“I figured if I could sum up what was wrong with the face of girls’ marketing today in one succinctly satirized image, it might make it easier for us to admit how we fail. And sometimes the best way to reveal something is to provide a fresh look at what’s already right in front of our eyes.”
This is what David Trumble, Political Cartoonist and Author/Illustrator, set out to do when he embarked on an visual project in partnership with the woman who literally wrote the book on the subject of the limits and dangers of the Princess Culture mold, Dr. Rebecca Hains, a leading children’s media culture expert and professor of advertising and media studies. The result of their collaboration was this single, compelling image that encapsulates a problem – The Princess Problem. Hard data just released this week from research conducted by Brigham Young University family life professor Sarah M. Coyne “shows that engagement with Disney Princess culture isn’t so harmless,” adding support to the still relevant issue David and Rebecca illustrated almost two years ago.
Coyne’s study, published in Child Development, involved 198 preschoolers and assessed how much they interacted with Disney Princess culture (watching movies, playing with toys, etc.). It found that “Disney Princess culture magnifies stereotypes in young girls.” More specifically, it showed that princess culture “can influence preschoolers to be more susceptible to potentially damaging stereotypes,” which can lead to self-imposed limits – the avoidance of important learning experiences “that aren’t perceived as feminine” or believing “their opportunities in life are different as women.”
In summarizing the study findings, BYU News noted, “For both boys and girls, more interactions with the princesses predicted more female gender-stereotypical behavior a year later.”
So why is this a problem? As Coyne explained, “We know that girls who strongly adhere to female gender stereotypes feel like they can’t do some things.” She added, “They’re not as confident that they can do well in math and science. They don’t like getting dirty, so they’re less likely to try and experiment with things.”
This is precisely the point David Trumble and Dr. Rebecca Hains were making with their The Princess Problem image, which speaks to the importance of presenting girls with a limitless sense of possibility and the impact the reverse can have on them when it comes to princess culture marketing (click to see larger version of image).
In a WYSK exclusive, David Trumble spoke with us about his reasons for creating the thought-provoking work, a follow-up, of sorts, to his Real-World Disney Princesses, whose viral explosion helped bring the issue of representation for girls into sharp focus for him. Here’s what he shared with us:
“The Princess Problem is certainly a complex issue, but thankfully we don’t have to look too far to see it; It’s right in front of us on every shelf, emblazoned in sparkly, hermetically sealed, perfect pink packaging. A litany of stereotypes defining the standards of how girls are supposed to look and behave, with a startling lack of racial diversity to boot. And we can’t look away, because it’s the whole aisle.
“Sometimes all a satirist has to do is change the vantage point, from the impressionable girls peering in, to the narrow definition of womanhood peering back out. Is this really it? Isn’t there more out there? Taken in these terms, a box becomes a cage, a pedestal, a prison. We are feeding an entire gender a perniciously limiting template when there are an infinite number of possibilities out there for what a girl can do and be; we are squandering potential, theirs and our own.
“If we are to maximize the potential of young girls everywhere, we have to think, in this instance, literally outside the box. And the first step of doing that is to see the box for what it really is: A perfect, pretty PROBLEM.”
As for avoiding princess culture entirely as a solution to the problem, it’s not realistic nor is it necessary, according to Coyne. Instead, she recommends that parents foster a wide variety of interests for their kids. “I’d say, have moderation in all things. Have your kids involved in all sorts of activities, and just have princesses be one of many, many things that they like to do and engage with.” It’s a point with which Rebecca and David also agree.
Watch The Princess Problem image come to life as David and Rebecca speak about their collaboration
About The Princess Problem Image Collaborators
Twenty-eight year old David Trumble is an award winning artist, author and illustrator, working in a diverse range of storytelling mediums. Critically acclaimed as a political cartoonist for the Sun Newspaper in the United Kingdom with a readership of eight million, Trumble now draws and writes on Huffington Post. Trumble is realizing his life-long desire to create stories for children, with nearly a million books sold in the US, and entertains international audiences speaking on the topics of storytelling, discovery and creativity. To learn more about David check out his website, connect with him on Facebook, or via Eagles Talent Speaker’s Bureau.
Dr. Rebecca Hains is a children’s media culture expert. She is a professor of advertising and media studies at Salem State University in Salem, Mass., where she is the Assistant Director of the Center for Childhood and Youth Studies. Her research focuses on girls and media. She is the author of The Princess Problem: Guiding Our Girls Through the Princess-Obsessed Years and Growing Up With Girl Power: Girlhood On Screen and in Everyday Life. Via her blog and facebook page, Rebecca offers her expert commentary on parenting children in a media-saturated world and on topics related to body image, stereotypical beauty ideals, sex role stereotypes, and gendered marketing.