Princess Toys Aren’t the Problem – The Lack of Alternatives Are

In our house, we enjoy a little Cinderella or Sleeping Beauty. We know all the words to A Part of this World and all the names of Snow White’s dwarfs. I can fully admit that my daughter enjoys princess play. And honestly, so does her mother. I’ve enjoyed dressing up in a beautiful gown and dancing around my house since I was a kid.

But princesses aren’t our only interest. We also love superheros and dinosaurs and race car tracks. Believe or not, my pink-loving, Disney-sing-along girl enjoys things outside of the princess wheelhouse. Unfortunately, she can’t relate to them like she does to the bedazzled, neon offerings in the “girl section” of the toy story.

What’s our problem? Well, have you ever tried to find girl superheros and villains? In dozens of trips to toy stores, big box chains and department stores, we’ve found a very small Catwoman and a decent-sized Young Artemis from the latest Justice League reboot. The next closest thing we’ve found in Barbie in a bright pink dress with sword from Barbie and the Three Musketeers. In our house, she’s only referred to as “Hi-Ya.”

So what about non-gendered toys like dinosaurs and train sets? They actually still have a whole lot of boys action figures in their respective sets. Zero girls. Imaginext Dinosaur Land, an awesome set of dinos with battle armor and missile launchers, all have little men who ride on top of them. Then, of course, there’s the lack of female equivalent to Thomas the Train. After a while, my daughter simply starts to wonder, “Mom, are girls supposed to be play with these toys?”

As Mommyish has noted before, there’s a big difference between pretending to be a princess and getting lost in the princess culture that Disney and Barbie have created. We don’t want our daughters to feel like the only place they fit into the world is in a pretty dress, falling in love with a prince. But it’s impossible to ignore that these companies have created a world where girls feel welcome. Every little girl can beg her parents for a dress and some magic slippers and feel like she’s a part of this fairy tale. No other imaginative world has embraced young girls and female characters like the princess culture has.

Right now, Julie Andrews is promoting National Princess Week, in conjunction with Disney and Target. They’re encouraging girls of every age and size a chance to feel like part of a group. They’re making the word “princess” synonymous with the term “girl.” It’s an intelligent way to get kids dedicated to their products.

There’s no other set of characters, imaginative world or play culture that welcomes young girls so fully. So why are we so surprised that our little ones are taking the bait.

Playing princess doesn’t hurt your daughter, but letting her think that it’s the only option might. I can fully admit that I frequently fall into 1990′s Disney nostalgia, and I might even drag my daughter along with me. But I want her to feel just as comfortable when she’s playing with superheros or dump trucks or roaring dinosaurs. I want her to know that she fits into those worlds too. Unfortunately, the toy companies seem content to keep young girls in the princess bubble.

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    • Kate

      I have similar issues with finding things for my son. Why, for example, does a dollhouse have to be pink? Can’t a boy have a pretend family and house to play in? Or a tea set- surely a girl could play with a white or blue or yellow tea set… and so could a boy! But good luck finding one*!

      I think it is insulting that they make girl specific versions of gender-neutral toys, like Little People sets. Why on earth does a girl need a pink airplane? Would the white one be so outlandish for a girl and boy to share?

      *- I did finally find one that is multi-colored. I’m sure it was no coincidence that it was from IKEA. The Scandinavian nations have always been more forward-thinking in terms of gender roles.

      • Jen

        I would check Melissa and Doug’s website. They have a lot of traditionally gendered toys in gender neutral woods. And as someone who owns quite a bit of their stuff it is high quality and can take a beating.

      • Lindsay Cross

        That’s a great point Kate! Because I’m raising a girl, I find myself focusing on the princess dilemma. But I’m sure it’s equally difficult for parents of boys to find toys that aren’t focused on superheros and destruction.

    • Heidi

      I tire of hearing people comment/complain about “princess” mentality. Seriously, I liked princess things as a little girl and I also loved boy things and played outside. There are thousands of toys that open up the world for both genders but perhaps not at box stores. But I don’t think kids need all gender neutral toys either. The toy companies you are talking about are Mattel and the like. As was suggested Melissa and DOug is great. Shleich animals are good. Playmobil. The list goes on. I encourage you to head away from your local box store and check out the private toy stores around you.

      • Leigha

        Not everyone HAS a “private toy store” near them. Where I live, the toys come from places like Walmart unless you want to drive an hour to get to a mall. And the toy aisles of Walmart have changed significantly even since I was little (I’m in my early 20s). I remember there being an aisle of dolls and then pretty much everything else seemed pretty gender neutral. Now there’s a couple aisles of PINK and then a couple aisles of what SHOULD be gender neutral toys but every few sections you see “girl versions” next to them which really make it seem like they’re all boy toys.

        Actually, I don’t even remember there being much in the way of princess things when I was a kid. I liked princesses quite a bit but I only had a handful of princess things. A few years ago, though, I babysat for a girl who had a princess blanket, princess radio, princess jewelry box, princess shirts, princess pajamas, princess stickers, a princess name thing on her door…it was insane. Practically her whole room was princess, and I’m sure if her family had been able to afford it, it probably would have been everything.

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