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Web Letter

I understand where the author is coming from, but I have to disagree with the article. With the exceptions of Mulan, which is based on a Chinese heroine from 2,000 years ago, and Pocahontas, the Disney Princesses are based on old fairy tales. Disney did not create the stories for Snow White, Cinderella etc. himself. Does this mean that we should ban all fairy tales from our children? My children and I discuss all stories we read or see in movies. I make sure that they understand what they've read or seen and we talk about why the characters acted the way they did.

My oldest daughter is 7 years old. She loves princesses and fairies of all kinds. She also knows that people grow up and fall in love with others because they are smart, funny, and kind. She knows that sometimes, men fall in love with men and women with women. She knows that she doesn't have to get married, and that she doesn't need a man to support her. She knows that she can get whatever job she wants or be a stay-at-home mom if she chooses to. She knows where babies come from (but not how they get there). When she puts on her tiara and fancy dresses, she is pretending that she has magical powers and great adventures, not that she's waiting for a man to rescue her.

If my son or daughters grow up thinking that men are in charge, women are helpless, and love happens because the people involved are beautiful, that will be my fault, not the Disney Company. My husband and I model a real marriage, and that is what will really influence my kids.

On a related note, I know plenty of people who celebrate and share material with their children that holds the subjugation of women at its heart. Should we ban the Bible to protect our daughters from sexist ideas?

Michelle Perkins

Covington, LA

Dec 24 2007 - 1:11am

Web Letter

Very interesting article and responses.

I am the feminist mother of a strong, happy, kind, brainy, 16-year-old girl, who has adored dressing up since she could walk. The Disney Princess pack wasn't around then, but she loved fairy tales (with the notable exception of Sleeping Beauty, which scared her because the Prince kisses Sleeping Beauty while she's "sleeping, Mom, and she doesn't even know him!"), tiaras, sparkly gowns, wands--the works. She grew up to be a strong feminist, a young woman who likes her body, swims and hikes, wants to get a PhD in American History... and still loves those glittery dresses. I think that maybe the influences of the rest of her life contributed to neutrallzing the Helpless-Princess-in-a-Tower idea which may have come with the fairy tales. Influences such as: the people around her, the lack of TV, my peace about my own body and pleasure in my personal strength, our family catering business responsibilities (where, if something needs to be accomplished, everyone, male and female, just works at it until it's done), and many other things, which were the backdrop to the decade-and-a-half-long game of dress-up. After all, a girl doesn't play princess in a vacuum; flowing gowns and Prince Charming happen in the context of her regular life, don't they?

Maybe throwing out the television and picking up some fancy gowns at Goodwill is one answer to satisfying that urge for glamorous dress-ups. Maybe having lots of cheerful feminist energy around, with plenty of self-respect in the air, is a way to avoid the trap of equating appearance with worth. Maybe modeling confidence and sincere self-love in front of a little girl is a way to encourage kindness to and acceptance of herself and the world. Or maybe I'm just lucky and happen to have for my daughter a wise old soul, who doesn't kick against the system--she just reinvents it to include scholarly papers and a fast fifty-meter breaststroke along with plenty of princess dresses. I think that Disney Princesses are negligible as a problem--the problem is much bigger than the Princesses, and so is the solution. Get yourself strong, get happy, show that to your daughters, encourage them in whatever they do, teach them personal freedom and individual responsibility... and enjoy having those tiaras sparkling at your dinner table.

Annie Marshall

Frederick, MD

Dec 22 2007 - 1:05am

Web Letter

I'm right there with you. I hate the Disney princess phenomenon for exactly the reasons you indicate. But there are little girls who aren't wrapped up in the fairy tales.

I have successfully poisoned (pun intended) my 4-year-old daughter against them by: (a) banning all commercial products from my house; (b) banning most television (we allow PBS); and (c) having thoughtful discourse with her about why I hate Disney princesses.

When she asks why I hate them, I tell her, "Because they make little girls grow up too soon, and because they think they need a man to make them happy." My daughter thinks this explanation is mighty interesting, because she likes to hear it over and over again.

Here's how I know I've been successful: when my daughter sees a Disney princess image when we're out and about, she will stick her tongue out and say "Blah! Disney princesses!" It makes me smile every time.

Some might say that I'm overprotective or unrealistic. I say, I'll take that over having my daughter robbed of her childhood by the Disney corporation.

Very sincerely,

Katherine Havener

San Ramon, CA

Dec 19 2007 - 4:27pm

Web Letter

If this desire to be a princess is something so strong, as the writer suggests and a history of myths, folktales, literature etc. involving these themes suggests, perhaps it would be of use to consider why this desire continues to draw little girls rather than using a severe political lens to frame the discussion. Without an attempt to understand the basis of these desires, any conversation in this matter is simply a political campaign based on ones own viewpoint with little lasting value.

I am going to offer my own thoughts on where this desire comes from and do my best not to frame it as being good or bad. I think that within the female heart lies a desire to be loved. A desire to be the one romanced, desired, the one that the prince risked himself to get. Call it what you want, one of the primary messages the diamond jewelry sends to a woman who receives it is that a man thought enough of me to sacrifice a significant portion of his resources so that I could have this, and he thinks I am beautiful enough to be adorned by a beautiful item. These girls want to dress up to receive afirmation of their beauty and desirability. They desire to be loved and made much of.

Ben Neufeld

Regina, SK, Canada

Dec 19 2007 - 1:56pm

Web Letter

My 4-year-old is very interested in these characters, particularly Ariel and Cinderella. Somehow I don't feel disturbed by this. In fact, the sheer quality of the Disney back catalogue shines through. I think it's great that she enjoys these very girl-orientated stories. The production values are very high compared to children's TV; the sound and the pictures are admirable. I think these characters have the same absence of adult sexuality that Peter Pan has: actually there's only one sexy character in the whole Disney oeuvre: Tinkerbell.

Tom Donald

Dumfries, Scotland

Dec 18 2007 - 4:25am

Web Letter

I'm afraid Barbara Ehrenreich has the wrong end of the stick. It's not a gender struggle here it's a class struggle. We see princesses paraded around as the paragon of little girls' aspirations- beautiful, slim, upper-class and rich. Sure, Belle, Cinderella and Snow White lived simple lives, but at the end of the story they are elevated to a higher social status, and all the trappings that goes with that. One asks, Where is Esmerelda (from The Hunchback of Notre Dame)? Where is Megara (Hercules)? Where is Jane (Tarzan)? They're not there because they're not princesses--one's a gypsy, one's a sassy serving wench and the last is a scientist's daughter! All from the lower class!

Disney is promoting the virtues of social advantage--that to improve yourself you have to marry into the upper class, rather than work hard and earn that respect! Yes, get the pitchforks, and march on the Magic Edifice--a edifice in the midst of a Republic where all men are created equal! Huzzah!

Widya Santoso

Canberra, Australia

Dec 17 2007 - 5:17pm

Web Letter

Ehrenreich's argument resonates for me. I had already heard plenty of conversations about this issue, but until I actually witnessed it firsthand a few weeks ago --at a dinner party of a mother of two, where both girls, aged 3 and 5, greeted me at the door in their princess gowns and wand-waved me into the house--I didn't have a visceral reaction. Woah, I thought, here's that princess thing that everybody's been talking about. Weird.

Shortly after granting me entrance to her suburban castle, the 3-year-old offered me "tea" from her Disney teapot. It was kind of cute and kind of creepy. But what really disturbed me was that after dinner, the little girls had their bath, and then--when they came out to say goodnight to the grown-ups--they had re-donned their princess gowns over their pajamas, their plastic-glass slippers over their socks and their tiaras over wet hair. Did they go through this ritual every night, or just for special occasions? I didn't ask, for fear of offending their mother, a respected historian.

Unlike a hundred obsessive trends that came before it (in my youth it was Cabbage Patch Kids, and it took years before I forgave my parents for never buying me one) maybe the weirdest thing about the Princess craze is that it doesn't simply involve owning the same item that all the other kids have: it involves becoming the character yourself, a level of identification and involvement that deserves scrutiny for sure. Is it really possible that dressing up this way--and having little boys see that their female peers so greatly enjoy doing this--doesn't contribute to some basic sensibilities about power? Girls and boys are bound to grow up with some idea about their differences, and that's natural, but in a society that is still grappling with these power issues in the family, in the schools, and in the workplace, how can it be a good idea to embrace these gender roles so dramatically? At the very least, it's pusillanimous for anyone to suggest that women who have struggled with gender issues in tangible and painful ways as adults should not be disturbed.

Meline Toumani

Brooklyn, NY

Dec 17 2007 - 4:23pm

Web Letter

I have no experience of my own with the Disney Princesses phenomenon, although I have read a fair amount about it.

With all the fuming over the Princesses--I've never read a pro-Princesses article--I can't help but wonder if there is a degree of overreaction at work. Adults perceive the scantily clad toys as sexualized, but are we sure that children do as well? To a young girl, the skimpy bra covers two nondescript and, as far as she knows, useless protrusions from the upper torso. They're not breasts (yet).

I can certainly why a parent would be disturbed to see his or her daughter emulating the clothing worn by the dolls. But it is merely play. Does it make sense to assign it any greater valence?

While I do agree with Barbara Ehrenreich that the toys might be introducing young girls to some rather old-fashioned and less-than-liberated gender roles, I don't understand what she means by children discovering sex "on their own...without adult intervention or manipulation." Is this even possible? Children have no understanding of sex without adult intervention. And to the degree that they come to appreciate it "on their own," this is more likely to occur through media images--like the Princesses--than any other method. Perhaps in an ideal world pubescent youth would exercise their curiosity, freely copulating among the dandelions and butterflies, but, alas...

Parents should not be told that, as adults, they have no role in their children's sexual maturation. If they believe that then there will be no one to combat the Princesses. Parents need to be honest, open-minded and willing to share.

Simon Waxman

Baltimore, MD

Dec 17 2007 - 2:24pm

Web Letter

Ms. Ehrenreich never said that 3-year-old was her relative, just "in her life." She's 66. I think she phrased that part carefully, trying to seem like someone more modern. Her nun-like attempt to confuse sex with rape is now typical only of her feminist generation. My feminist students would laugh at it. Her attempt to stereotype men as brutes bearing date rape drugs is passé, offensive--and interesting, coming from someone who serves on the board of NORML, the marijuana legalization organization. So that's what the witch put in the poisoned apple she gave to Snow White! Modern feminists choose sex over dope. People need one or the other.

George Leonard

San Francisco , CA

Dec 17 2007 - 1:44am

Web Letter

Hmm. I see I'm the first woman to comment on this.

I'm afraid I take exception to Ms. Ehrenreich as well. My daughter favors The Princesses, and I don't see anything wrong with the sparkles and tulle.

Ehrenreich has a point about Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty and Snow White having little in the way of marketable skills. Belle is talented and smart at least, but I'm troubled by the message of Beauty and the Beast--a good woman can turn a raging beast into a civilized man with only her love. I've seen battered women who think that way, and it makes me shudder.

I really like Jasmine, Pocahontas (who was a princess, by the way) and Mulan. My daughter has those dolls in her collection, too.

The reason I'm not worried is because my daughter realizes The Princesses are dolls, and eventually, it's time to put the toys away and do her homework.

Kendra Valle

Roseville , CA

Dec 15 2007 - 2:32am

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