New research out of Brigham Young University suggests that children who have a lot of engagement with “Disney Princess Culture”—watching the movies and playing with the toys—can be shaped long term on how they view gender-stereotypical behaviors.
Led by Sarah Coyne, a BYU family life professor, the research found that preschool-aged girls who are constantly engaging with Disney Princess Culture may end up limiting themselves in the long run based on the behaviors they think women should do. In some cases that can mean staying away from experiences that aren’t “feminine” enough.
The study looked at how 198 preschoolers engaged with Disney Princess Culture and compared it with reports from parents and teachers on their behavior. Particularly, researchers looked at and whether their behaviors were gender-stereotypical. They found that, not very surprisingly, 96 percent of girls and 87 percent of boys had interacted with Disney Princess items, and 61 percent of girls were playing with princess toys on a weekly basis compared to 4 percent of boys.
The interesting part is the differences: Being part of Disney Princess Culture was good for the boys in the study. They had better body confidence and were generally more helpful to others. The girls, on the other hand, developed worse self-esteem as time progressed.
“We know that girls who strongly adhere to female gender stereotypes feel like they can’t do some things,” Coyne told BYU News. “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.”
A major factor in the way both boys and girls who engaged in Disney Princess Culture felt about themselves was parental involvement. Parents who discussed the princesses and their behavior with the kids have a huge effect, the study found—what kind of effect just depends on which way the parents talk about it.