The New Princesses

Picture 10It’s interesting how the damsel-in-distress and prince charming saves the day theme is the essence of most fairy-tales. What kind of conditioning do these tales provide little girls ?

There’s one set of stories: Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella and Snow White that may condition girls to think of their partners as their ultimate saviors. And then there’s another set of stories: Beauty and the Beast, Princess and the Frog etc: that give the impression that love can and does change ugliness into beauty and beasts into princes.

Research has shown that girls that over-identify with fairy-tales are more likely to fall victim to abusive relationships because sub-consciously, they take on the role of the submissive, passive female role model, expecting love and patience to change their partners’ behavior. This quote in particular struck me, “Small children may interpret the story-book submissive roles as a template of how society expects them to develop.” That is disturbing.

When I see movies like “Shrek,” there’s hope that our perception of princesses is changing. “Shrek” to be will always be seminal work of art and cultural reform. It took everything we know and believe about fairytales and princesses and turned it on its head.

Yes, princesses can be fat and stinky. They can and do burp. They know karate and are capable of taking care of themselves. And they are extremely capable of falling in love with the ugly – of seeing beyond. So there’s hope. I know the kind of media I’ll be feeding my kids when they arrive.

Even the new version of “The Princess and the Frog” is quite encouraging. She’s no princess but an ordinary waitress who dreams of owning her own restaurant someday. She’s drive, ambitious and diligent. Then she kisses a frog out of desperation and becomes a frog herself. I love how new writers and thinkers are taking what we know about fairytales and princesses and flipping it around.

Yes, princesses have dreams. And they don’t all want to live in a castle. And they are good at other things besides looking pretty.

I want to see how technology and storytelling come together to create empowering learning experiences for little girls. I want little girls to dream about themselves, the possibilities, their own potential and all the various things they could enjoy about life. I want them to be surrounded by media and cultural artifacts that work as critical thinking tools that will allow girls to think for themselves.

Have you come across such digital tools? I wish I had more kids around me or was friends with more forward-thinking parents. I’d love to learn what’s on their mind and what kind of education they dream of giving their girls.


  1. IdeaSmith May 11, 2010

    Good post, Jinal. Very relevant. I remember growing up with those stunted notions even though my family was fairly modern in outlook. A child’s impressions are formed on the basis of multiple inputs and media plays a big role in this. It took me a really long time (and a bad relationship) to look beyond childhood-enforced notions of gender roles, relationships and committment.

    I loved Shrek too for the very same reasons. How about the advertising industry? It irks me that most car ads even today only show a man driving and a woman, if she is included is usually dressed in a slinky outfit and an adoring-worshipping look on her face. Hmph.

  2. Jinal Shah May 18, 2010

    Yeah, stereotypical conditioning is all around us. I just want to be careful that my girls (when they arrive) are learning as much outside of school and maybe unlearning some things they learn in school. It’s equally important.

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