AJ Roberts is a fellow dad who’s frustrated about the limited options retailers offer for his soon to be born daughter. Unlike me, he’s also been a father for over two decades and has no interest in geek culture. This is a nice reminder (for me at least) that seeking greater retail choices for our girls isn’t all about superhero capes and lightsabers.
I’m about to start my second go at a family 21 years after I first did it and later this year my partner and I will have a daughter. When my first daughter was born 17 years ago I was practically a child myself and missed so much of it due to trying to build a career.
Back then I let my (now ex-) wife do all the girly mum and daughter stuff and while she was never a full blown princess fantasist, our daughter still fell into lots of stereotypes over how she was dressed, the toys she had, and the activities she did. Thankfully, genetics kicked in and she railed against being forced to go to ballet and being given pink stuff for her birthday whilst her brother got to play drums and got robots for his. Mercifully, other than the One Direction fixation and a brief flirtation with wanting to be a hairdresser, she has become pretty badass and a strong modern young woman.
Anyway, like so many people in my situation I have vowed not to miss out on so much this time round. I didn’t want to hand over all the pre-birth goodie buying to my partner or let her mother dictate anything. I wanted to be involved in buying clothes and early toys and decorating and all those things new parents do. And when my partner returns to work I will be gleefully taking on the role of a stay at home dad (well, at least part time anyway).
Welcome to the pink aisle
Holy crap, is it possible to buy anything for a baby daughter that isn’t pink and frilly? It turns out that I can only find solace in the section of the shop that they send people to that don’t know the gender of their child yet, so that they can buy white stuff for their infant until they have the chance to return to the retail apartheid regime and buy either blue or pink items after the poor kid is born. I then glance around the rest of the shop… it gets worse.
Apparently the clothes my daughter can look forward to wearing in the first 6 years of her life will be limited to either princess or trainee stripper wear. Our only alternative seems to be giving up and going to the boys section, which would seem to defeat the whole point of being pissed off with the current status quo. I bought a pair of black baby leggings the other day with little cow skulls on them (the sort of skulls you’d see on a Lynyrd Skynyrd T-shirt) and was seriously affronted, although not surprised, when asked if they were for my son or was I buying them as a gift.
Girls love pink
I’ve questioned this to a number of people and I keep getting told “that’s what little girls like”. But how on earth can “little girls” give an opinion when their only choices are nylon Frozen dresses and pink Barbie cars?
Now, I’m not a “geek” – in either the original sense of the term, nor it’s more self-deprecating modern version. While I do love Star Wars, I do so because it is an awesome western set in space rather than a sci-fi film. I have little interest in comics other than old copies of the Beano, I haven’t had a favourite superhero since I was ten (a tie between Hulk and Superman). I have absolutely zero interest in Dr Who, and find no humour in The Big Bang Theory. So this is not a case of me looking to justify dressing his daughter up as Batman, but a dad that is wanting their daughter to have more options than being a princess.
Of course I want her to have things in common with me and would love her to be into art, music, literature or (dare I dream…) cricket. But I want her to at least be given that choice.
When I became a father of a daughter, I quickly became aware I needed to seek out alternatives to Disney Princesses. If you’re raising a girl, there’s no escaping the reign of them over their generation. Frozen’s Anna and Elsa have only strengthened the power that the princess industrial complex wields over their developing cultural lives.
If you’re tired of all the trappings of princess culture cluttering up your little girl’s childhood, or just wish to expose them to alternative female led films, TV, books, and toys – here are my top five Disney Princess alternatives to inspire and empower your little girls.
1. Studio Ghibli
My search for alternatives to Disney Princesses struck a rich seam in Japan. The animated films of Studio Ghibli, and Hayo Miyazaki in particular, should be a part of everyone’s cinematic childhood.
My Neighbour Totoro, Kiki’s Delivery Service, and Whisper of the Heart are particular favourites of ours and they boast a wonderful range of female characters, any one of whom is a great Disney Princess alternative. Scarcely a day goes by without my daughter requesting to see at least one of them.
Totoro centres on the gentle adventures of two young sisters in fifties Japan and their encounters with kind hearted forest spirits; Kiki is an entrepreneurial 13-year-old witch who leaves home and earns a living by starting the small courier business of the title; Whisper of the Heart also features a teenage girl, who is an aspiring writer seeking inspiration.
I have seen them all more times than I could possibly count, and I still find them moving, inspiring, and utterly delightful. There is plenty official and unofficial merchandise around. We picked up some Totoro soft toys when we passed through Japan a few years back, and bought the 3yo a much loved Kiki dress up for Christmas.
For other movies, also check out Miyazaki’s pre-Studio Ghibli Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind for a wonderful female led eco-adventure, Ponyo for younger kids, and Spirited Away and Princess Mononoke for older ones who can take more intense scenarios. But perhaps save Grave of the Fireflies for another time – it’s possibly one of the saddest films ever made.
2. Wonder Woman
One of the few female superheroes that non-comic fans know about, Wonder Woman remains a pop cultural feminist icon and an awesome Disney Princess alternative.
Conceived in the forties by American psychologist William Moulton Marston, he wanted to “create a feminine character with all the strength of Superman plus all the allure of a good and beautiful woman”. Hmm.
Anyway, Wonder Woman is a warrior, and – yes – a PRINCESS, but she refuses to let being a princess define her, and it’s something she successfully rebelled against in her very first appearance.
The character’s continued fame goes back to the fondly remembered seventies TV show starring Lynda Carter. The show tied into the popular feminism of the decade, typified by the likes of Gloria Steinham – who had previously launched Ms. Magazine in 1972, with none other than Wonder Woman on the cover.
‘Retro’ Wonder Woman imagery continues to adorn all manner of merchandise today, and this iconic cartoon look is as visually appealing as any Disney Princess.
There is a LOT of merchandise out there if you hunt for it, but be warned – it’s far easier to get hold of a Wonder Woman t-shirt for a woman than a little girl. In addition to Wonder Woman, also be on the lookout for Batgirl and Supergirl gear. DC licensees are much better than Marvel in creating merchandise with their female heroes.
It’s time to “Woman Up” Marvel.
3. The Wizard of Oz
While Frank L. Baum’s original book has been eclipsed by the colourful 1939 movie, both feature the engaging Dorothy Gale and her adventures in Oz with her three male sidekicks.
While the film is wonderful, Dorothy is certainly more proactive and determined in the book, for instance not relying on her male friends to rescue her from the Wicked Witch but rescuing them instead.
However she is an appealing character in both, with an iconic eye catching look that makes a nice change from glittery pastel dresses – and because the book has been out of copyright for a long time there are lots of affordable merchandise out there, ranging from dress up outfits to apps.
Perhaps start with one of the books adapted for first readers, or of course there’s the wonderful film – the technicolour reveal of merry old land of Oz still remains one of the great moments of Hollywood magic, that will leave your little one on awe.
Film & Video:
4. Katie Morag
Set on the fictional Isle of Struay, off the west coast of Scotland, this series of books (and now a TV series) feature the independently minded little girl Katie Morag.
Wonderfully written and beautifully illustrated by Mairi Hedderwick, the stories see our young red-headed hero in her trademark white jumper, green tartan skirt, and wellies, on her everyday adventures involving her family and fellow islanders.
The spirited Katie is a great role model for little girls – our 3yo daughter has been inspired by this Scottish girl to be more independent herself. The books offer lots of other great female role models too, from her mother who runs the Post Office while also breastfeeding her new baby, to ‘Grannie Island’, Katie’s no-nonsense dungaree wearing, tractor driving grandmother.
I really enjoy both reading these to my daughter and watching the TV show with her.
5. Star Wars
The galaxy far, far away is just as much a place for girls as boys – it just hasn’t been marketed that way since a long time ago. But the female characters offer great alternatives to Disney Princesses.
Top of the list of great female characters (showing my aged bias) is Leia, who is a great Disney Princess alternative. A royal in name only, she is a rebel fighter, political leader, and social activist. She is a central character in the Star Wars universe and there is a ton of merchandise out there – HOWEVER, there currently isn’t much new stuff at all.
Despite Disney buying Star Wars, and churning out all kinds of new Star Wars goodies, don’t go to a Disney Store expecting to find anything much with Leia on it. If that bothers you, please read more here, and complain to them here about that.
For other more recent characters, check out Padme/Amidala from the prequels and TheClone Wars cartoon, Ahsoka Tano also from the Clone Wars, or Sabine & Hera from the new Star Wars Rebels animated TV series.
These are great empowered women for any child to look up to, and a terrific way into Star Wars and the wider area of sci-fi for little girls. Things are looking very promising in terms of female characters from The Force Awakens, but let’s just see how things go with that.
Geek culture is synonymous with the STEM worlds of our children’s future, so if we don’t want to lose vast swathes of the next generation of world builders – because they’re girls who think this is boys stuff – then get them some Star Wars toys. You may even have some in your parents attic. 🙂
Clone Wars and Star Wars Rebels:
What do you think about this list of alternatives to Disney Princesses?
What about the princesses themselves? Are they harmful or harmless? I’d love to read about any additions you have to this (short!) list, or why you think Disney Princesses are fine. Please comment below, join the conversation on the Facebook page, or on Twitter @manvspink.
Needing to kill an hour or so, I took a stroll around the Westfield London shopping centre this week. I naturally gravitated towards the toy shops, and I decided to amuse myself by indulging in a spot of gendered toys mystery shopping.
The first shop I went into was The Entertainer. They are a large independent toy retailer, and I have a particular soft spot for them as they began with one shop in my home town neighbour of Amersham, Bucks. But sentimentality aside, I had no idea what they were like as a toy shop these days.
I was pleasantly surprised and really impressed with the way they categorise their toys – eg. ‘Action & Adventure’, ‘Arts & Creative’, ‘Cars, trains, and planes’ etc – not by gender. This seemed like such progressive (and logical) way to sort toys, that doesn’t exclude on the basis of gender – at least in how product is grouped. Bravo Entertainer!
What I didn’t realise (until I tweeted about it) was that this came about because of a campaign by Let Toys Be Toys (we were living outside of UK when this happened). So bravo to them too. 🙂
I didn’t buy anything, but I will definitely be back to shop here, another branch, or online.
I was expecting the worst with the next shop I visited. I have written about the divisive way LEGO creates and markets its product before. The beloved Universal toy of my youth is no more. I have resigned myself to not buying any new LEGO, that in all likelihood my daughter will be playing with our ample hand-me-down supply throughout her childhood. So I went to the LEGO shop all prepared for their gendered marketing tricks.
But then I spotted this.
The female scientists minifigure set, that I had in my own little way campaigned so furiously for, that had finally been released only to be sold out everywhere… It was back! I stopped looking around the store, grabbed the set, and headed straight for the counter.
As I paid, I asked the staff about it. They told me they had only been delivered a small number of sets in the original release, and everyone in the company was surprised how popular it had been. The staff were keen to point out that they now have a much healthier stock of it. So if you’re thinking of buying some LEGO for your child (or you!), then I would strongly suggest that you get this one. I’m intending on saving it until Christmas day. Hopefully I can resist the urge to put it together it until then.
That’s all I can say about the LEGO shop. They could have had an entire wall of pink Friends sets, with a sparkling sign proclaiming ‘LEGO FOR GIRLS’, and I wouldn’t have noticed. That’s how chuffed I was to finally have this awesome set in my hands.
So it had been a really positive experience so far. My final stop was The Disney Store, which I entered with trepidation. I love Star Wars & Marvel (both acquired by Disney) as much as I do not love princess culture (pretty much created by Disney).
Given that Disney & gendered marketing to kids go together like the Empire & the Death Star, I tend to browse Disney’s virtual and actual aisles with frustration. This occasion was no exception.
Starting with Marvel, there was nothing in the store featuring a female character. No Black Widow in the Avengers line, no Gamora or Nebula in the Guardians of the Galaxy stuff, no additional female superheroes, nothing. *sigh
On to Star Wars.
There’s large section of the store devoted to movie merchandise, primarily the original trilogy. The lack of Leia merchandise was an early issue on this blog, so I was keen to see if things had improved at all. At first glance, it hadn’t. There was a prominent display featuring Han Solo, Darth Vader, Luke Skywalker, and a Stormtrooper – but no Princess Leia.
I scanned the large selection of Star Wars stuff here, and eventually found a Leia. In fact I found a couple. They were each part of different play-sets figures. One set was Jabba’s palace, which of course means one thing – Slave Leia.
An eagle eyed fan on Twitter also spotted a Torryn Farr figure. Who is she? The blink and you’ll miss her Rebel Comms officer from The Empire Strikes Back. She may not be the most active character in the trilogy (she sits in a chair and relays orders), but I guess at least she’s a female Star Wars character figure.
That’s not all the Star Wars gear the shop has now though. There’s a big display of merchandise from the brand new TV show Star Wars Rebels. It’s early days for the show, but it has TWO major female characters that are prominently featured in the artwork of the toy display. So I was curious about what the the product would be like.
Product? What product?
That’s right. There was nothing, nothing, featuring either of the female characters of Sabine or Hera. Not an action figure, not a t-shirt, nothing. I asked a member of staff about this. She looked surprised, had a glance at the section, and then kind of shrugged “No, there’s nothing with any of the women”.
So in this flagship Disney Store, in one of the premier shopping centres in Britain, there were just three items including any female characters in the whole of their Marvel & Star Wars sections – nothing in Marvel, and Star Wars had a classic Princess Leia (as part of a set), Slave girl Leia (as part of a set), and an individual figure of a rebel who says “Stand by ion control…Fire!” and nothing else.
Apparently, Sabine & Hera will be included in the second wave of Star Wars Rebels figures being released by licensee Hasbro. Staff also told me “We’re going to get Princess Leia stuff soon. But they keep saying that”. They had no idea about female Marvel characters.
I didn’t buy anything, and I’m not planning on going back. I left the shop more frustrated than ever about the fact that The House Of Mouse now own Marvel & Star Wars. I really hope things change for the better, and they embrace the female – and girl – market for these brands.
I reflected that my previous positive toyshop experiences were both due to the willingness of brands/retailers to engage with feedback, listen to those seeking change, and take a good look at their offering.
In conclusion, in terms of gendered marketing and division of toys: The Entertainer good, The Disney Store sadly not, and the LEGO shop? Well, they had me at female scientist minifigure set and was the only shop I spent money in.
So while this may have been an unscientific survey, in the end it was all about science.
After earlier stating they had “no plans for Leia products at Disney Store“, Disney have caved to #WeWantLeia pressure. Time.com writer Eliana Dockterman managed to pin down a spokeperson from the elusive House of Mouse, to get a clear commitment to including our favourite Alderaanian Princess in the Disney Store’s currently male only Star Wars line up. Disney spokeswoman Margita Thompson told Time:
“We’re excited to be rolling out new products in the coming months, including several items that will feature Princess Leia, one of the most iconic characters in the Star Wars galaxy.”
The article added:
‘Thompson also pointed out that there are Princess Leia-themed costumes and toys available on Amazon.com’
What, like these? Hopefully not an indication of the proposed Disney Store line…
Anyway, well done Natalie Wreyford! It all started with your tweet.
@nataliewreyford Currently, there are no plans for Leia products at Disney Store, Natalie. Have a wonderful day! — Disney Store (@DisneyStore) May 20, 2014
So it seems to be an about face – or at least an understanding – from the House of Mouse. The #WeWantLeia hashtag was proposed right here, with a comment from SuddenlyFeminist Dad. Perhaps the power of the force is insignificant next to the power of social media…
A mini update to my earlier post about the lack of Leia in the Disney Store.
To recap: Disney have owned Star Wars since 2012. But despite carrying a range of other Star Wars merchandise in the Disney Store, it doesnt sell any (hardly any) Princess Leia gear.
I wanted to know why, especially since my young daughter is into Star Wars and her favourite character is Princess Leia. Initial contact with Disney elicited a rather non-committal response, essentially ‘we have no information/plans regarding Princess Leia merchandise’.
Last week, the Disney Store UK informed me they had “escalated (my) query to the relevant departments”. Today, I received the latest response.
Thank you for taking the time to contact us, and for your patience while this was escalated to me.
It is wonderful to hear your youngling is already such a huge Leia fan.
It IS wonderful my… hold on, my what? My ‘youngling’?
Interesting. It seems that the Disney Corporate Communications manual has been updated with Star Wars buzzwords – a youngling is a child undergoing Jedi training.
What’s also interesting is that ‘youngling’ is a gender neutral term. Star Wars is anything but gender neutral in the Disney Store – with it listed prominently in the ‘Boys’ tab, but nowhere to be seen in the ‘Girls’ one. The lack of Princess Leia product appears to be symptomatic of the Disney Store’s embedded gender segregation – Princesses are for girls, sci-fi & superheroes for boys.
At least the Jedi don’t divide their ‘younglings’ along gender lines. Anyway, moving on:
The current assortment of Star Wars product launched at Disney Store earlier this year is just the beginning of what is to come.
Well, that’s promising. So you’re going to sell Leia stuff right?
Disney Store designs products with all members of the family in mind, and we are looking forward to supporting the Star Wars Franchise for many years to come.
Great! Oh, hang on.
We know Disney “designs products with all members of the family in mind”. That doesn’t indicate whether they will design Star Wars products “with all members of the family in mind”.
Also, “we are looking forward to supporting the Star Wars Franchise for many years to come” doesn’t address whether they will add Leia to their Star Wars items on sale. No indication of when – or even if – they’ll get to Leia.
Once again, we thank you for taking the time to contact us, and if you have any further queries please do let us know.
Thank you too, I will.
May the force be with you,
Well, certainly makes a nice change from “Have a wonderful day!” 😉