We can’t help it. You see, these fairy tale, poofy-skirted ladies are infused into American girlhood and American consumerism. And that has some fascinating, and hotly debated, impact on the way little girls are growing up today.
(For me, the Disney Princesses are of a particular interest because I’ve noticed them camping just outside my door. And on cereal boxes, bedspreads, onesies, toddler shoes, etc., etc. I’m convinced they’re waiting for my daughter to get just a little, teeny, eensy bit older before they lead me down a pink, frilly Khyber Pass of parenting.)
Here’s the text:
“Have you noticed in many animated movies, the princess has to be rescued by a prince? Then they go off to live happily ever after. Ever wonder about what might be involved in happily ever after? What about going to college or getting a job or changing the world? Isn't it about time that a princess went to college? We are raising our voices in a request to Disney and Dreamworks – promote equality, independence and self-determination for girls. Send a princess to college in a movie – soon!”
It turns out that the women who created the petition were academic Rebecca Hains (who has since become one of our guest bloggers) and Cindy Brown, author of “A Girl’s Guide to Swagger” and the brains behind the Swagger online community for young women.
I caught up with Ms. Brown by phone recently and she told me that the inspiration for the petition came after the UK Royal Wedding, when Americans went gaga over real live princess Kate Middleton. (Ok, Middleton is really a duchess. But let's not complicate a good Happily Ever After.)
Brown said she started to wonder why Americans were so fascinated with princesses – and then heard from her friends with daughters that she didn’t even know the half of it. If you want obsession, they told her, take a look at little girls with Disney Princesses.
So Brown started reading up about Disney Princesses, and taking a critical look at the plot lines of Snow White, Cinderella, et al. She found the stories passive, to say the least. So what’s a princess to do? At least one who wants a bit more out of life than a kiss from some random dude?
“I thought, going to college is one of the things that a princess might choose to do,” Brown said. “And that’s the point, that they get to choose,” she said.
She contacted Ms. Hains, who agreed to work with her on the concept.
“I want little girls to have dreams that are more daring,” Hains said.
(Disney, for its part, doesn’t deign to jump into the Disney Princess fray. It has a standard response to all this talk, which it sent me when I wrote my article, “The Disney Princess Effect: Little Girls or Little Women?” for the Monitor’s magazine:
“For 75 years, millions of little girls and their parents around the world have adored and embraced the diverse characters and rich stories featuring our Disney princesses.... [L]ittle girls experience the fantasy and imagination provided by these stories as a normal part of their childhood development.”)
At first, Brown said, the goal was to have 100 people put their names to the petition. When I talked to her this week, the number had already hit 104, and she had upped her goal to 500.
“To me it’s not just a gender issue, it’s an equality issue,” she said, admitting that she has a soft spot herself for some of the Disney Princesses - particularly Snow White. “Maybe this could move to bridge that “princess” divide. We can all agree that expanding roll models is a good thing.”
As for whether Cinderella goes to frat parties or chemistry class? That's for Disney to decide.