Although princess culture has been highly criticized for contributing to gender stereotypes, a new study published by the Society for Research in Child Development suggests that Disney movies positively impact kids' self-esteem and development
The Woman Post | Carolina Rodríguez Monclou
Initially, it was thought that princess culture contributed to gender stereotypes by portraying women in vulnerable and delicate ways. Disney princesses like Snow White, Cinderella, and Aurora weren't very empowering figures for little girls. These characters waited for their charming prince to save them. However, the study conducted by the Society for Research in Child Development (SRCD) revealed that nowadays, princesses are portrayed more powerfully in movies.
For example, Moana is a brave girl who is headstrong, strong-willed, and practically fearless. Meanwhile, Brave's Merida refuses to marry and feels capable enough to rule and protect the kingdom by herself. Throughout the film, she showcases her abilities and convinces their parents that she doesn't need marriage to be happy or become a great leader.
The way male is portrayed in princess films have changed as well. Although initially it was thought that Disney promoted toxic masculinity in which men needed always to be the hero and didn't share their feelings as openly as a woman, nowadays males are also vulnerable in movies.
The gender roles in the films and cartoons that kids watch have changed positively. In the SRCD study, participants included 307 children who completed questionnaires at two time points, five years apart. Results indicated that early engagement with princess culture was not associated with later adherence to female gender stereotypes.
Surprisingly, the consumption of princess culture during preschool was not tied to later involvement in gender-stereotyped female behavior. Instead, princess culture appeared to have an overall positive impact on children's development. The study's authors suggest that this unexpected finding may reflect the change in the representation of Disney princesses, with characters shifting towards more androgynous characters that may even be considered feminists.
Nowadays, the princesses are not portrayed in the same way that a couple of years ago. As proof of it, not all of them put the center of their life in the romantic aspect. They instead fight for a good cause or defense their principles. Disney princesses nowadays are less self-centered and worry about their community and how their actions impact the people that surround them.
As more diversity and cultures become a big part of the industry, kids grow with an open mind and learn new things from different perspectives. This allows them to empathize with others and have more memorable role models.
Finally, the study concluded that children who had more contact with the princess culture showed more egalitarian attitudes regarding gender roles, less adherence to hyper-masculine norms, and better body esteem five years later.
Promoting spaces to talk about this topic with children is also essential to raising more empathetic human beings. Some princesses are now teaching children about self-love, self-confidence, and resilience. In addition, the male characters are not the heroes or enemies; they are there to contribute their skills and values that don't necessarily align with gender stereotypes.