If you have to celebrate National Princess Week, don’t buy the goods

Disney princesses are a $4bn industry – but parents, hold onto your wallets and read your kids a book on Elizabeth I instead

National Princess Week is just about upon us. Parents, hold on to your wallets.

No, National Princess Week is not a celebration of the former Kate Middleton, with London tourist shops holding giveaway sales on leftover wedding memorabilia, in order to clear it out in time for the birth of the royal baby this summer.

Nor is National Princess Week a celebration of that upcoming baby who, as we all know, is widely rumored to be a princess and not a prince.

Instead, National Princess Week, which begins on 21 April, is brought to you by Disney in conjunction with Target. “Celebrating Princesses Everywhere” reads Target’s current webpage devoted to all things female royalty. “Welcome Princess Merida to the Disney Princess Royal Court.”

And what happens when you click on the star of the Pixar movie Brave’s link? You can get a Princess Merida doll for $14.09 (how do they settle on these prices?) and a DVD of Brave, whose price has been reduced from $19.99 to $14.99, not to mention a host of pyjamas, t-shirts and other stuff.

National Princess Week is a shopping opportunity.

It’s easy to decry this sort of thing, to bitch and moan about how Disney and Target are taking us for chumps. There is certainly something to say for this view. Since Disney executives realized in early 2000 that princess stuff could be marketed as, well, princess stuff, the selling of Ariel, Pocahontas, Cinderella and the rest of the gang went into overdrive. As Peggy Orenstein reported in Cinderella Ate My Daughter, today Disney’s more than 26,000 princess products are now a $4bn dollar annual business.

“This event is about hocking glitzy, sexist merchandise through Target – pure and simple,” said Susan Gregory Thomas, the author of Buy, Buy Baby: How Consumer Culture Manipulates Parents and Harms Young Minds.

So how to handle National Princess Week?

Last year, the Washington Post suggested taking Princess Week as an opportunity to remind our daughters that real princesses do charity work. It’s certainly a decent idea, but I’m not sure how winning. No one is following Kate Middleton because she promotes worthy causes. If those were the standards, Princess Anne would be star. Instead, we care about Duchess Kate because she’s pretty, she’s young, she dresses well and, let’s not kid ourselves, she got the guy. That we know such things don’t always end well doesn’t seem to stop the fantasy.

Besides, Princess Anne – no one is building a wardrobe based on her style choices. Just trust me on this one.

So, instead, let’s look to Disney for a clue for how to truly celebrate Princess Week. In recent years, sensitive to criticism that the Princess culture promotes the myth that women are not full agents in their own lives, Disney began to emphasize the resourcefulness and energy of their princesses. Girls are strong and they can do it all.

Let’s take Disney’s stance at face value.

“If Disney’s National Princess Week were to focus on those attributes of those strong young women – fairytale or real, like Elizabeth I – who were stripped of royal and familial protections but through their ingenuity, faith, and collaborative skills, came out triumphant, that would be something worth celebrating. There are many girls for whom that message could be life-saving,” Thomas told me.

And why stick with princesses? There is Wonder Woman and all the superheroines she spawned, as the wonderful PBS documentary Wonder Women!, which debuted this week, pointed out. Among the issues explored by film director Kristy Guevara-Flanagan is why we want to see women, even in our feminist age and no matter how strong they are, as princesses? That is, women who are not fully in control of their own destinies. That is, of course, when they are allowed to have a story at all. As Geoff Boucher pointed out in Entertainment Weekly, “Superman and Batman will have 16 movies between them by the end of this summer and Wonder Woman can’t lasso a movie deal.”

So there you have it. If you need to celebrate National Princess Week, don’t go for the merchandise. Instead, let women have their journey. I suggest reading a children’s biography of Elizabeth I or Catherine the Great, or another princess who survived adversity and gained full control over her own life. Or watch Wonder Women! You won’t regret it.

guardian.co.uk © 2013 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

Comments are closed.