The rise of Princess culture in little girls should be embraced, not frowned upon.
Recently, the New York Times ran an essay by Peggy Orenstein about how she felt that the Princess culture currently consuming toy stores, and little girls’ minds, is retroactive and damaging. This is coming from a woman who has spent most of her career railing against everything that society is doing wrong to girls, which is likely just a projection of some wrongs that were done to her, and now she feels the need to avenge it. Whatever. Taking on Disney products, specifically princesses, isn’t only an exercise in futility, but these little dolls are actually an important part of the female experience.
Earth to Orenstein: Princesses are nothing new. Since Grimm’s fairy tales were written in the early 1800s, children have been reading about princes and princesses and far away lands. The stories are so universal that they often serve as a stepping stone into a further interest in reading. Who doesn’t remember first hearing the story of Cinderella or Rapunzel? Fairy tales are one of the few experiences that bridge generation gaps, not just from parent to child, but also grandparent to child and throughout the rest of the family tree.
Orenstein considers herself a feminist, which is why I found it curious she would take issue with little girls’ toys. Feminism is rooted in the collective, about working together as a whole, for the greater good. These collectives are meant for adults, but the skills needed to interact and work with people are learned as children, while playing. And what do little girls like to play with? You got it, princesses and dolls. If some renegade feminist mother decided to keep princesses away from her daughter, she ultimately hinders her daughter’s growth and development. Children may not care about adult frivolities such as money and status, but one common denominator they do understand is toys. If one girl has a Little Mermaid doll and another has a Snow White, great! They’re in business! They can play all afternoon and be best friends by dinnertime. If you forbid the girl from having the doll, and that common denominator with other girls, then you risk social isolation and far larger adjustment issues down the road.
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 in both her mind and her appearance?
Orenstein tries to throw in some random statistic about how the 23 percent decline in girls’ participation in school sports has been linked to their sense that athletics is unfeminine. I don’t know where she got those figures, but any freshman sociology student knows that just because something could be linked to something else does not mean it is the cause of it. It is very hard to prove causation. That said, there are probably many other factors to the decline of girls’ participation in sports, and maybe one of those reasons is a lack of school funding for coaches and uniforms and programs. To Orenstein, it doesn’t matter; she found a statistic that was convenient to her argument and she ran with it. After all her writing and all her books, you would think she would know enough to at least cite the source of her numbers.
Kids are smart. Give them some credit. They can make choices about what they want, regardless of what is being tossed at them. That’s why toy companies spend so much money on focus groups before they release a toy. You think Tickle Me Elmo Extreme came out of nowhere? Little girls can choose from anything they want in the vast toy stores, and if they’re drawn towards princesses, then the masses have spoken. Then again, anyone who spends time around children knows that they don’t just play with one toy. One day it might be princesses, but the next day it could just as easily be dinosaurs.
Look, this is America. If you’re going to live here you have to understand that this is a capitalistic society. People have managed to make money off of peddling everything from pet rocks to bottled water. If princesses are the latest trend in the toy business, so be it. Lest ye forget: It is not the seven-year-old girls who actually purchase these toys. Their parents are the ones with the cash who are buying these products. By not indulging every whim of a child, maybe mothers like Orenstein might make progress on their bizarre toy crusade. And I don’t want to hear the parental whining about how hard it is to quiet a five-year-old who is throwing a temper tantrum. Perhaps the problem is not the whining for the toys, but a lack of discipline to begin with. Back when I was a kid in the 1980s, the word “no” went pretty far.
Maybe the problem isn’t specifically Orenstein’s, but one that is symptomatic of the entire state of feminism today. Too much feminist literature is all about reacting in anger to whatever is going on in society, be it glass ceilings or advertisements or television shows. Rarely do I see great female minds coming up with solutions, solutions that may take away the negative connotations of the word “feminist.” Orenstein never even suggested what else she would like her daughter to be interested in besides princesses. This is why many young women such as myself don’t want to get too mixed up in the feminist movement, because it all seems like one huge agenda of rage.
Nevertheless, my favorite part of Orenstein’s essay came at the end, when she writes that even though her daughter does like princesses, the little girl says “But mommy, when I grow up, I’m still going to be a fireman.” Let me get this straight: It’s okay for your daughter to want to risk her life wandering into burning buildings, but playing dress-up in her kindergarten class is a ridiculous idea? Hmmm…maybe the princesses aren’t the only ones living in a fairy-tale land.
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