Are the “Princess Wars” the new “Mommy Wars”?

A couple of weeks ago, Stephanie Hanes of the Christian Science Monitor called me. She had seen my post asking studios like Disney and Dreamworks to let princesses dare to dream of more, and she wanted to hear more of my princess-related thoughts. Lucky for her, I have many of them!

ImageToday, Ms. Hanes referenced me in a Christian Science Monitor blog post called “The Disney Princess Divide: The New Mommy Wars?” You see, for about a year now, I’ve been interviewing parents and educators about their thoughts on the Disney Princess phenomenon. I’ve learned that young girls’ princess obsessions have become incredibly controversial in parenting circles, where questions about how to handle girls’ princess obsessions abound:

  • Should parents let girls enjoy princesses because they’re harmless?
  • Should they give girls only moderate access to the princesses because they’re harmful?
  • Or are princesses so bad for girls, and so all-consuming, that parents should shield them from the princesses altogether?

This debate is so intense that, as one of my interviewees told me, “The Princess Wars are the new Mommy Wars.” Her pithy summary of the situation really struck a chord: Reading just the comments on blogs like Princess-Free Zone and Peggy Orenstein’s blog, as well as Stephanie Hanes’ Christian Science Monitor magazine cover story on the “Disney Princess Effect,” it’s clear that tensions run high among readers about princess culture. On both sides, there’s a lot of judging going on–and unlike Cinderella, it’s not pretty.

Parents: What are your thoughts on the princess phenomenon? Is it harmless fun for your daughter, or a force to be reckoned with? Or maybe some of both?

Also, for my research on this topic, I am looking for a few more parents who are willing to share their princess-parenting experiences with me. If you’re interested, please email me at, and we can set up a time to talk. Thanks!

Also of possible interest:

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6 Comments on “Are the “Princess Wars” the new “Mommy Wars”?

  1. P. now has full on princess mania – insofar as she can without ever having seen a princess movie – though she’s unsure what princesses actually do. I asked her about it one day and she said something along the lines of princesses wear dresses and fight dragons. I honestly don’t think it’s a huge deal, though that’s because everyone played princesses (along with Barbie *gasp*) when I was growing up and it didn’t seem to turn any of us into entitled brats. Some of us just started out as entitled brats. I do, however, try to direct P.’s play to the extent that if we’re playing princesses, I try to steer us toward more active pusuits instead of ‘getting rescued’ or ‘getting woken up’ or whatever. The Disney princesses are far too passive for my tastes.

  2. I was and am NOT a girly-girl. I read science fiction when I was young–not princesses. So my surprise at birthing a full-fledged princess is amazing. But with an older brother, Phoebe isn’t quite so princess-obsessed. Her princesses routinely find themselves suspended by bungee cords over “hot lava” (the edge of the deck) then they rescue themselves. Or not, and they die. Sucks to be them.
    BUT I encourage her to think powerful–do they really need to be rescued, or could they do it themselves? I find that by guiding her play a bit, I can bring out other impulses. Sure she wants a pink room–but I can deal with that. When she jumps and claps her hands and says “ooh, princesses”… well that’s OK too.

    Cause my princess also likes to turn into a mud princess with her big brother…

  3. Yesterday I took my two daughters (3 and 5) to the library and we came home with 8 book, one being a Halloween Disney Princess paperback (it’s April, but that’s irrelevant). I chose not to protest because they picked out a lot of other great stories, and sometimes I feel like if I make something “off limits” it only serves to make it more desirable. But at bedtime when the 3 year old wanted to read the princess story I couldn’t hold my tounge. I said something along the lines of it not being a very interesting story and my 5 year old says to me, “You know mom, that’s not very nice. Everyone can like whatever they want to like.” How could I argue with that?? I’ve put so much effort into trying to teach my kids that everything is for everyone – that toys or crayons or movies etc. aren’t “for girls” or “for boys” – and here my daughter was demonstrating an understanding that kids should be free to choose to engage with whatever suits their interest. I was worried about the messages my kids may take away from hearing a story of Snow White, Cinderella et. al preparing to trick-or-treat, and a much more important message rose to the top – people should be free to like what they like without judgement. I have to say I was one proud mom. We did read that princess story last night, but I did so with less bitterness, feeling hopeful that the messages I’ve worked so hard to communicate to my girls will continue to sound above the rest and feeling reassured that my kids are developing the ability to question and challenge what doesn’t feel right.

  4. If and when I have kids, I’ll surely let them enjoy their princesses, how about Princess Mononoke or Naüsicaa of the valley of the wind? 😉

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