After an in-depth multi-year study between 2016 and 2021, Brigham Young University (BYU) researchers found that children who engaged with “princess culture” were:
- More likely to hold progressive and egalitarian views as they aged
- Less likely to subscribe to “hegemonic masculinity”
Hegemonic masculinity is when stereotypical male traits like physical strength and aggressiveness are valued over others like compassion and expressiveness, both of which have been traditionally associated with women.
Researcher Sarah Coyne, a human development professor at BYU’s School of Family Life said:
“As a developmental psychologist, I’m interested in looking at things over time. What’s fascinating is that princess culture has some really deep and beautiful things about womanhood and relationships. If we can grasp onto that, it can be truly healing for humanity.”
According to a July 2021 article by Tyler Stahle titled BYU study finds that princess culture can have a positive impact on child development, Coyne stated that princess culture often had negative effects in the short term, but that over time the net effect on “how we think about gender” was positive.
What is Princess Culture?
According to Salon.com, the term “princess culture” refers to the adoration much of society feels for idealized princesses like those commonly found in classic fairy tales and contemporary Disney productions.
When “princess culture” is typed into Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary, the following message pops up –
“The word you’ve entered isn’t in the dictionary. Click on a spelling suggestion below or try again using the search bar above.”
Take out the word “culture” however, and definitions include:
- A woman having sovereign power
- A female member of a royal family
- A daughter or granddaughter of a sovereign
Urbandictionary.com defines a princess as follows:
These days however, a “princess” is usually a spoiled female brat who wants everything and whines until she gets it.
The Princess Culture Study
Coyne and her colleagues observed more than 300 preschool girls and boys playing and interacting with one another.
Researchers were especially interested in whether they chose to play with Disney princess culture products, gender specific toys like dolls and action figures, or gender neutral ones like puzzles.
They found that:
- 96% of girls viewed Disney princess media
- 87% of boys viewed Disney princess media
- 61% of girls played with princess toys at least once a week
- Only 4% of boys did the same
- For both boys and girls, more interaction with the princess toys and media resulted in increased female gender-stereotypical behavior a year later
Yes the numbers are skewed, but one wonders what percentage of girls chose to play with the action figures? Unfortunately, that observation was left out of the study.
When the children weren’t being observed directly, researchers relied on information gleaned from parents and teachers, like whether or not they engaged in what they referred to as “gender-stereotypical behavior.”
Over the years Coyne kept in touch with some of the participants, many of whom had reached early teen-hood.
She found that among other things, engagement with princess culture taught girls to:
- Follow their dreams and help others
- Pursue non-stereotypical roles
- Have a positive body image regardless of how they compare to the female ideal
In addition, Coyne claims to have discovered that the boys who regularly interacted with princess culture tended to do a better job expressing their emotions as they aged.
In summary, she stated that princess culture:
“…tells both boys and girls that they can be all sorts of different things. They’re not supposed to be just one thing, which can be powerful.”
But while Coyne admits that Disney princesses may be positive forces when it comes to modeling egalitarian attitudes between men and women and influencing kids of both sexes to avoid “toxic masculinity”, one might imply from her statements and conclusions that stereotypical female traits are positive, while stereotypical male traits are bad.
Princess Culture and “Toxic Masculinity”
The following article by Herb Scribner in the Deseret News in August of 2021 also took a look at princess culture and the studies conducted by Coyne and her counterparts.
Its title is similar to the article by Tyler Stahle, but instead of making the relatively innocuous claim that princess culture can have positive impacts on child development, it makes a giant leap, stating that “princess culture can heal toxic masculinity.”
Perhaps Mr. Scribner took the liberty of swapping a loaded, controversial and largely unfounded phrase like “toxic masculinity” for “positive impact on child development.”
On the other hand, he might actually believe that the phrases are identical and are therefore interchangeable.
Are Princesses Really Responsible for Gendered Behavior?
According to The SAGE Encyclopedia of Psychology and Gender:
“Gendered behavior is a fundamental expression of gender identity and gender socialization that occurs developmentally for an individual throughout the lifespan. … Gendered behavior are ways in which an individual acts in accordance with their identified male or female gender.”
In yet another article on the BYU study titled Disney Princesses: Not Brave Enough, author Brooke Adams concluded that princess culture actually magnified stereotypes in young girls, and that:
“Gendered behavior can become problematic if girls avoid important learning experiences that aren’t perceived as feminine or believe their opportunities in life are different as women.”
Feminists: Traditional Feminism is Good, Traditional Masculinity is Bad
Some argue that thanks to their slender waists, flowing hair and idyllic faces, classical princesses are responsible for unhealthy body images, and perpetuate ideals of physical beauty that most young girls will never attain.
The iconic Disney brand has taken lots of heat for this over the years, but truth be told, these stereotypes existed long before the company was founded.
What we see over and over from modern feminists is the notion that traditional female gender roles are good, while traditional male gender roles are bad.
Another commonality is that feminist articles are usually peppered with vague, hazy and downright unprovable statements that most readers accept as absolute truth, simply because the person who uttered them has an advanced university degree.
But honestly, if something sounds like wishy-washy nonsense, it usually is, no matter who said it.