Little girls or little women? The Disney princess effect
In today's highly sexualized environment – where 5-year-olds wear padded bras – some see the toddlers-and-tiaras Disney princess craze leading to the pre-teen pursuit of "hot" looks. Do little girls become little women too soon?
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Brown points out in her book that there is no pink equivalent for boys. Although the color blue, sports equipment, and fire engines grace much of their décor, boys still have far more options of how to define themselves.Skip to next paragraph
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"In unprecedented levels, girls are being presented with a very narrow image of girlhood," Brown says.
One of the best ways to keep girls from falling into rigid gender roles is to broaden their horizons.
"If we are bombarded with thousands of images a day that give the illusion of choice, but are in fact really simplistic and repetitive, it's important to not just say girls can do anything, but to give them the actual experience," said Ms. Dupont from Hardy Girls Healthy Women, where the Adventure Girls program for second- to sixth-graders connects girls with women who have excelled in nontraditional fields, from construction and rugby to chemistry and dog-sledding.
This is what Finucane tried to do with her daughter. She did not want to crush Caoimhe's fantasies, but she also wanted her to see more of the possibilities open to girls. So although Caoimhe wanted to read only Disney Princess books – titles such as "Cinderella: My Perfect Wedding" – Finucane insisted on sharing stories about Amelia Earhart and other powerful women. She bought native American dress-up clothes and a Princess Presto outfit to go with the frothy pink Disney gowns.
Trying to stay one step ahead
Finucane says that Caoimhe, now 5, is pretty much free of the princess obsession. These days she is entranced by "James and the Giant Peach" and "The Wizard of Oz."
"I try to stay maybe one step ahead," Finucane says. "The grip they had is lost. She's still into characters and theatrical production, but she no longer believes that you can't leap if you're a princess, or female."
Parents' involvement is key, Levin says, but they do not have to act alone. Over the past few years, a growing group of advocacy organizations have formed to help fight against marketing pressure and sexualization.
Levin and others have campaigned for new regulations on how advertisers can approach children; groups such as truechild.org and Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood have also pushed for marketing restrictions and have held summits about countering the consumer culture and sexualization. The organization TRUCE – Teachers Resisting Unhealthy Children's Entertainment – publishes media and play guides in which they review toys, check marketers' claims, and recommend age-appropriate activities. Recently, actress Geena Davis joined Sen. Kay Hagan (D) of North Carolina and Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D) of Wisconsin to lobby for a bill that would support efforts to improve the image of women and girls in the media.
Girls themselves have joined different advocacy efforts, including organizing and participating in the SPARK (Sexualization Protest: Action, Resistance, Knowledge) Summit in New York City, a gathering of girls and adults who hold forums on media awareness, sexuality, and fighting stereotypes.