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I Want My Daughter to Dream Much Bigger Than Princesses


“Would you like some crayons, princess?”

The well-meaning waitress at the restaurant parroted a variation of the same question my 4-year-old daughter hears nearly every day. “Princess” is a ubiquitous greeting for young girls, I’ve learned over the last four years— though I no longer have to have a ready response.

She does.

“I’m not a princess!” my daughter responds, and giggles. Sometimes she is less kind, doing her best Buttercup impression from “Powerpuff Girls”: “Don’t call me princess!” When we’re watching some of her favorite Disney shows like Doc McStuffins, princess commercials come on sometimes, and she mock gags or says “ew, gross.”

And that is how I discovered the “Dream Big Princess” campaign Disney is currently running.

“For every girl who dreams big, there’s a princess to show her it’s possible,” the ads say.

The campaign is an attempt to rebrand the Disney princess superfranchise with the “girl power” necessary to give it longevity in today’s “woke” world. Disney has connected over a dozen female (their word) photographers to young women with truly impressive stories and half-assedly tied it back to a re-release of the most “empowering” princess tales they could cobble together.

While the campaign’s Disney channel commercials feature such problematic heroines as Pocahantas and Ariel, the re-release is all at least arguably feminist films: “The Frog Princess” (first Black Disney princess), “Tangled” (self-rescuing princess), Mulan (warrior princess, and one of few women of color), “Brave” (princeless princess with a Bow and arrow) and “Moana” (in her own words: not a princess). Also, “Beauty and the Beast,” whose kidnapping and potential stockholm syndrome is well documented but hey—Belle likes books, right?

The campaign asked people to post their own pictures of empowering girls and women using the hashtag #dreambigprincess, and Disney would donate $1 up to 1 million for every post to Girl Up, supporting “UN programs promoting the health, safety, education, and leadership of girls in developing countries.”

As of last week (8/31), they had just met that goal. This seems laudable. And raising money and awareness at the same time? Great. But if you take a look through most of the pages on the Disney site on this campaign, the re-release of the films is slyly promoted. I have to imagine they’ll be making a lot more than a million there. And of course, attempting to cement an entire new generation of princess fans, by giving skeptical feminist moms like me a reason to buy in.

Well I’m not buying in.

Disney’s press release says: 

A princess is someone who befriends the lonely, never gives up and explores new and exciting worlds. She sets an example for all girls to have the courage to make their dreams real, the strength to protect our planet and the wisdom to believe in themselves and what they can accomplish if they dare to dream big.”

Wrong. A princess is still technically a monarch, the wife of a prince or daughter of a King or Queen. I had to throw away an accidentally honest Sofia the First mini book that shared how Sofia’s dream of becoming a princess came true when her mother married the King. That’s literally the requirement. That’s it. In contrast, let’s take a look at some of the young women half-heartedly featured in this excuse to force princesses down our throats:

“Sasha is 19 years old, but she has already published a coding book for children, to inspire young girls to pursue careers in STEM fields.”

“Ta’Kaiya is not only a singer, songwriter, and actor, but she has also spoken at the United Nations advocating for environmental issues and indigenous rights.”

“23-year-old Zakia teaches young women in her village in the Bamiyan region of Afghanistan how to ride bicycles, in order to ensure they can to get to school.”

“Rong won a gold medal in fencing in 2012 at the London Paralympics. She also represented China in the 2016 Rio Paralympics (where she won three more gold medals!) and was also China’s flag bearer in the Opening Ceremony.”

If Disney really wants to get a generation of feminist Moms on board with their brand, they should greenlight a film based on literally any of these inspiring women.

Take a look at “Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls” or “Rad Women A to Z” or any of dozens of other books about badass women like Nellie Bly and Zora Neale Hurston and Ida B. Wells and Maria Montessori. Let’s tell our daughters they don’t have to be royalty to change the world. Let’s tell them that they can dream bigger than princesses.

The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. Comments are moderated, so use your inside voices, keep your hands to yourself, and no, we're not interested in herbal supplements.

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