The attack on so-called “princess culture” continues

 

www.timeshighereducation.com/Pictures/david_parkins_illustration

www.timeshighereducation.com/Pictures/david_parkins_illustration

I think I will coin a new phrase. I will call it “academic nitpicky culture” or maybe “mad cow disease culture“.  The hallowed halls of academia are now being used to attack gender stereotypes  because it is no longer okay to be feminine. Academics seem determined to take the feminine out of feminist. Not long after the posts I did on Princess culture (one and two)  the following article from the Washington Post was republished on Stuff.

…The Disney Princess brand suggests that a girl’s most valuable asset is her beauty, which encourages an unhealthy preoccupation with physical appearance. The brand also implies that girls should be sweet and submissive, and should expect a man to come to their rescue in an act of love at first sight.

This nitpicky academic has obviously never watched the Disney movie Mulan or The Princess and the Frog. She admits that there are modern heroines in the movies Tangled, Frozen and Brave but she still maintains that “the brand remains out of step with modern ideas about raising girls.”

Her analysis is not only flawed,  it seems to be a deliberate attempt to ignore the huge volume of evidence to the contrary.

Mulan and Merida from Brave are both feminine characters but are also quite capable of taking care of themselves. Merida literally fought for the right to choose her own husband  instead of having him chosen for her by her father. Mulan enlisted in the Chinese army as a man to protect her elderly father from conscription. She does not win the heart of her man with her beauty, she wins his heart with her courage and her personality. She is a natural leader and, even when her identity is revealed, the other soldiers follow her into battle. Mulan and Merida  are not sweet and submissive and neither are the female characters in Tangled, Frozen and The Princess and the Frog.

Mulan

Mulan in the Disney movie of the same name.

In Mulan there is an interesting dynamic where the enemy, who is a Hun, is told by Mulan that she is the reason why his plan was foiled. The Chinese in China, at that point in history, did not allow women in the Army but, ironically, she is treated as an equal by her Hun enemy. His response to her declaration that she was responsible for foiling his plan isn’t to scoff and say, “That is not possible, you are a woman.” Instead he reacts with anger and attacks her as an equal because he does not see her as a weak woman but as a fellow warrior.

Princess Merida in the movie Brave

Princess Merida in the movie Brave ( made by Pixar but owned by Disney )

…Their findings reinforce some serious concerns about princess culture. For instance:

1. The more the girls in the study engaged with princess culture, the more they behaved in stereotypical feminine ways.

I cannot help but wonder what they define as being stereotypical feminine ways?  The whole reason why stereotypes exist is because the majority of people are actually like that. For example, a common put-down is to say that a man or a boy “screamed like a girl”. Because of biology, women and girls tend to have higher-pitched voices. Should women deliberately try to lower their voices in order to not be stereotypical? Equally, the stereotype of the masculine man is one with lots of muscles and body hair. Should men stop doing physical exercise that builds the muscles and shave off their body hair to avoid being a stereotypical masculine man? What is not being acknowledged here is the underlying assumption that being feminine (in the way that most women are feminine) is somehow a bad thing. The whole point of this silly study is to say that acting in a feminine way is, firstly, something to be avoided, and secondly a learned behaviour that we should not pass on to our daughters.

2. Girls with a lower body image when the study began tended to be more interested in princess culture a year later.

Princess culture is fantasy culture. It is all about dressing up and feeling pretty and feminine. No matter what a little girl’s body size, she can dress up as a princess and feel good about herself. That is a positive thing.

There was no evidence that the girls’ engagement with princess culture influenced girls’ behaviour for the better.

What a ridiculous statement. Equally, there is no evidence that the girls’ engagement with princess culture influenced their behaviour for the worse either. Anyway, who gets to define what kind of behaviour is an improvement?

Princesses’ potential as positive, pro-social role models is limited.

I totally disagree. Mulan, for example, was a wonderful role model for young girls. She was prepared to defy authority in order to do the right thing. She risked her life to protect her father. She triumphed over adversity and earned the respect of her fellow soldiers. She didn’t change herself in order to win the love of a man. He had to love her and accept her as she was. In the end she won the admiration of the highest authority, the Emperor. He said to the young man who loved her, “A girl like that doesn’t come along every dynasty.”

…The study did offer some tentative, good news to parents. First, engaging with princess culture seemed to have positive effects on boys, counterbalancing some of the stereotypically aggressive messages found in media targeting male children.

Again, I have to ask, who is it who has decided that it is a positive thing to make boys more like girls?  Why is it that there are academics wanting to feminise our men?

…and it found that viewing princess films did not seem to harm girls’ body image during the one-year time frame researchers tracked. They found that most girls had “very positive” body images at the study’s beginning and conclusion alike. This may come as a relief to parents worried about the idealised, homogeneous and largely unattainable body type of Disney’s princesses.

– The Washington Post

The point that these nitpicky academics are missing is that princess culture makes a girl feel good about herself. It encourages dressing up and make-believe and feeling pretty. This is a positive thing that every young girl should be able to enjoy, no matter what she looks like.

 

 

 

 


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