Thursday, July 16, 2009

Little Girls and Princesses

This comes more under the "parenting" category of posts than anything related to gifted education, but I'm hoping that Gifted Exchange readers can provide some insight nonetheless.

I am fascinated by the Disney Princess cultural juggernaut (and the prevalence of princess images in other shows, toys, etc. marketed to very young girls). I am hoping to write more broadly about it, tied to some other cultural issues. However, since I don't have little girls myself, the toys and movies that are big in my house have more of a "truck" or "wild animal" theme.

For those of you who do have little girls, are they into princesses? What makes the princess image appealing? How prevalent is it (like what percentage of girls in your daughters' classes dress up as princesses for Halloween)? Is one of the Disney princesses more popular than the others? Why is that?

What do parents in general think of the princess phenomenon? Is there any worry about girls playing princess more often than, say, deep sea explorer or astronaut?

Thanks for your help in researching this! Marketing to children has gotten so much more sophisticated over the years, and I enjoy trying to understand exactly why some concepts hit it big.

17 comments:

DianeAKelly said...

Our daughter was obsessed with princesses from her third birthday until she was around six: she refused to wear pants, insisted on being a princess for Halloween, made sure everything she wore was pink with sparkles. Mind you, she was still happy to dig up grubs in the yard and pretend to have sword fights -- it just had to be in pink. The "princess" behavior stopped as abruptly as it had started, which made us think it was something developmental. Once she had firmly established her 'girl' identity with herself, she discarded the stereotypical hyper-feminine trappings.

Ian said...

As a 6th grade gifted teacher, I have had very few girls who are into the princess thing. The few that are do it more as a joke, I think, or even a way of rebelling.

Since you asked about young girls, though, my five year old niece (who has clear signs of giftedness) has little interest in princesses. She likes to play explorer, veterinarian, and monster hunter.

Her younger, and more developmentally-typical sister, is much more feminine and likes princesses, dressing up, and doing her hair. In their preschool class, she is more accepted by her peers than her older sister.

Anonymous said...

From a fellow tomboy...I don't see any harm in playing with Barbies/princess as long as it play. The real concern I have is when those little princesses turn pre-teen and want to wear makeup dress like adults. YIKES
My DD7 currently preferres nature toys to Barbies and I have no complaints.

Anonymous said...

Hi. I'd be REALLY careful about implying that gifted girls are less into princesses, and less gifted girls are more into princesses. Ian's comment above sort of hints at that, even if not intentionally. First of all, very few 6th grade girls are into princesses. In my experience, just about ZERO 6th grade girls are into princesses. So the lack of princess lovers in the 6th grade gifted class means nothing.

My gifted daughter did have a princess stage. It wasn't particularly long or obsessive, but I think it is pretty typical of a large percentage of girls. I do not remotely believe it correlates to giftedness, even in the extreme cases of girls who always hate princesses, or girls who are obsessed. I, myself, had a pretty typical interest in princesses or romance, etc. I grew up to teach at an Ivy League university, but also don't mind looking attractive from time to time :-) I think the interest in princesses and femininity ties to our culture, not one's intelligence, and perhaps it requires some intelligence to recognize that femininity can help girls at times. Lack of femininity can also be fine. Ultimately, a successful life is strongly tied to happiness. The princess stories and romance are linked to happiness. It doesn't make a female stupid (or incapable of achieving great things) to want complete happiness in all aspects of her life.

Of course, most of us know that Disney has made a huge effort in recent years to make its princess protagonists very intelligent, multi-cultural, strong-minded leaders. The fact that they are gorgeous is almost secondary. But it is part of it. But is that so different from the real world?

Parentalcation said...

I have four daughters, from three to twelve.

Every single one of them was into princesses from about the age of three on. My three year old just made me watch a "Princess" DVD for two hours today.

I wouldn't put any great amount of effort into thinking about which one is the favorite of the Princesses, because that seems to be more a factor of which Princess is in vogue on the shelves. (Check which ever one is in kids meals at Fast Food places)

I can say that they all preferred the more traditional Princesses as opposed to the more exotic ones (Mulan, Pocahontas, and Jasmine)... also none of them liked Snow White much either.

All of them dressed up as Princesses at least twice.

I do think their is some encouragement from parents in the phenomena, since we literally view our daughters as little Princesses.

Having said that though, my three year old, who loves Princesses, would much rather watch Kai Lan (???), Dora, and Spongebob.

Also you say "Is there any worry about girls playing princess more often than, say, deep sea explorer or astronaut?"

At the Princess age (3 - 6), kids really have no idea what an explorer or astronaut is. Their worldview is simply to limited... everyone is either a hero (soldier) or princess.

I think it's when kids horizons expands and they realize that their is more to the world than soldiers and Princesses that they are able to grow out of that stage.

Of course immediately after Princesses is the "iCarly" and "Hannah Montana" stage which is almost as annoying.

I do have to say that Princesses are a lot less annoying than having to watch my son turn every single item in the house into some form of gun (including the plastic animals we bought him to temper his wild side).

Kirsten said...

My dd is into a very small subset of Princesses. Maybe because we let her explore one thoroughly at a time.

Her favorites are Ariel, Tinkerbell, and Pocahontas.

She wanted to be an astronaut for a long time, but now she wants to be ground control. She is 6.5 years old.

Anonymous said...

My daughter was princess obsessed from about 20 mo. old until 6 years old. It began with playing dress up and she was immediately attracted to the vivid colors and glitter. When she was younger her favorite was Cinderella, and after a trip to Disney World, she was more into Belle from Beauty and the Beast and Mulan.

Mulan in particular appealed to her because she was a tough warrior and a princess at the same time. It was a phase that fit into her preschool years of make belief and magic. I didn't try to associate any of this to a social statement, just enjoyed that my gifted girl had a "typical" behavior. Otherwise she would bring encyclopedias home from the library and sit in her room reading them with a tiara on. Princesses were her link to her typically developing peers that had different interests in every other way.

Anonymous said...

In my experience it is hugely popular with nearly every girl that Disney gets into its clutches and that's most girls in this culture. Girls who are raised further from popular culture are less interested. Disney marketing is incredibly powerful and people spend more money on kids' toys and media than they ever have before.

What I find to be sad is that even many educated parents seem to fail to notice the role that marketing plays in these sorts of preferences. I guess it is so ubiquitous that it can be hard to see.

Anonymous said...

When my son was three, we once went shopping for tennis shoes. He wanted the Hotwheels shoes. When we found they didn't have any in his size, his second choice was a pair of pink, sparkly tennis shoes with pictures of Ariel and Jazmine. He liked pink. He liked sparkles. He liked Ariel and Jazmine. He thought they were cool. (I think so, too; as Disney princesses go, they are strong characters, and Jazmine has a good pole vault!) Then his feminist mother had to decide whether to send her three-year-old son to preschool in *girls'* shoes, or to try to explain that a boy wearing girls' shoes would get teased, in some way that did not devalue girls. Whew!

Carrie

J. said...

Anonymous, that is a GREAT story! Thanks for the laugh. Little three year old boy in pink sparkly Disney shoes! Seriously though, it's okay for our girls to do boy things but not the other way around, it seems.

Yes, the dilemma for the feminist raising a son. A friend who was leery about buying a Barbie doll for her daughter wondered if it might be okay for her son. Who was begging for one!

hschinske said...

I'm convinced lots of the gender stereotyping out there is purely a marketing tool -- whenever you can split a toy or an item of clothing into a "boy version" and a "girl version," you can sell nearly twice as many of whatever it is. Gender-neutral clothing, meanwhile, has become so difficult to come by that it's almost a symbol of conspicuous consumption (you have to turn to Hanna Anderssen and the like to get something like a plain red-and-white striped baby outfit).

When I was a kid, there was a lot of gender stereotyping of toys, but the toys themselves didn't always have PINK PINK PINK or SKULLS FLAME DEATH on them. For instance, I got my kids a toy sewing machine from the 1970s. Sure, it was called Junior Miss and marketed to girls -- but it was plain white and red and didn't have sparkly-pinkly nonsense on it.

I once bought my son what I thought were plain white sneakers. *Months* later I noticed they had flowers all over the bottom. Fortunately he was only three or four and his preschool pals hadn't noticed/cared. But it was so stupid, as the soles hardly ever showed -- why NOT make them unisex, so that they could be passed on more easily? M-O-N-E-Y.

Helen

Anonymous said...

I'm the mother of a 13 year old girl who will be entering an early college program this fall. As a complete tomboy myself, I was nonplussed to see her fascination with all things pink, sparkly, and princess-like starting at a very early age. She has outgrown that now, but I do have to say that her female 8th grade classmates delighted in singing Disney princess songs, created and filmed a short movie based on Disney princesses (Prince Charming cheated on all of them and was summarily dispatched) and generally agree that "Disney Princesses Rule." It's mostly tongue in cheek, but clearly something there has captured these girls' imagination. Perhaps it is a culturally acceptable way of feeling powerful.

Mandy said...

My very advanced (reads, writes, does math, draws very detailed pictures, plays chess, jigsaw puzzles) 3 year old has dabbled in princess stuff. She likes to get out princess dress up clothes occasionally and sometimes she watches Disney movies. It has never gotten very obsessive and I've even encouraged it from time to time as a way of enticing her into imaginary play. She is not the type to get obsessed with topics, though. She gets obsessed with skills--drawing, painting, math, reading, puzzling, playing board games, etc. She also doesn't often do the very extended imaginary play that I see in some other kids her age, so maybe that's part of it, too.

C T said...

I have two daughters, ages 2 and 4 (almost 5). We do not watch TV, and we don't send them to preschool or get a paper newspaper (complete with shiny ads). We do use the computer all the time for entertainment. As I type, they are watching a Little Einsteins DVD on the other half of the screen. We don't go clothing shopping for hours together (they have more than enough clothes already). As a result, they are not into the Princess phenomenon, despite having free access to classic Disney and Barbie Princess DVDs. Sure, they like to dress up and spin around in princess dresses once in a while, but otherwise they're just as happy to wear yellow, navy or green as pink. From our family's experiences, I conclude that the Princess phenomenon is the result of advertising, marketing, and early peer pressure.

lorid said...

My 6-year-old likes princesses. Her class, which is a standalone gifted class, has girls in it who dressed as princesses for Halloween. My daughter was a mermaid, but she thought about being a ninja, too. She's also into worms, snails, and is usually pretty dusty after a few hours in the park. She also loves to swim. My 3-year-old son rides her hand-me-down pink scooter. He's also into cars and loves the piano.

We don't have a TV, but she does watch movies on my computer. Her tastes range from "Enchanted" to "Star Wars." She loves reading and has diverse taste, and she does love to have a few princessy books on her shelf. I figure it's better to not make a big deal about it.

Anonymous said...

I have a 9-yr old totally TOMBOY daughter. She is Gifted/ADD. She was never, ever into princesses and absolutely can not stand the color pink. I think she was 3 and she preferred to watch "Emergency Vets" and the Discovery Health Channel surgeries to anything on the Disney Channel. She is into sports - is a soccer goalie, plays basketball, swims. While I think of her as being the strong, athletic intellectual type, a part of me wishes that there was a tiny bit of the "princess"-side in her.

Anonymous said...

My 5yr old granddaughter is a princess - her favorite is Ariel, and pink is her color. But she also loves dinosaurs. I think it's all part of growing up. I remember being a princess myself - but today I'd rather be a scientist.