There has been controversy this past weekend on the social networking sites about a Facebook campaign to get people to replace their profile photos with those of favorite cartoon characters…in the name of showing support for child abuse. I wrote a blog post about the incongruity of linking those two things, since many cartoons are violent. They can also be sexist and many other “ists.” And the effect of that is the topic of an article in Natural Life Magazine’s current issue entitled The Little Princess Syndrome: When Our Daughters Act Out Fairytales. It was written by Matthew Johnson, Director of Education for the Media Awareness Network.
Most parents of young daughters face the question: “Has she hit the ‘princess phase’ yet?” Not all parents are upset by this. Many happily buy their girls princess costumes, toys, and accessories ranging from shoes to purses, all in pink, and often branded with fairytale characters that appear in cartoons. As Matthew points out, though, some despair of the powerful gender stereotyping this delivers to young girls and each new piece of princess gear can be a source of conflict.
The source of much of this princess culture is, of course, Disney cartoons and their associated marketing. So I was interested recently (and sent up a silent cheer) to read in the Los Angeles Times that Disney is ringing down the curtain on the genre after 73 years of charming princes saving desperate, pretty pink princesses.
Animation heads Ed Catmull (Pixar) and John Lasseter (Disney) were quoted as saying they believe that “films and genres do run a course. They may come back later because someone has a fresh take on it … but we don’t have any other musicals or fairy tales lined up.”
But in reaction to the report, the studio seemed to back away very quickly from this stance on its Facebook page. Did they get masses of email from disgruntled five-year-olds? Who knows. No matter what that was about, thanks to syndications, DVDs, and the Internet, it will take more than Disney’s decision on its future path to put the princess culture to sleep for good.
And that’s probably not necessary anyway. With the help of vigilant parents and some media literacy savvy, children should be able to enjoy the fairytales without buying into the gender bias and helplessness habits they promote. And if not, your daughters may enjoy my all-time favorite princess book The Paper Bag Princess. It turns the princess stereotype onto its head and, while it probably won’t counteract all that sparkly pinkness on its own, it used to get my young daughters cheering as the princess assertively tells her not-so-charming prince that she doesn’t need him to save her and he should get lost. Just to be sure, we’ve also published some tips for helping your kids – both boys and girls – to become media literate.