Big Shake Up In the Princess World

Mulan: Hasbro on the left and Mattel on the right.

Mulan: Hasbro on the left and Mattel on the right.

A big shake up in the world of twelve inch princesses – the license for the Disney dolls has shifted from one toy giant to another. What does this mean for the toy industry, but more importantly, what does this mean for your child and the marketing coming our way?

Via Bloomberg, “Hasbro’s researchers talked to thousands of girls at the company’s Pawtucket headquarters, as well as in Hong Kong, London, and Los Angeles, and found that girls thought about princesses in much the same way that boys viewed superheroes. Sometimes they liked a character because of her dress; other times they focused on her abilities, such as archery and sword fighting (Merida, from Brave) or the ability to conjure ice and snow (Elsa). “Sometimes they want a prince, sometimes there is no need for a prince,” says Frascotti. Disney didn’t have to reimagine the princesses, it turned out. Girls had already done it themselves. The dolls had just never been marketed like that.
 
You don’t say.
 
Disney wants more empowered heroines. Can princesses pull that off? Well, Andrea Hopelain is VP for global brand strategy at Hasbro, who now holds the coveted princess doll license, is quoted in the piece saying “We can reintroduce Mulan. We can play up that Tiana is a great cook.”
 
Tiana was a great cook. But in 2016, parents – and their girls – are looking for toy companies to play up that Tiana was a savvy female entrepreneur who went after her dream and became a dedicated business owner. Her business happens to be cooking.
There is a difference, and that difference is a very important one when we’re talking about empowerment and little girls.
 

Melissa headshot 1 fb sizeMelissa Atkins Wardy is a speaker, media consultant, and the author of Redefining Girly: How Parents Can Fight the Stereotyping and Sexualizing of Girlhood, from Birth to Tween. She is the creator and owner of Pigtail Pals & Ballcap Buddies, a company that has been offering empowering apparel and gifts to Full of Awesome kids since 2009 www.pigtailpals.com.

Find her at www.melissaatkinswardy.com. You can connect with her on Facebook (Pigtail Pals Ballcap Buddies) and Twitter (@PigtailPals) and Pinterest (Pigtail Pals & Ballcap Buddies). 

A Little Girl Defines Princesses

This story was sent in by PPBB Mom Katie N:

“She gets it! My seven-year-old daughter overheard me make a hypothesis.

Last night a young friend declared that princesses need rescuing. During my lengthy argume– discussion with him, it became apparent that this was very deeply ingrained. As far as he had been taught, princesses are always needing to be rescued. His dad is very anti-princess. My hypothesis was that his dad didn’t want his sister to be into princesses because he also believes that princesses are weak and always needing rescuing.

My daughter asked me why he believed that. I said he probably believes it because that is what our society teaches. That’s what video games show and what stories often tell.

She got a little riled up: ‘But princesses aren’t like that! Princesses are strong and brave! *throws up bicep curl/victory fist* So are girls. Girls are just like princesses!’

She walked on for a bit, seemingly over her moment of passion. But then she stopped to let me catch up. She told me that tomorrow we should have some girl time to see how strong and brave we are.”

Image via thedeadintern.tumblr.com

Image via thedeadintern.tumblr.com

Further reading: 

Historical warrior princesses vs today’s “princess camps”: A Princess Camp Worthy Of Our Girls

How parents can help redefine what “princess” can mean: Repackaging Princesses  and A Different Narrative

Pointing out how ingrained in culture “princess = girls” is: A Sparkly Mermaid Princess Did Not Remove My Gall Bladder

A book list that helps shift the princess image: The Redefine Princessy Book List

 

Melissa headshot 1 fb sizeMelissa Atkins Wardy is a speaker, media consultant, and the author of Redefining Girly: How Parents Can Fight the Stereotyping and Sexualizing of Girlhood, from Birth to Tween. She is the creator and owner of Pigtail Pals & Ballcap Buddies, a company that has been offering empowering apparel and gifts to Full of Awesome kids since 2009 www.pigtailpals.com.

Find her at www.melissaatkinswardy.com. You can connect with her on Facebook (Pigtail Pals Ballcap Buddies) and Twitter (@PigtailPals) and Pinterest (Pigtail Pals & Ballcap Buddies). 

Lego: Magical Prince Kisses Instead of Adventurous Mermaid Princesses

While visiting the Chicago Lego store this weekend:

“MOM! They have Merida and Ariel Legos!” -7yo Original Pigtail Pal Amelia

“Really? Oh yeah, there is Merida and the bear cubs and her bow, that is cool. It says Highland Ga….” -Me

“Oh I beg your pardon! That isn’t Ariel. That is when she is a human. She isn’t even a mermaid there!” -OPP

“Um, let me look at the box. Yeah, you are right, she isn’t a mermaid. This is after she has given away her voice and her tail to go on land as a human to kiss some dude she’s never spoken to before.” -Me

“Right? Who does that? I wouldn’t give up my dad or tail to chase some hot guy on a boat. I don’t want this. And I can’t have a boyfriend because I’m seven. But can I get Merida? Because she is a girl like me. You know, someone needs to talk to these people and tell them the business. This is not how you make smart girls. All ‘oooh, oooh I see a prince and now I’m going to be his wife’. GIVE ME A BREAK! What if she wants to keep swimming in the ocean? Or do science? Who makes this stuff? I need to tell them the business. Ariel is a mermaid who wants adventure. That is what all mermaids want.” -OPP

“And she was curious and collected things she discovered around the ocean. But that isn’t what they are selling to girls with this set, is it?”-Me

“Oh. Oh ho ho. I’ll tell you what they are selling, alright.” -OPP

The big Ariel set focuses on a magic kiss, not the adventurous, curious princess.

The big Ariel set focuses on a magic kiss, not the adventurous, curious princess.

I did go on Lego’s website and they do have a small set with Ariel as the mermaid coming January 2014. Nowhere as elaborate as Ariel’s Magical Kiss, however. Much to the disappointment of my mermaid-loving, head-exploding seven year old daughter.

Also? Does the row boat seriously need to be pink?

Some great comments from our Facebook Community when we discussed this:

“The unholy alliance between LEGO and Disney is really upsetting. You have to wonder, will we soon have Disney princess tinker toys and Disney princess Lincoln Logs and Disney princess chess sets. I know all those things are already available in pink “for girls” editions, and it’s just a matter of time before, say, the only way a girl can possibly be taught chess is if the pieces are princesses. This train is not slowing down.”  – Lori Day, author of  “Her Next Chapter: How Mother-Daughter Book Clubs Can Help Girls Navigate Malicious Media, Risky Relationships, Girl Gossip, and So Much More”

“Nothing says age-appropriate marketing like selling a set (aimed at young girls) that essentially says guys kissing ladies who don’t have the voice to give consent is okay… if you want to be a princess who lands the prince, anyway. The whole “Magical Kiss” set isn’t really age appropriate. Why are retailers selling kissing and romance to a young audience at all? Personally, I am a fan of Merida: she wants to be a girl first and doesn’t want to be rushed into an engagement or marriage immediately. She is a positive female character that girls can look to that doesn’t require love at first sight or a happily ever after with a prince. The ending highlights the importance of family and being adventurous and full of awesome just as we are. Most other Disney princesses (Ariel among them) do not carry this same message. This isn’t to say other princesses don’t have great qualities (they do!), but just that the romantic element shouldn’t be what retailers focus on for our youngest consumers. ” -Erin Wolf

“We got the LEGO catalog in the mail the other day. The LEGO Disney sets include: Cinderella’s Castle ($70.00), Merida’s Highland Games ($19.99), Ariel’s Amazing Treasures ($12.99), Cinderella’s Dream Carriage ($29.99) and Rapunzel’s Creativity Tower ($39.99). This is another reason why we buy mostly bricks and not sets.” -Chris Singer

“I got my daughter a tree house kit from the LEGO Creator line. She squealed and hugged me so hard, I nearly cried to see my kid so happy.” -Gabrielle Tenn New

“Wasn’t she wearing blue during this scene? Can’t they at least have her in the correct outfit? Or would blue be too masculine?” -Elizabeth Dale

The other (considerably smaller) set for Ariel that (barely) highlights her positive qualities.

The other (considerably smaller) set for Ariel that (barely) highlights her positive qualities.

A Different Narrative

My daughter has been raised with stories about strong girls. Since she was a baby, it has been one long and steady stream of girl empowerment. If a female character was passive or needed rescuing, or used her beauty as a weapon or currency, she didn’t make the cut. She has been given a narrative of girls who are clever and brave, adventurous and kind. Hence, we’ve been rather light on the Disney Princesses here. (Yes we love Merida, and Mulan is pretty rad, too.)

Amelia has been given a different narrative for what it means to be a girl. More “Violet the Pilot”, Ramona Quimby, and Amelia Earhart (her namesake) stories than Sleeping Beauty. Amelia doesn’t own a pair of play high heels, but she does have purses and a tiara stuffed into her dress up drawer, along with her swords and capes and binoculars. She has fancy dresses and mermaid tails, and superhero masks and pirate outfits. She gets to decide what her story is. We don’t buy packaged or character dress up outfits.

Amelia has been raised with a different narrative. She sees things differently. She defines things differently. Not better, just differently.

Amelia loves mermaids, and there was no chance of keeping Princess Ariel out of the house. My husband let her watch the movie this summer, and she regularly checks out Ariel books from her school library. I take it all in stride, even though that is the Disney Princess I loathe the most.  But Amelia doesn’t like Ariel’s story, and spends hours at our kitchen table writing and illustrating different versions. Amelia has a different narrative for what it means to be a princess, to be a girl.

I look at one image, and see a girl ready to take on the world. I look at the other image, and see much less of that.

Amelia will be given the space to define herself and her place in this world.

So far, I really like what I see. I like how my little girl plays princess.

7yo Amelia dressed as a character she created called Princess Kitty.

These ladies have not made the cut for us. Disney (C)

 

Where Are Their Mothers?

The 7yo Original Pigtail Pal asked me an interesting question while she was playing mermaids in the bath tub last night. She was deeply concerned that most of the Disney Princesses did not have mothers. She had just checked out a book about Ariel from the school library (groan, another post for another day) and apparently had been giving it quite a bit of thought. She was upset and quiet, asked me to come and sit by her tub, and close the door because she didn’t want her little brother to hear.

I said that I had noticed that too and that it made me sad because family is so important. I reminded her that Merida and her mother Queen Eleanor loved each other very much and nothing could take them away from each other. And in “Tangled”, Rapunzel was reunited with her mother. We haven’t really watched any of the other Disney Princess movies, but she knows most of the princesses do not have living mothers.  In OPP’s library book it features the story of how Ariel lost her mother and why King Triton bans music from the kingdom.

I told her that I think the story writers know how very important mothers are, so that is the element they take away in the story to draw the reader in. Amelia said she understood, but didn’t like it. I then reminded her that this is one of the reasons that our family focuses on other stories.

“It just feels like they are trying to break apart the girls, like they are trying to split us up.” -OPP

“Honey, the world has known for a very long time that the most powerful place to be is in the center of a circle of women. There are many, many examples of people trying to break apart or control women. Our family doesn’t believe in that. That is why you see me being connected to Gigi and our aunties and cousins, and why I love my girlfriends so much. You may have boys that are your best friends or you may even fall in love with a boy some day, but I think you will find there is nothing like an awesome group of girls to surround yourself with. Your girlfriends will feel like sisters.” -Me

“Well I don’t really like stories where the girls are broken apart. I like to be in circles. Animals do that. But I guess the guys who write stories are scared of groups of girls.” -OPP

“I think that is one of the reasons why we need more girls writing the stories.” -Me

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

I’d be interested to hear how you explain to your kids the absence of mothers in so many of Disney’s stories. Taking into account the role of women in society during the time these stories were originally written, do you approach the idea of women being used as cautionary tales with your kids? Why are so many of the stories about women being cruel to each other and jealous of each other, specifically over the ideas of youth and beauty?