It might strike you as completely absurd that we needed a study to tell us this, but that’s the world we live in. Many cultural norms and traditions are now being questioned for the “sexist” ideologies they promote. Disney princesses have, of course, been targeted for forwarding traditional gender roles and encouraging young girls to – gasp – act like girls!
Disney Princesses Aren’t Bad Influences
But, fortunately for all those who were ready to whisk away the tiaras and ball gowns, Sarah Coyne, a professor at BYU, has found that children immersed in the classic Disney tales don’t develop misogynistic views as they age.
The human development professor studied several hundred children over a large part of the past decade and found that those who were really into princesses at age 5 held progressive views on gender roles by age 10.
The initial part of Dr. Coyne’s study (nearly a decade ago) found that high engagement with Disney princesses was associated with female-stereotypical behavior (such as playing house) one year later. The study led to a push against Disney princesses for hurting girls’ self-esteem.
In the study’s second wave, however, Dr. Coyne found that the now 10-year-old children who had been the most immersed in Disney princess culture had the most egalitarian views towards women. They also didn’t suffer negative body image, as Coyne believed they would. What’s more, she found that the girls whose favorite princesses were the more girl-power characters (such as Mulan) showed no difference in gender beliefs from the ones whose favorite princesses were the more traditional figures (such as Cinderella).
Why Little Girls (and Big Girls) Like Disney Princesses
Dr. Coyne’s overall theory is that, even though the males in Disney princess movies are often the valiant heroes, it’s the princesses who are the protagonists. Young girls, she theorizes, feel empowered by this.
Here’s my general theory: Girls are interested in princesses because they epitomize femininity – something that we’re naturally and biologically drawn to as females. They are models, in a simplified and archetypal way, of what we want to become: beautiful, virtuous, brave, intelligent, and spirited women. Emulating the characteristics of Disney princesses can lead young girls to act with more poise, grace, and confidence. And, yes, they will also come to understand the genius of the complementarity of the sexes.
So, no, Disney princesses are not toxic for young girls. At the end of the day, they’re tales to be enjoyed. The Disney princesses may even positively influence young girls.
It’s extremely important that parents monitor what their children are playing with, reading, and watching. However, common sense (and now a decades-long study) tells us that little girls can be interested in Disney princesses with no negative consequences. We can all breathe a sigh of relief and get back to humming along to “A Dream Is a Wish Your Heart Makes.”
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