Subtle Messages

Recently, our girls have fallen in love with a new princess. You know that I have nothing against Disney and nothing against princesses, so I was as eager as they were to see just what Sofia the First was all about.

Now, I’m not naive enough to think that there aren’t subtle messages that all of the princesses have been teaching our children for generations and generations. While we look at the cartoons as adults and say “they’re just cartoons,” our children are actually picking up some significant worldviews from what they’re watching. And the princesses? Have taught my girls a few lessons, some of which are good, some of which are not so good.

Cinderella taught them that it’s good to work hard, to hope for the best, to have a dream… and to be just charming and beautiful enough that they can win a man by midnight who can save them from all of life’s troubles. (Just as long as their feet are tiny and feminine.)

Snow White taught them that it’s okay to believe that “someday my prince will come,” but that life is life, so while you’re waiting for that prince to figure out where you are, you may just have to play den mother to seven little men who are more like children than adults, honestly. (Sigh. Woman’s work is never done.)

Sleeping Beauty taught them that you can just take a nap and leave the man to figure out all the details. (Or that, if you aren’t beautiful enough, you can certainly invest your time into becoming the most evil of all villains… but that you’ll still get killed in the end, despite your cool ability to turn yourself into a dragon.)

But those were the old days of princesses. NOW, princesses are taking care of business themselves!

Well, kinda.

Ariel was my generation’s princess, and while she was headstrong and smart and creative and (alas) more beautiful than all the other mermaids, even she was reduced to using her looks and, as Ursula pointed out, her “body language” to catch a man who frankly knew next to nothing about her before pledging his undying love to her… and then he killed the strongest woman in the story. (This is a theme, y’all!)

And then? Then, we got Belle. And for the first time? We got a prince who wasn’t perfect. In fact, he was a BEAST. Literally! And his only saving grace was sweet, kind, and generous Belle, who saw the good in him despite all the outward signs of dysfunction. And though they said it couldn’t be done, that you couldn’t change a man, SHE CHANGED THAT MAN. And made him a handsome prince in the process. Win, win!

The first princess of my girls’ generation has been Tiana, who taught them to get by on hard work and family values… and to not get sidetracked by things like love and silly boys. And who could blame her for feeling that way, since the only boy anywhere near her in the entire story was useless and didn’t even know the first thing about being in a kitchen, which for Tiana, was EVERYTHING? Sure, she learned a few things along the way about how she was a little too narrow-minded and wasn’t always pursuing the most important things, but in the end, it was Naveen working in HER kitchen, and she? Saved him because it was only the kiss of a princess that would break the spell.

Then, there was Rapunzel. Oh, Rapunzel. I know that the folks at Disney were trying really, REALLY hard to make the newest princess movie more appealing to boys, so they gave us Flynn Rider. Who is dashing and handsome enough but who is an unapologetic felon who explains away his crimes with a tragic backstory, making the fact that he stole from Rapunzel’s own parents a forgivable offense. And he spends most of the movie playing on Rapunzel’s own naivete and innocence, even though she’s pulling his biscuits out of the fire over and over and over again.

And finally? We have Merida. There was so much about this movie that was so good. And then? There were the idiot men. Merida was clearly the best heir in the bunch, her mother was the one to save her in the end (not her father or any of the men present), and the triumphant ending was a celebration that no one had to marry anyone. (And it was a good thing, because her options? Went from bad to worse.) Wow! We’ve come a long way from Cinderella!

Like I said, though, I LOVE Disney movies, and I LOVE princess movies. And I’ve been excited to see what Sofia would be like. Would she harken back to the old princesses, or would she be one of the new school of princesses?

The first episode I watched was entitled “Just One of the Princes.” The premise of the plot was simply this — Sofia wanted to join a sports team that was just for boys. I didn’t catch the end of the episode, but I’m assuming that she made the team and everyone was soundly reprimanded for thinking that boys and girls should play on separate teams, especially when Sofia was likely a much better athlete than any of the boys. (Is this how it ended?)

While I appreciate that our culture is getting away from the idea that women need to be rescued by men and that a woman is unsatisfied and incomplete until she’s married, I’m a little uncomfortable that we’ve swung so far the OTHER direction — in making men out to be buffoons, in devaluing marriage, and in teaching our daughters that apart from simple anatomy, they’re really no different than boys. In our quest to elevate the status of women, we’re equalizing the sexes to such a point that men aren’t men and women? Almost have to be men to be considered modern and enlightened.

Have I said too much?

I’m curious to know what you think. Where is the balance between Cinderella and Merida? And how do we teach our girls how to be Biblical women in a world that teaches them that they’d be better off being “just one of the princes”?

11 thoughts on “Subtle Messages

  1. Pami says:

    You left off Jasmine and Mulan (who wasn't a princess, but was pretty awesome).

    Yes, Sofia (and her brother) made the team, even after the popular athletic prince tried to sabotage her. So he wasn't a buffoon, just a cheating jerk. Sofia's step-sister saw him for what he was and abruptly stopped crushing on him. I've only seen part of one other episode (the sleepover one). I don't really care for the show.

    I actually like Disney less and less every time I watch their current shows (and we've watched a lot lately since I needed him to be distract at the hotel and while I unpack). The theme I see is bucking the status quo, changing the way we do things, etc. That seems to be a trend everywhere, though. We generally stick with Jake and the Neverland Pirates – that teaches about teamwork and sharing the rewards. All of the gold they earn goes into the team treasure chest at the end, so in a way, it's saying not to work for yourself. That can be positive or negative, depending on the way you view it.

    The other issue with Disney is that the parents in the live-action shows tend to be idiots or manipulative (like the mom on Good Luck Charlie who often manipulates her husband and kids, though she has positive attributes, too). This is also a pretty common thing on ALL shows geared towards tweens.

    I read this post since I'll be having a girl soon. I don't plan to push princesses, and I actually plan not to purchase all of the princess stuff – bedspreads, clothes, etc. I'm not going to hide it from her, but it will be like Santa for us – we can't deny the presence, but we don't have to emphasize it.

    I just know the effect that daydreaming about being a princess had on me, and I don't think it was positive.

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  2. Laurie Herold says:

    I'm a fan of the Veggie Tales “princesses”, my favorite (so far) is “The Tale of Snoodlerella” which is on the SweetPea True Beauty disc. The emphasis of Snoodlerella is that it is fun to dress up and get makeovers but those things are just temporary. In the end, you are still the same person and those feelings of inadequacy are still there. Your value is in the fact that you are perfect WITH your imperfections, just the way you are, because the King made you that way.

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  3. Jennifer Faulk says:

    I'm fine with our girls being into princesses. I didn't think I would before I had them, but now that they're here and at least one of them so naturally and consistently gravitates towards all things girly like that, I'm all for letting her celebrate being feminine through princess play, especially when it's just who she is. I guess my concern is that the wrong messages don't get ingrained into who they are as girls because of some of the more modern stuff out there. It's un-PC to say it, but I think I'd rather have them be hopeful about love, marriage, and having children then have them follow in the tradition of what's being espoused now as “princess-y” — putting up with stupid boys, not needing anyone, being all about self-discovery and self-fulfillment. But maybe that's my own bias, knowing that part of marriage and motherhood IS depending on someone else, partnering with him and trusting him with more than the world would say I should. (And that the most important thing in life? Is NOT about finding yourself and fulfilling yourself. It's about serving Christ and serving others.) And while I would like for my girls to see value in ALL of their traits — character, intelligence, etc — I still like that they feel pretty. And I like that they feel that way because a man (Wes) is constantly telling them that. I have no doubt that when they are of the age to have their own relationships, they'll expect better and anticipate only the best because of how much time their own Papi spent pouring those affirmations into their hearts. All that said, I just want to find a balance of both. Pretty, feminine princesses who would love to be married and loved… but who wouldn't turn into angry, scary dragons if that never happened. LOL!

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  4. Jennifer Faulk says:

    Congratulations on your little girl! How exciting!

    And I agree with you on the tweeny/teeny shows. And we planned on doing the same thing — not getting into the princess thing — before we had the girls. But they honestly and naturally gravitated towards it. It's really been a case of nature and not nurture… so we're just all out nurturing it now! I'm just trying to find the middle ground in celebrating what they find so appealing about the princesses — being feminine, wanting to be married, desiring motherhood even this young — without getting them bogged down in the bad parts of that — not feeling worthwhile without a man, feeling like life can't start until marriage, etc. And I definitely don't want them, in our attempts to encourage them away from the negative, to swing the other way entirely and want nothing to do with the very things God says are good — marriage, family, relying on/trusting their husbands.

    Does that make any sense? I feel like I'm talking circles around myself!

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  5. Pami says:

    What you say makes sense – I'm just not into “brands” in general. We have avoided it so far with our son so far, though he's still really young. I try not to dress him in character clothes, and I definitely don't buy them. I don't wear clothes with brands or characters either. It's just part of who I am.

    I think there are ways to encourage femininity without buying a bunch of Disney princess things, like buying non-specific princess dresses rather than one with a Disney tag that is specifically Belle/Cinderella/etc. If my daughter is going to play princess (which is fine), then I'd rather her use her imagination instead of just imitate. (And I know that imitating (ie, “I'm Cinderella!”) is normal, but it doesn't have to be DISNEY Cinderella. I have a friend who does this – she has dress up clothes for her daughters, but none of it is Disney. But we will NOT encourage a princess mentality (ie, “I deserve pretty things because I'm a princess”), which is my main issue with all of the princess stuff.

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  6. meditationsandbread.com says:

    I've been sort of dismayed that my daughter is into all the Princess stuff, and the color pink. I don't forbid it but I also give her other options. Little girls shouldn't grow up thinking that “Princess” is a valid career option. I don't really think she's into the story so much as the “look”, which is all about being pretty and useless.

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  7. Amy (aka The Library Lady and Modernish Homemaker) says:

    Great post and all of this is so true! Have you read Cinderella Ate My Daughter? You might enjoy that too.

    Though Ariel is the first princess I really remember (I was 5 when that movie came out), Belle has always been my girl. The whole “I want adventure in the great wide somewhere” – that was me. I liked that she was beautiful, but also brilliant and bookish (unlike the equally beautiful blonde triplets in town – though we'll save the “dumb blonde” stereotype for another analysis). I am sure that in many ways (though I would have likely been bookish regardless) she shaped who I became. Right down to preferring hairy men (though I also like dark haird and blue eyed men a la Eric). (I'm sure I'm not the only one who thought Beast was more handsome BEFORE the flashlight fingers and form change). All that to say, I'm sure the princesses really do teach us more than we even realized growing up, and will do this same for this generation's girls.

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  8. Mama Fry says:

    I'm going to interject here. I am a mother of tweens. Oh BOY!!

    There is so much not right with any of the perceptions or “role models” they have out there. I love SweetPea and so do my girls who are tweens. But remember that in most of those movies that Larry was usually rescued by the princess/girl. It shows that girls are strong too. We want our daughters to follow God's plan for them, but we also need to equip them to be in charge of their family, even with the husband being the head.

    Proverbs 31 shows that the woman is in charge of the household. This is a good basis for teaching our daughters. My husband is the head, but he relies on me to handle everything of the household. I am good at this and love to do it.

    I did watch the pilot movie for Sofia and found a wonderful part of the story. Sofia is adopted by her stepdad (the King)and now has a stepsister and stepbrother. There is sibling rivalry that happens, but Sofia has a good heart. She loses sight of that when things get out of hand with her stepsister. Cinderella comes in and tells her that to fix the problem, she must forgive and ask for forgiveness from her stepsister. Then they work together to solve the issue. I loved to see that it was not an “I am better than you.” at the end of the story.

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