does end up saving Eric.

    Example 2, Mulan. She saved all of China from a Mongol invasion. Yes she not a traditional Disney Princess but she is often lumped in with them. Yeah she did have to dress like a man in the beginning but she proved herself as equal and ended up saving China as a woman.

    Example 3, Bell. The whole movie promotes beauty comes from within and from the actions you do. Yes she’s beautiful but her best quality is that she’s kind and smart(as stated by the townsfolk in the beginning). In fact all the other beautiful people are portrayed as either horrible or dumb (i.e. Gaston and the bar maid). She falls in love with Beast when he’s still a monster which I think strengthens the message of beauty from within.

    Example 4, Jasmine. She’s a little harder to support because she wasn’t the main character. Probably the most inspiring thing is that she bucked local marriage traditions in favor of happiness. I think that teaches that one should marry for love and not money (Aladdin is a pauper).

    Cinderella, Snow White and Sleeping Beauty are full on Disney Princess hell. You must be pretty and submissive in order to get a man. These movies were also created in a different time. All the examples above are from the 90’s or later. So maybe Disney is getting better a little at a time…I hope.

  15. When I told my mother I didnt want my kids watching Disney princess movies, like the little mermaid, because I didnt want my daughter getting the message that she needed to loose her voice in order to marry a man and be happy, she told me I was un-American. Like its depriving my kids if I dont let them be culturally brainwashed by sexist, heteronormative, bad body image inducing tripe like that.

    This is obviously a bit of a sore spot for me.

  16. Point to consider though: how much of the connotations etc did you notice as a kid watching these films? There’s some quite adult jokes in Beauty and the Beast for age specific entertainment (“I want to get her something special.” “Well there’s the usual, flowers, chocolates, promises you don’t intend to keep…”) that are completely lost on kids. My point being, how much interpretation is what adults perceive and then influence on the kids watching?

    My best example would be The Matrix (go with me on this). Watched this movie loads quite happily, then in comprehensive school (high school equivalent) we had to study it for it’s religious connotations, the meaning behind the names (Neo meaning new or anagram of one, Cypher meaning code etc). Not being able to watch it since without seeing those things. If I were to watch it with a Matrix virgin I’d probably imply those things onto their opinions if we talked about it. Could the same happen when adults watch and analyse kids films? Maybe kids are oblivious to it until we explain our interpretations to them

  17. I’ll try not to repeat what a lot of the other women have said, however, growing up in the 90s all I watched was Disney movies and Beauty and the beast was one of my favorites! I never went through the whole princess stage although I really wanted to be a mermaid.

    I never saw the negative in their movies until I got older. I always say Belle as a woman who was carefree and loved reading! She falls in love with a Beast who ultimately ends up being a prince, but I always saw this as a way to teach younger girls [and boys] that you should love someone based on who they are and not what they look like. Jasmine is pretty much the same, she loved Aladin even though he wasn’t rich.

    Ariel gave up her family and life to be with the one man she loved. She was an explorer and she was really weird. Her best friend was a fish who was afraid of everything and she ends up defeating Ursula and saving Eric. I think she’s shows that women can be strong and go for what they want in life. Ariel didn’t want to live in the ocean, she wanted to live on the land and she wanted to be with Eric. She gave up a lot of what she really wanted.

    Mulan is my ALL TIME FAVORITE Princess. I think it’s because of watching Mulan that I’m the strong person I am today. I remember after I watched that movie I wanted to show all the boys that I was just as strong as them.

    I realize that there is a lot of negative messages that can be taken from these movies, but I think a lot of it as to do with you teaching your children to think about what they are watching because it’s not only Disney that portrays these messages.

  18. So, I’m obsessed with Disney on both a media studies level AND a human resources level.

    On both counts, I have this to say: IT’S NOT AS STRAIGHTFORWARD AS YOU THINK!

    Background: Growing up, I wasn’t allowed to have Barbies because my mom didn’t want me developing body image issues. My Little Mermaid came out when I was 15, and of course being a musical theater dork named Ariel, I was OBSESSED. I’ve worked for Disney twice in my career, first in college for the Disney Store, then five years ago for

    So, from a media/gender studies perspective, there’s this: historically, many of the animators and creative teams working on Disney films were gay men. This colors the way I think about Disney’s gender issues in HUGE ways, especially the pre-Stonewall Princesses (Snow White, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty). What might these mid-century gay men been expressing through these characters about their own lives? Clearly, they had no heternormative investment in keeping girls and women docile through princess imagery.

    From a human resources perspective, I’m fascinated with how Disney was the first American company to give full spousal benefits to gay partners — not because the company is so liberal (BECAUSE WOW, SO NOT) but because basically they had no choice and stood to lose a large portion of their creative staff. It was a really big deal when it happened.

    Oh, and then there’s how Disney, a company all about family, has some of the worst paternity leave policies I’ve ever seen. They give all employees free tickets to Disneyland, but treat new fathers TERRIBLY.

    AND THEN there’s the way they treat diversity — they have some of the most diverse children’s cast on television (black, white, asian, latino, skinny, fat, etc etc) …. but it’s all just a case of market research. Kids are more likely to get invested in a show if there’s someone who looks like them on it. So their shows are diverse.

    Anyway, I could go on for days — but what I really want to say is this: all Disney’s fucked up-naysss provides YEARS of discussion topics for parents and children.


  19. As a Florida resident, I have more against the Disney World parks themselves than the films. The environmental impact of the parks on Florida’s eco-system, the crowds of tourists, the pro-development legislation that has rippled through the state. I wish more people would opt out of visiting artificially created entertainment environments and appreciate the many natural, historical and architectural wonders in our world.

  20. For the parents, can I suggest the Japanese animated films of Hayao Miyazaki? They are all dubbed in English and have amazing lead female characters. Some are geared toward young kids, some older kids, so check ratings. My favorites:

    Princess Mononoke
    Spirited Away
    Howl’s Moving Castle
    Kiki’s Delivery Service

    Taken from Wikipedia: “Reflecting Miyazaki’s feminism, the protagonists of his films are often strong, independent girls or young women. His films are also notable for dispensing with traditional villains in favour of morally ambiguous antagonists presented with redeeming qualities.”

    And for older kids, great films (and the books they are based on) are:

    Harriet the Spy
    Bridge to Terabithia
    Spy Kids
    Lilo & Stitch
    Ramona & Beezus

    That’s about all I can think of…

    • i want to write more about the analysis, but as there is a baby currently attached to my boob I’ll just say (with one hand to type with) YES YES YES YES YES for studio ghibli films!!!!!!!

    • Absolutely Ghibli! Don’t forget My Neighbor Totoro or Ponyo. I can’t praise them enough. I would advise against showing Princess Mononoke to younger children though (lots of blood and gore but there is a good message).

    • Miyazaki is wonderful! The book version of Howl’s Moving Castle, by Dianne Wynne Jones, is one of my favorite un-princess books. It’s a novel, aimed at older elementary age readers (or younger ones at bed-time) that is simply delightful.

      Other un-princessy books worth reading:
      ~The Paper Bag Princess
      ~X, A Fabulous Children’s Story (and a few other stories in the compendium Tales for Little Rebels… there’s one about a princess who’s too tall for her short prince, and hunches to appease him… eventually figures out not to)
      ~ almost anything about female pirates
      ~ doesn’t David Shannon have a book about a fairy that’s a more complex message?

      In cahoots…

  21. So… I actually wrote a paper about this in college. 😀 It was very post-modern and I used as many long words as I could possibly squeeze in, so I won’t link to it here, but the gist of it was that girls DO repurpose what Disney sells them. A lot of anti-pop-culture rhetoric assumes that consumers have no agency whatsoever, that whatever message the corporations send is the one the consumers recieve. To some degree this is frequently true, of course, because corporations are very good at what they do. But to assume it’s ALWAYS true is, I think, honestly anti-feminist. Women and girls ARE able to think through the messages they’re given, and many times decide for themselves what they want to get out of it.

    So the question for me is, if my (hypothetical future) daughter is playing at being Ariel or Cinderella or Sleeping Beauty, what is SHE getting out of it? I remember pretending to be Ariel as a kid, and it being very ACTIVE play, it was all about swimming as fast and flexibly as possible. A friend’s daughter loved to play Sleeping Beauty, because for her it was about being untouchable, about no one being able to affect her.

    Honestly, I’m more concerned about the role men play in the Disney princess movies. What does a boy get out of watching Cinderella, where the prince doesn’t even have a name and literally disappears from the wedding coach at the end? Where the adult male characters are absent (Cinderella’s father) or completely ineffectual (the king)? If a boy watches Beauty and the Beast, his possible role models are Belle’s father (again, ineffectual–Disney really likes their ineffectual father figures), Gaston (evil, dies horribly), or the Beast (dependent on the whim of some girl he only met like a week ago, unable to even eat properly without her help).

    • Thank you for bringing up that last point. It’s late, and I can’t come up with anything really coherent here. I may or may not try later, but this board has been populated by some intelligent women, so I just want to point a novelty foam finger at that last point and make sure it’s noted. Much too easy to overlook the flip side of the coin, and I know way too many smart gals that do so without even realizing it, because…misandry is a little harsh here, but you follow…it’s so ingrained in society now.
      *exhaustedly waves aforementioned novelty foam finger at last paragraph.*
      It’s a good point to think on.

    • Wow I am sorry to admit that I have never given a single thought to how young boys might be influenced or affected by watching Disney movies. Thank you for the food for thought.

      • Usually I am the first to point out how men (Particularly Dads) aren’t treated well in today’s society, and I also didn’t think about the lack of role models in these films for boys.

    • I appreciate your point, especially about the role MALES play in Disney films. The “ineffectual father figures” in Hollywood movies and TV merits it’s very own post. I have turned off many a show because they make dads look so dumb it’s insulting to men in general.

      But I do want to say is that while it is anti-feminist to assume women can’t sort through messages and make their own decisions, I think a big factor is AGE. Some kids start watching Disney from birth, most by age 4 or 5 I would guess. I don’t think we can expect little girls to separate certain ideas and values from the material they have been fed for as long as they can remember. They are so impressionable and moldable, and that’s precisely why they are targeted with consumerism/advertising. Rest assured, nearly every marketing meeting has at some point said, “How can we market our product to even younger children?” That’s why advertising to children younger than 8 is very restricted in many Western European countries, and illegal in some (Norway, Sweden).

      Now we are all grown women, and most of us grew up on Disney, and most of us loved what we saw. And even if we turned out “ok” or maintained feminist ideals, I don’t think there is any way we can determine what effect those messages had on us.

    • Three cheers for Sleeping Beauty, then, as Philip is just as robust (if not more so) of a character as any other! And Aladdin is great. Mulan’s man (forget the name) also has a real character to him.

      Eric and Prince Charming and the Beast and all the dopey fathers, though (except for Ariel’s dad, who is a bamf), are pretty flat. But then, I think boys have tons of other great figures to look to and aren’t pushed into the YOU MUST LOVE DISNEY as much as girls are.

  22. funny enough, my mom would have loved me to be a princess, meaning a nice haircut,pretty dress, makeup and a lovely spouse, (maybe a lawyer) and so on, of course barbie and all the disney girls included when i grew up in the 90s.
    i think she is still wondering why i turned out to be the hippie/chaotic thing i am, with a very different view on being a woman than hers.

    what i want to say: don´t underestimate the personality of our kids! i trust my son to find his own way through it, when the time comes for him. (of course this doesn´t mean to leave them alone.. but.. you know.. )

    and, finally, a big *yay* to pippi longstocking and ronia, as mentioned above. the author is called astrid lindgren and SO WORTH IT!!

    • Thanks! My mother raised me with those books, not because she was a feminist (she wasn’t), but because she’s Scandinavian, and they were a part of her cultural background. Either way, Astrid Lindgren served me well as a child. =)

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