Study promotes 'princess culture' for boys as way to combat society's idea of 'masculinity'
Children’s exposure to Disney princess content was associated with more progressive attitudes about gender.
The lead researcher has said that 'princess culture' could be 'truly healing for humanity.'
A team of developmental psychology researchers led by Brigham Young University professor Sarah Coyne found that exposing children to Disney princesses may make them less likely to believe in traditional gender roles, which she calls "hegemonic masculinity."
Coyne told Campus Reform, “We looked at two different aspects of hegemonic masculinity," including opposition to "egalitarian attitudes about women" and a reluctance to "[show] emotion in the context of interpersonal relationships.”
She and her team found that children who watched Disney princess content and played with related toys were less likely to believe in traditional gender roles. "We're now seeing long-term positive effects of princess culture on how we think about gender," Coyne told Phys.org.
She told the same outlet, "Princess culture has some really deep and beautiful things about womanhood and relationships. If we can grasp onto that, it can be truly healing for humanity."
The research team had participating parents and children fill out questionnaires designed to measure the child’s attitude toward gender roles. They also had the children sort toys into categories based on how much they like to play with them.
Most of the children were between three and five years old during the first iteration of the study; researchers measured their attitudes again nearly five years later. Coyne tells Campus Reform that the study was funded by Brigham Young University.
The paper, published in the journal Child Development, says: “Adult men who prescribe to norms of hegemonic masculinity tend to show less egalitarian attitudes toward men and women…Individuals who strongly endorse hegemonic masculine norms are often less emotionally open and less adept at expressing emotions, affection, or confronting negative emotions in a healthy manner.”
Coyne says that young boys who engage with princess culture are more likely to reject traits, like a reluctance to show emotion and a willingness to fight, that she ascribes to traditional masculinity: "Boys who are exposed to princess culture earlier in life tend to do a better job expressing emotion in their relationships," Coyne told Phys.org, "rather than shutting down their feelings or feeling like they should fight someone who challenges them."
The study suggests that Disney princesses may contribute to positive body image, particularly for children from families with low socioeconomic status. It was these children, the study found, for whom the correlation between princess exposure and positive body image was strongest.
Researchers note they were surprised at this finding, writing, “This finding was unexpected and went against the hypotheses that princess culture would have a negative impact on body esteem.”
Coyne told Campus Reform that the results of her study contradict the prevailing notion in some feminist circles that Disney princesses are poor role models. She credits this to a shift in the themes of Disney princess content: “Modern day princesses are far more independent and rely less on men,” she said.
Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @AngelaLMorabito