A boy and his princess movies

2784964034_564dda6f28_mDisney Princesses are the marketing phenomenon everyone loves to hate. By bundling the heroines of several movies into a set, Disney can tap into the “collect them all” mentality toward movies, costumes, merchandise and the like. Numerous treatises (see Peggy Orenstein’s Cinderella Ate My Daughter, or my The Princess Problem) have been written on what message the princesses send to our daughters.

Well, we are in full on Disney Princess mode in my house right now, but the interested party is my 5-year-old son. He’s made a list of all the princess movies, and which ones we haven’t seen in his cute little 5-year-old writing (“Sleeping Buty”). He was quite disappointed when we couldn’t find Sleeping Beauty on the video on demand system last night. We had to settle for Snow White.

Anyway, the whole thing has reminded me of all the gender-related baggage parents bring to parenting, and how we choose to see what we think we should see. When we picked up our kids from the Y’s Kid Zone on Saturday, and my 18-month old daughter was putting the dollies to bed and my 3-year-old son was playing with the trucks, I made a little note of it, almost like “oh, there you go, kids doing the normal gender-related things.” Yet I know my little girl plays with cars all the time — and I can see myself not registering that as a strong data point. Why not? She plays with dolls at home more often than my boys did, but that may be because we have more dolls, because we and other people buy them for her. As it is, my 5-year-old asked for a doll this past Christmas, too, and back when he was a new big brother at age 2, would pick up his shirt and attempt to nurse the one baby doll he did have. I don’t recall many people on the playground who saw that noting that “oh, you know little boys. They’re so nurturing.”  

If I had a 5-year-old daughter who was obsessed with Disney Princesses, I might be bringing my full measure of feminist worry to the situation, explaining that we should not be telling ourselves that “someday my prince will come,” and that the most important thing in life is not “who’s the fairest of them all.” Yet I have not had any of these conversations with my son. I guess I assume it’s a passing phase and he’ll move onto something like Harry Potter soon enough. But, of course, one of the reasons it will be No Big Deal is that I am treating it like No Big Deal.  

Here’s hoping I can treat it as No Big Deal when my daughter moves beyond sticking the Disney Princess figurines in her mouth into actually thinking about their stories. Or who knows, maybe we’ll skip it entirely and it will be all firemen and monster trucks around here when she’s 5.

Do you find yourself thinking different things about the ways boys and girls consume media, or play?

Photo courtesy flickr user Southern Lady’s Vintage

17 thoughts on “A boy and his princess movies

    1. @Carrie – cute! I’ve just noticed that when kids do gender “typical” things, people often comment along the lines of “that’s just natural.” But not so much when they do the opposite. In our family, I have to say that the major difference between little boys and little girls so far is that my little girl is more aggressive. But maybe with two big brothers you have to be.

  1. As a mother of 2 boys, I suspect my boys gravitate towards gender-normative play simply because no one buys them any dolls or princess stuff, and they have about a million cars and trucks and train sets. We honestly buy very few of the toys in our house (first grandkids on either side) and my frugal/uncluttery side keeps me from purposefully buying “girl” toys for them to see if they play with them. They are in daycare, & can play with whatever they wish, and ask us to buy whatever they want, though. So far my 3 year old only asks for puzzles, books, & music.
    I had to do some undoing of “pink is for GIRLS” after my MIL apparently drilled that into my 3-year-old’s head. He was upset because he likes pink & purple. I’m going shopping today and on my list is a pink or purple shirt for him!

    1. @Ana- I like purple shirts on guys! I think there have been studies of how the order of siblings by gender affects lots of things. Having a brother improves mathematical performance in boys and girls; having a sister improves verbal performance in boys; I wonder if some of this relates to toy availability… Long awful Google book link coming: http://books.google.com/books?id=g6pRcDmaY-cC&pg=PA298&lpg=PA298&dq=girls+older+brothers++math&source=bl&ots=F6K34luPBH&sig=GgHmswSHTlQJNs1yE5s_F4tgdHo&hl=en&sa=X&ei=zcxiUbaZGcXA4AOVn4GQDg&ved=0CEEQ6AEwAg#v=onepage&q=girls%20older%20brothers%20%20math&f=false

  2. I have a boy and a girl. When they were preschoolers, they played mainly with each other and their games were a funny mashup of stereotypical boy and girl things. They would play Daddy Bird and Baby Bird, with my nurturing son taking care of his little “baby” sister. I remember thinking that it was so heart-warming, when suddenly they both pretended to have guns and shoot “intruders.” (Where this came from in our PBS world, I don’t know…)

    My son was definitely more into vehicles than my daughter, who preferred animals. But is that a gender thing or personality thing? Neither kid was into princesses or dolls. Both loved Legos and building — and destroying — houses. My daughter was more of a risk-taker than my cautious rule-follower boy.

    My bigger concern as a stay-at-home mom was that my kids perceived that “mommies didn’t have jobs.” I went back to work when my youngest was three, so that problem went away.

    1. @Marci- that suggests an interesting parenting question: how do you raise your children to see that whatever situation you have figured out is not the inevitable way for families to be constructed? On many dimensions, nurture turns out to matter less than nature, but I imagine that families have a strong ability to influence what a kid thinks is “normal.”

      1. We have a book coming out this summer that attempts to fill that gap so of course I think that books are a good place to start. The harder thing is to make an effort to actively befriend families that may appear different in whatever way but its easy to show that they’re just like us–they go to our church or school or soccer team too and are just a different way to be a family.

  3. Availability heuristic at its finest.

    I have two children, of different genders. As is per usual in my family and in DH’s family, the boy is calm and cautious and nurturing and the girl is a fearless whirlwind of destruction. When people ask if they’re different, and I say yes, they then always follow it up with a sexist statement about how their daughter is so feminine or their son is so fearless. But no, my kids are the opposite.

    It really irritates me when economists who should KNOW better make statements about boys vs. girls. But, like one of my now prominent male classmates said during the Larry Summers controversy, “When it comes to gender questions, economists throw out economics and put blinders on.”

    DC1 has also nursed his stuffed animals. It took him a long time to get gender pronouns correct. And he still doesn’t know that “boys don’t wear pink.” He had a fabulous Montessori and is in a great private school. Of course, he is really into lego Star Wars and not Disney Princesses, but that’s because Lego Star Wars is inherently more awesome. He did just pick a glitter drawing kit from Scholastic over a Star Wars Origami kit (I said he couldn’t have all four of the kits he’d circled so he narrowed it down to the glitter thing and one lego star wars thing).

    1. @NicoleandMaggie – fearless whirlwind of destruction about sums up my little girl. Right now she even has the tough guy look to match it with a shiner she got from launching herself off the sofa onto the coffee table.
      The part of the Larry Summers brouhaha that most intrigued me was the statement about men being more willing to work 80-hour weeks, and that’s part of their over-representation in the higher ranks of various disciplines. The inherent abilities part got more play, but the work hours one is intriguing because, while it is partially true (men tend to work more hours than women in full time jobs), it’s also true that 80-hour workweeks tend to be wild overestimations. So what are the actual work weeks like of people at the top? Something I try to write about…

  4. In our family of 3 boys, one boy likes pink. Our cups and bowls came in a pack of purple, pink, blue, green and orange, so it’s good that SOMEONE likes the pink ones.

  5. It’s fascinating though on how children love the princess characters from an early age. I feel it’s apart of our human desire that was embedded in each us to want to feel special. it’s like children can pick that up from an early age and just thrive off of the vicarious glory.

    1. @Bronson – agreed. That’s at least one reason humans love the Cinderella story — her specialness transcends her current status. The problem, of course, is that there are other messages transmitted with that story.

  6. Well-timed, Laura. My 3-year-old boy is currently pretending to be a kitten named Lady Flower, and he insists I refer to him as she. But then last night he was pretending to be a monster truck.

    I’m taking it in stride–or at least I’m trying to!

    I did appreciate Cinderella ate my daughter, though none of my kids like the Disney movies. They say they’re too scary, and there’s no way I’m going to force my kids to watch Disney movies! I have more important parenting dilemmas to tackle.

  7. Growing up with seven brothers, I think I’ll take anything in stride when my daughter gets older. I pretty much did it all myself, from a game that involved seeing how dirty you could get your sibling by kicking each other while on the swingset (which was over dirt) to playing princess. (Five sisters, too, but we were more spread out in age.)

    Now, what gets me is when my relatives say “She’s a girl!” when we’re talking about perfectly normal baby things my girl is doing right now. As in, “She LOVES that mirror!” “Yeah, she’s a girl!” Or after observations about the ways she “manipulates” us, fussing then beaming when we come give her her pacifier… “She’s a girl!” C’mon, give her a break. She’s a baby. Enough with the gender stereotypes. Even some relatives I think of as being rather feminist do it. Gaaah.

  8. I’m 32, a man, and a Disney Princess fan, so clearly some of us don’t “grow out of it”. Rather I grew into it, as I never cared for the pink and girly as a child. I hope you continue to support your son with whatever his interests may be.

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