Monday, February 22, 2010

Is It Possible To Avoid The Princess Phase?

Recently read this and thought I'd share: Is It Possible To Avoid The Princess Phase? by Shelley White

I've gleaned the most pertinent bits for this blog to share, but as always, click through to read more.

The first paragraph:

My twins aren't even three years old, and I'm already sick of that girly triumvirate that seems impossible to escape when you are raising girls: The Princess/Barbie/Pink matrix. Toys 'R' Us has entire aisles devoted to Disney Princess merchandise, racks of sparkly pink dress-up clothes, pretend makeup and costume jewelry, and of course, those totally weird Bratz dolls with their stripper clothes and drag queen makeup.

And another passage about fairy tales and Disney:

No doubt, the P/B/P trap will be difficult to avoid. Introducing my kids to traditional Disney fare like Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Snow White and Beauty and the Beast would be a surefire way to turn them into tiara-wearing maniacs. So right now, we stick with Treehouse. When I told my friends that I've altered some traditional tales (like Cinderella) to make them more "girl power," a couple of them thought I was nuts. Did I really think I was going to hide the fact that the Prince rescues the poor, helpless maiden when these stories have been told for generations? No, probably not. But I'm determined to allow my daughters to make their own choices when it comes to their self-image, especially now, before High School Musical and Hannah Montana teach them that stereotypical beauty = teenage power.

And if you read more, the author is aware of books like Robert Munsch's The Paper Bag Princess and presumably other alternative princess titles.

I am amazed at how much angst the princess stage causes for so many parents. If you missed it, see my previous post Princess phase is OK.


  1. For me, the most problematic piece of this is the implication that fairy tales are inherently (and "have been told for generations") anti-feminist. As I think you note in the previous post, the conflation of Disney and fairy tales neglects all the really powerful messages from folklore about women's power and strength.

    While I agree with the author about the problems of commercializing, limiting, and hypersexualizing young girls' fantasies, I think she misses the point by referring to these as "old-fashioned fantasy."

  2. Heck, I'm *still* in the princess phase, and despite having an overwhelming love of pretty jewelry and dresses, I'd say I came out just fine, and while not a super feminist, a well rounded, strong young woman.

    But then, atrocity of atrocity, I also happen to like the Disney versions of (most) fairy tales too, so I guess I'm just not a modern, free thinking woman. :p

  3. There's nothing wrong with being in a princess phase. Little girls are just expressing their natural-born femininity. If pink helps them become more girly, then by all means. (I'm not putting down tomboys here.)

    I think the author is missing the fact that maidens rescued by knights in shining armor are NOT wimps. It's a natural given that most of us girls are not as strong as men. If you had a choice between getting yourself out of danger, and having someone stronger getting you out, wouldn't you pick the stronger one? The maiden's pretty smart to let a guy willingly do the dirty work for her.

    Girls in folklore are indeed strong, but not, I think, in the way the author would expect. Think about it. When we girls raise the kids, do the laundry, clean the house, plant the garden, yada yada, we're doing as much work as the men! AND might I add that domestic duties are a job that most people do not want to do. It takes a strong woman to do the jobs no one wants to do and not complain about it. Imagine Cinderella. She had to work double duty thanks to her steps, but she was tough enough to get it all done without complaining. Nobody thanked her, but she still got it done.

    You see, a girl doesn't need muscles or combat boots to prove her womanhood. She's got all the iron in her back when she's a homemaker. As a feminine woman, the fairy tale girl's got her wits, her brains, and her cleverness to get it all done, all in a womanly fashion, and without even having to raise a sword or rescue a knight in distress. By being feminine, she's the best she can be.


  4. As both a former pink toddler and a soon-to-be parent, I have to say, I think people need to calm down about this. I loved Disney as a kid, owned every Ariel thing on the market and then every Belle thing Mom would get me (she preferred TLM), and my sister was the same. Now I'm a writer, a feminist, and spend most of my time volunteering, while my sister majored in Biophysics and is currently in Africa getting her master's in public health. Not exactly fainting-couch types here!

    Honestly, when did we lose the idea that kids went through crazy stages they'd grow out of and start assuming that everything would warp them for life?

  5. There certainly is nothing wrong with being in a "princess phase." I love Disney as much as I love Grimms and modern twists and so on. But there also is nothing inherently "natural" about this pink vision of femininity. Are little girls who choose to "rescue themselves" not feminine? Why should they need help to "become more girly"? Domestic work IS definitely valuable and a reflection of strength for sure, but just as a girl doesn't need muscles to prove her womanhood neither should she need to conform to one particular idea of "womanly fashion." Think about the transformations of the Red Riding Hood story as a great example of this….

    I think the point is more that girls should feel free to imagine themselves as Ariel or Belle or Cinderella as much as they want, as long as they feel encouraged to see all the possibilities of life as the anonymous commenter above mentioned.

  6. Hello Everyone,

    I have just discovered this blog, although I have known about SurLaLune for a while. I am a "once and future" Waldorf teacher and writer of not-yet-published fairy tales. I would like to comment on this blog entry from a personal and Waldorf point of view.

    First, (and this as well as the following is IMHO), fairy tales should be heard, not seen, by young children. This idea is fully supported in Bruno Bettleheim's "Uses of Enchantment" - a very important work on the analysis of fairy tales in relationship to Freudian psychology. When we expose children to the fairy tale world through Disney, etc., we are imprinting images that they may or may not be ready for psychologically (or spiritually) and these images "lock-in" and become fixed. In addition, there is a great deal of "fairy tale propaganda" that is used for one purpose only - to sell STUFF!

    In Waldorf Education, we try to stick with telling fairytales at appropriate age levels, using books with gentle, impressionistic illustrations which leave much to the imagination, and giving children dress up and play materials which are simple and open to the child's creative impulses.

    There is nothing wrong with "princess" and "prince" play. In fact, it is quite wonderful and can actually be cross gendered if the children so desire (no comment need to be made to the children themselves by adults). To be a "true princess" or "true prince" is to have an elevated sense of ethics, if you follow true fairy tale interpretation. In other words, the "true" prince or princess must be kind, generous, truthful and good. They must care for others above themselves and put others first, whether human, animal or elemental. Only then can they achieve union with their "other" - the opposite prince or princess which represents their own higher self (not an external person) and in so doing, inherit the "kingdom" (which is an expression of their own spiritual state of contentment and enlightenment).

    The color pink is the color of love in its gentle and innocent form. It is the color of affection and warm heartedness. Unfortunately, our more than material, our negatively spiritual society has corrupted this into vanity and even IMO a horrific early sexuality. Think "Toddlers and Tiaras". Bringing pink back to innocent love and affection should be the goal. Simple pink silks, a little bit of bling for sparkle and gentle reminders of what true princesses do and don't do is enough to keep the young child in healthy fairy tale love for a long time!

    Christine Natale

    If You Thought

    If you thought me beautiful
    I would be
    The bright sun playing
    In a cherry tree.

    If you thought me beautiful
    I would know
    The thoughts of moonbeams
    Dancing slow.

    If you thought me beautiful
    I would hold
    The key to caverns
    Full of gold.

    If you thought me beautiful
    I would look
    Like a fairy-tale princess
    In a magic book.

    Christine Natale
    2003 All Rights Reserved

  7. PS

    I have bit of a problem with equating fairy tales with adult values such as female independence, strength, etc.. This, I believe has arisen primarily because of the fairy tale "propaganda" from the Disney versions, etc. If one reads the original, true versions, one will find that the prince rarely "rescues" the princess! In "Sleeping Beauty" or "Briar Rose", the original version, the Prince kisses the Princess awake, but only because her time of awakening has come. Many others died trying to get in to the castle, but when the Princess's own time is at hand, the briars part to admit the true Prince.

    In the original Aschenputtel (Cinderella), the gowns are brought by the birds (spirits) because of the girl's own tears over her mother's grave (not by a fairy godmother). She earns her own spiritual sheaths through penance and devotion. She meets the Prince three times, but runs away! When the Prince tries the shoes on the two stepsisters, birds (spirits) come and tell him he has the wrong bride. Each of the stepsisters mutilates herself to get the shoe on. The Prince in this version is rather clueless. Only through spiritual intervention is the union completed.

    In Rapunzel, it is she who initiates the union and in the end, her tears falling into the blind eyes of the Prince do the rescuing.

    In Little Red Cap (Little Red Riding Hood), it is a male huntsman who rescues the child and grandmother from the belly of the wolf (yes, they were devoured by the wolf) but both feminine archetypes here are child and elder, not mature young adult figures.

    In Snow White (Little Snow White), the prince does not kiss the girl awake, he begs the dwarfs to allow him to take the girl in the glass coffin back to his castle. On the way, the cart goes over a bump and the poisoned apple is dislodged from her mouth. The Prince is a catalyst to the awakening, but not necessarily a rescuer.

    In Hansel and Gretel, it is Gretel who saves them from the witch. First, through her cleverness at getting Hansel to poke a chicken bone through the cage bars (the witch can't see well and wants to know if he is fat enough to eat) and then through sheer bravery and strength of will in pushing the witch into the oven!

    To really understand fairy tales, one must get back to the originals and to the many wonderful analytic works available to us today. These are teaching stories, psychological and spiritual and it behooves us to be very, very careful of bastardizations, because they change the teachings drastically. The fact that we can buy over the counter drugs doesn't make us a pharmacologist!

    Disney movies (especially the early ones) are great works of art, but IMO completely inappropriate for the young child. After 9 or 10, they are not as harmful (unless the individual child is still in the dreamy, fairy tale state).

    Luckily, there are beautiful books, soft, impressionistic toys and playthings and helpful information available. The internet is a wonderful thing! (For grown-ups!)


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  12. Hello all,

    I'm busy working on projects, but I knew this would be a hot topic--it always is. I have no problems with princess phases. I am more concerned with children who don't use fantasy and roll playing in their play. I am just amused with all of the hoopla and concern for it over the past several decades.

    Also, let's try to stay on topic in the comments. I try to keep this lean and mean. Links to personal writings are appropriate, but posting entire stories is not.

    Thanks for commenting and sharing!