Should We Encourage Our Daughters to be “Princesses?”

Have you seen the Disney “I am a Princess” video?  It feels more like a public-service announcement, but it’s obviously an attempt to rebrand the classic Disney products and movies for a more modern era:

Isn’t that a great commercial?


Martha Kempner does a great job of explaining why we Disney princesses are Disney princesses no matter how well done, inspirational, and multi-ethnic that commercial is:

The original princesses of the forties and fifties—Snow White, Cinderella, and Sleeping Beauty—all underscore the idea that a girl’s ultimate goal in life is to meet that one man, fall in love, and live happily ever after without ever really taking an active role in shaping her own future. Real women came along way in the next few decades but princesses seem to have gotten stuck in a gender-role rut as the 90’s entries into the genre had even worse messages. In the Little Mermaid, for example, Ariel makes a deal with Ursula, the sea witch, to give up her voice at least temporarily. She then has to get Prince Eric to fall in love with her without talking. What follows is a series of scenes in which she bats her eyelashes a lot but says nothing—and it works. The take away: shut up and look pretty and you’ll the get the guy. Beauty and the Beast’s Belle wants more than her small-town life and reads every book she can get her hands on which is admirable but as soon as the Beast starts being a little bit refined and kind of sweet, she seems to forget that he is still holding her captive.

… It is true that the newest major offerings in the Disney princess world, Brave and Tangled, have heroines who at least seem to be able to take care of themselves be it with a bow and arrow or a frying pan. But why must they still be princesses?

My colleague at National Review, Colette Moran, is right that Kate Middleton is proving a princess can be a true partner in a marriage. But, as Kempner points out, “I don’t think becoming a princess is a realistic or worthy goal. (For one thing [Middleton] may have taken the only open spot.)”

For an alternative view on princesses, check out Supreme Court justice Sonia Sotomayor breaking the news to a Sesame Street character that “princess is not a career.”

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  • Rozy

    I never liked the Disney Little Mermaid because she was a rebellious teen who made trouble for everyone. The real story is much better. I liked Beauty and the Beast because it did not promote ‘love (or lust) at first sight’, it was more of a get to know someone as friends first, then grow in love story. The new “princesses” seem to follow the liberal feminist viewpoint that women don’t need men. Can’t someone do a film that promotes a healthy view of the roles of men and women and how they are both needful and complementary? Maybe I’ll suggest that to my film maker son for a future project.

  • Soolong

    Rozy it sounds as though you are suggesting that the roles of men and women are different. Please explain.

  • Brian Bowman

    For Disney movies, I’ve always liked Up, especially the Carl and Ellie montage.

  • Brian Bowman

    > …it sounds as though you are suggesting that the roles of men and women are different. Please explain.

    If you can suggest an ethnological study that shows a culture in which the roles of men and women are not significantly different, I would love to read it.

    We humans evolved to be one of the most egalitarian[1] of species, and that egalitarianism is manifest in our fairly low sexual dimorphism, absence of sexual dichromatism, and sharing of child-rearing duties, which evolutionary biologists use to measure the egalitarian/hierarchical characteristic of any specie; however, even in the most egalitarian sociopolitical typology, Non-State band society,[2] roles between men and women are different.

    “Whenever women have insisted on absolute equality with men, they have invariably wound up on the dirty end of the stick. What they are and what they can do makes them superior to men, and their proper tactic is to demand special privileges, all the traffic will bear. They should never settle merely for equality. For women, ‘equality’ is a disaster.” ~Robert Heinlein, Time Enough for Love

    When females are signing Selective Service cards at the Post office so they don’t get prohibited by law from receiving student aide and driver’s licenses, and can pass Combat Endurance Tests in equivalent numbers, then we’ll surely be equal.

    But you might not like it.
    [1] Christopher Boehm (1999) Hierarchy in the Forest: The Evolution of Egalitarian Behavior. Harvard University Press.
    [2] Elman 
Service (1975) Origins of the State and Civilization: The Process of Cultural Evolution. New York, NY: Norton.

  • Surprise123

    Well, perhaps we need to define what the word “princess” means. I suspect that the definition of the word, as Disney employs it, has changed over time.
    It once meant a very cosseted, unattainable young woman, high in a tower, or asleep in a glass case on a mountain top, in a deep cave, or covered in forest growth. The word “Princess” imbued the sense of something in stasis of great worth, but something without its own agency.
    Now, however, the word “princess” seems to mean any young girl or woman who is active, engaged with the world, compassionate, and committed to family…as long as she enjoys wearing frilly gowns and a crown from time to time.
    The old definition associated ideal womanhood with the needs of motherhood and being a devoted wife; the new definition associates ideal womanhood with engagement in the wider world, while incorporating the feminine values of empathy and family.