Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The Other Princess Problem

I'm no fan of the princess culture that we engulf little girls in from birth, but my critiques tend to center around the self-image and social issues involved. But a friend linked me to an interesting opinion piece, The Princess Problem, by Laura Vanderkam in which she examines the economic effects of princess culture on women. Some excerpts:
Some moms worry that princesses make girls obsessed with beauty. But I think the problem is that the popular princesses lack what psychologists call an "internal locus of control." This is the belief that you are responsible for making your way in the world.
Best to marry a high-earning man, because your husband will determine the standard of living for you and your children. Indeed, if you do well, you won't deal with this at all. In the non-Disney, Brothers Grimm version of Cinderella, the stepsisters cut off their heels and toes to fit into the glass slipper because, as their mother points out, when you marry a prince, you don't have to walk (i.e. work). While the majority of married women these days expect to contribute, financially, to their families, the key word is "contribute." That is, provide extras that can be trimmed if we need work-life balance. Newly minted breadwinner moms feel stressed because suddenly it's not about vacations or violin lessons. Their children's standard of living is up to them.
Your thoughts?


  1. Marcus8/25/2009

    I hate to call you on this, but your critique in the earlier post did touch on this issue:

    Do princesses ever do anything other than wait for a prince, do some menial tasks around the house, and sing? And how do you reach your potential while in a coma or locked in a tower? And why would you even attempt to reach your potential when there’s a prince on his way to rescue you and solve all your problems?


    They go running off with princes they either just met or barely know. Generally speaking they can’t lift a finger to help themselves. They have no skills or abilities that would allow them to be financially independent or care for the children that are sure to result from the implied tryst with the prince. In fact, snaring said prince is really their only goal in life.

    Ha. I remember this because I sent it to my sister, who buys tons of princess shit for my nieces, and she was struck most by this aspect of it. It's hard to say which is the worst effect of princess culture - body image or economic impact. Both can be really devastating.

  2. Oops. Guess I should actually read old posts before linking to them.

    Still, I like the way Vanderkam discusses the issue from this perspective, and think the fact that women's income is so often thought of as supplementary is one of those unspoken but generally accepted things that we should be talking about. A lot.

  3. I was thinking about this the other day--my husband is currently earning most of our collective money, as I'm finishing graduate school--and I wonder how much of this "Princess" problem is co-risen with moving to the suburbs. I mean, aren't "Princess" and "Trophy Wife" two sides of the same fucked-up coin?

  4. Anonymous8/25/2009

    Although I am my father's Princess, he and my mother didn't raise me to become one. As a single, never-married woman, I am DEFINITELY not living in Princessville.

  5. missincognegro, I think this is a good point - in the world we live in today, most women aren't living in Princessville, and even if they are, they know it's precarious and could end and they could find themselves out on the job market. But we continue to replicate these myths from a different time period and leave young women financially vulnerable. It makes me want to bang my head against the desk!

  6. That's a good point, megan. It seems to me like in the past the princess ideology has waxed and waned with the economic need for women in the workplace. For example, in times of war when women were needed in the workplace there was a lot of rhetoric in support of women working, and research showed that things like PMS and pregnancy were not a threat to the workplace. Then after the wars when men would need jobs and it was expedient to move women out of the workplace, research showed that PMS was a huge productivity issue, that working while pregnant was dangerous, and the rhetoric glamorized the suburban housewife with the shiny new appliances. Funny how patriarchy arbitrarily whips women around from one extreme to the other when it's convenient. But it would seem that in our current economy the princess rhetoric would be waning, but the marketing of princess crap to little girls is more prevalent than ever, and at the college lever girls continue to be encouraged to pursue lower paid jobs and professions.

  7. The other half of the prince problem is men think if they are going to find a women they need to be princes, because that is what women expect.

    So both sides demands, expectations and the roles they have to play are fucked.

  8. Rachel,

    Yes, that's what I was getting at. I've recently been gifted a whole box of magazines from WWI and immediately after, and I'm struck by how differently women are talked about and portrayed. During the war, the photos of women are all of factories and women working, but after the war, there's a shift back to women at home and women as consumers. I'm working on a rhet/comp certificate, so I'm thinking this might make an awesome study...and my blogcrush on you continues to grow. :)


    I think that's a great point, too. Even though I was independent before we got married, probably more so than he was, he still feels compelled to "take care of" me as though I were somehow his ward. And I'm not. But my lack of health insurance, my shitty truck that has no air conditioning, I want but can't afford a new pair of shoes--he feels responsible for and guilty about all of these things, even though I didn't ask him to, and don't want him to. The patriarchy did.

  9. I've recently been gifted a whole box of magazines from WWI

    That sounds like entirely too much fun.

  10. I had never heard that bit about the Brothers Grimm stepsisters cutting off their toes and heels. It's great, in an awful way - a really tangible image of women destroying themselves in order to conform to patriarchal expectations

  11. I agree, Lori. There's gotta be a feminist slogan in there somewhere.

  12. Serendipity8/27/2009

    I used to work at a daycare and it pissed me off how so many of the other teachers would only suggest "feminine" (low-paid, low-respect) jobs to the little girls.

  13. Anonymous9/18/2015

    I went to a public school. In the 2nd grade we had to choose a career to "research" (more like go to the librarian and ask for a book on it) and present it to the class. Many of the girls, including myslf, were encoraged to consider jobs that interests us. I ended up choosing to be a dentist and my friend chose to be a doctor and no one discouraged us. Today, I am in high school and my counselor encouraged me to take biomdical science class because i am interested in becoming a doctor or researcher. Not many people have told me not to do something because of my sex

    1. That's good to hear. My niece just turned 20. When she was in Kindergarten they had some kind of career discussion at school and she said that she wanted to be a veterinarian or a kindergarten teacher. The teacher, and my sister, then proceeded to tell everyone that she wanted to be a kindergarten teacher, and isn't that great? No further mention of the veterinarian option - as if it never happened.