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Playing Princess: Preschool Girls’ Interpretations of Gender Stereotypes in Disney Princess Media

Abstract

Through their 11 official princesses, Disney circulates powerful and consistent messages regarding gender norms and roles. Inspired by the princesses’ ubiquity in the lives of young girls, we examined how preschool girls interpreted gender-role stereotypes in Disney Princess media both through their pretend play behaviors and their discussions of the princesses. Participants included 31 3- to 5-year-old girls who represented an array of racial/ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds and who came from four classes at two preschools in rural New England. Data collected from a variety of methods, including pretend play observations, semi-structured interviews, and parent questionnaires revealed participants’ stereotypical beliefs about the princesses and their adherence to gendered behaviors when enacting the princesses. Thematic analyses identified four themes that defined the participants’ princess play: beauty, focus on clothing and accessories, princess body movements, and exclusion of boys. The implications of gendered princess play are discussed in relation to the social cognitive theory of gender development and differentiation. Based on the outcomes of our study, parents and educators might reconsider the type and amount of media they provide their children, acknowledging the effects of these images on their children’s behaviors and understandings of gender.

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Acknowledgements

We wish to thank Jennifer Gonzalez, Veronika Mak, and the teachers and children who participated in the study.

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Correspondence to Jennifer Wallace Jacoby.

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The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical Approval

All procedures performed in these studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional research board. No studies involving animals were performed.

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Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study. Parents provided written informed consent for their minor children, and children provided verbal assent before the initiation of the study.

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Golden, J.C., Jacoby, J.W. Playing Princess: Preschool Girls’ Interpretations of Gender Stereotypes in Disney Princess Media. Sex Roles 79, 299–313 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11199-017-0773-8

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Keywords

  • Disney princesses
  • Gender stereotypes
  • Head Start
  • Preschool
  • Play
  • Qualitative analysis