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



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Disney bombards young girls on a daily basis with powerful and consistent messages regarding gender norms and roles. Their princess brand, in particular, circulates rigid expectations for how girls should look and behave. Inspired by the ubiquity of these messages, the current study examined how gender-role stereotypes in Disney Princess media impacted 3- to 5-year-old girls at two different preschools, paying specific attention to the influence of these media images on girls’ pretend play behaviors. Furthermore, this study investigated the influence of socioeconomic status on girls’ interpretations of Disney Princesses, a component that researchers have not yet explored. Data collected from a variety of methods, including pretend play observations, semi-structured interviews, and parent questionnaires revealed significant changes in girls’ pretend play behaviors when they had access to Disney Princess media. When pretending to be princesses, girls’ play was more restricted as well as more gendered. Additionally, significant differences appeared between girls of different socioeconomic groups. The implications of these changes in pretend play are discussed in relation to theory regarding children’s formation of a self-concept and gender identity. Based on the outcomes of this study, parents and educators might reconsider the types of media they provide their children, acknowledging the effects of these images on their children’s behaviors and understandings of gender.



Pretend play, Mass media, Developmental psychology, Disney Princess