Mark A. Philbrick / BYU
Mark A. Philbrick / BYU

Study Suggests Disney Princess Culture Is Harmful for Little Girls

Mark A. Philbrick / BYU
Mark A. Philbrick / BYU

The ridiculously popular Disney Princesses franchise makes money hand over fist; in 2012 alone, sales totaled more than $3 billion. And why shouldn’t it? Snow White and her gang are sweet, and—more importantly in a world ablaze with sex and violence—they’re harmless. Or so most people think. A year-long study found that little girls who engage with Disney Princess culture are more likely to buy into harmful sexist stereotypes. The research was published in the journal Child Development. 

Sarah M. Coyne is a social science researcher in Brigham Young University’s Department of Family Life. “I think parents think that the Disney Princess culture is safe. That’s the word I hear time and time again—it’s ‘safe,’” Coyne said in a press statement. “But if we’re fully jumping in here and really embracing it, parents should really consider the long-term impact of the princess culture.” As a scientist and the mother of a little girl, Coyne wanted to find out what that long-term impact could be. 

Coyne and her colleagues enlisted the families of 198 preschoolers. The researchers interviewed the kids’ parents and teachers to find out if, how, and how much each child interacted with Disney Princess media and products. The parents and teachers also filled out questionnaires about how the children behaved, their self-esteem, and how they liked to play. 

The kids then completed a preference task, in which they were shown stereotypical “girl toys” (dolls, a tea set), “boy toys” (action figures, play construction equipment), and neutral toys (paint, puzzles) and asked how much they liked each toy.

Around one year later, the preschoolers’ parents filled out the same questionnaires again. 

As expected, Disney Princess saturation reached mind-boggling levels. The results showed that 96 percent of girls and 87 percent of boys had consumed some form of Disney Princess media, and 61 percent of girls played with Disney Princess toys at least once a week. 

Unfortunately, the more time a little girl spent hanging out with Belle and the gang, the more likely she was to buy in to gender stereotypes one year later. And we don’t just mean that they were kinder or more communicative. We mean that they felt limited to “girly” activities and behavior. 

“We know that girls who strongly adhere to female gender stereotypes feel like they can’t do some things,” Coyne said. “They’re not as confident that they can do well in math and science. They don’t like getting dirty, so they’re less likely to try and experiment with things.” 

Given the ubiquity of the Disney Princess franchise, the researchers know it’s hardly realistic for parents to ban princesses altogether. Talk to your kids about princesses, Coyne says. Conversations about princess media had a positive effect on kids, shielding them somewhat from the stereotypes onscreen. 

“I’d say, have moderation in all things,” Coyne said. “Have your kids involved in all sorts of activities, and just have princesses be one of many, many things that they like to do and engage with.”

Editor's Note: This story has been updated to better reflect the results of the study.

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10 Facts About Clifford the Big Red Dog
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PBS/Scholastic

Whether you know him from his books, TV series, movies, or video games, Clifford is undoubtedly the world's best known Big Red Dog. (And to think that Norman Bridwell, Clifford's creator, was told he would never succeed.) Here are 10 things you might not know about one of the most popular children's book characters of all time, who was born 55 years ago.

1. NORMAN BRIDWELL WAS TOLD HE WAS NEVER GOING TO MAKE IT.

Norman Bridwell was told over and over again that he was never going to make it as an illustrator; his pictures of dogs were too ordinary and boring. One critic finally offered the helpful suggestion that Bridwell create a little story to go with his drawings of a little girl riding a pony-like dog, and that was all it took. Scholastic Books agreed to publish Clifford the Big Red Dog less than a month later.

2. CLIFFORD IS NAMED AFTER AN IMAGINARY FRIEND.

Clifford was named after an imaginary friend Bridwell's wife had when she was a child. At first Bridwell suggested "Tiny" as the big, red dog's name, but his wife told him that was too boring.

3. THE DOG IS RED FOR A VERY PRACTICAL REASON.

When asked how he decided on Clifford's signature color, Bridwell admitted that "it was red because I happened to have red paint on the drawing table that night."

4. BRIDWELL'S DAUGHTER INSPIRED A CHARACTER.

Emily Elizabeth Howard, the little girl who takes a liking to the runt of the litter in the first book, is named after Bridwell's own daughter, Emily Elizabeth Bridwell.

5. CLIFFORD IS A BIT OF A MUTT.

Ever wonder exactly what type of dog Clifford is? Well, he's said to have the characteristics of a giant Vizsla now, but the very first prototype—back when he was just the size of a pony instead of a house—was of a rather large bloodhound. Bridwell has said he took his inspiration from the behavior of all types of dogs.

6. BRIDWELL WAS ADAMANT THAT CLIFFORD BEHAVE LIKE A NORMAL DOG.

Don't ever expect to see titles like Clifford Goes to Outer Space or Clifford and the Dinosaurs. Bridwell, who passed away in 2014, firmly believed that although Clifford is a bit oversized, he still mostly does things normal dogs do.

7. CLIFFORD EXISTS IN 13 LANGUAGES.

More than 75 Clifford books have been published since the original first hit bookstores in 1963 and there are more than 129 million copies in print in 13 different languages.

8. SOME FAMOUS NAMES HAVE LENT THEIR VOICES TO THE CLIFFORD CARTOON.

If you've ever watched the Clifford cartoon on PBS, you've likely recognized some of the voices. John Ritter was the voice of Clifford; Kel Mitchell of Kenan and Kel voiced Clifford's buddy T-Bone; Cree Summers lent her vocals to another pal named Cleo (you've also heard her as Penny in Inspector Gadget and Elmyra in Tiny Toon Adventures); and Emily Elizabeth is played by voice actress Grey DeLisle who is also the McNulty Brothers in Rugrats and Queen Amidala in the Star Wars interactive series.

9. THERE'S A PREQUEL BOOK SERIES.

In 1985, Bridwell started writing Clifford the Small Red Puppy, where you can catch a glimpse of Clifford before he was able to catch cars in his mouth. Clifford's Puppy Days shows us what life with Clifford and Emily Elizabeth was like back when he was still the runt, before the family had to move to Birdwell Island to accommodate Clifford's gigantism. It was also made into a PBS series in 2003 called Clifford's Puppy Days.

10. PEOPLE LOVE CLIFFORD BECAUSE HE'S ALWAYS FORGIVEN.

Following Bridwell's death in 2014, Scholastic chairman, CEO, and president Dick Robinson issued a statement describing why Bridwell and his famous pup were so beloved:

“Norman Bridwell’s books about Clifford, childhood’s most lovable dog, could only have been written by a gentle man with a great sense of humor. Norman personified the values that we as parents and educators hope to communicate to our children—kindness, compassion, helpfulness, gratitude—through the Clifford stories which have been loved for more than 50 years.

The magic of the character and stories Norman created with Clifford is that children can see themselves in this big dog who tries very hard to be good, but is somewhat clumsy and always bumping into things and making mistakes. What comforts the reader is that Clifford is always forgiven by Emily Elizabeth, who loves him unconditionally."

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Country Time Is Paying Off Fines on Kids' Lemonade Stands
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A summer staple has come under threat. “The Man” is cracking down on makeshift lemonade stands across the country and busting kids without business permits. Thankfully, one beverage maker is here to help.

As CNN reports, Country Time—known for its powdered lemonade mix—has started a legal fund to help pay off the fines and permit fees incurred by little lemonade hucksters. The company has vowed to cover fees of up to $300 for each business permit bought this year, as well as fines on lemonade stands that were shut down in 2017 and 2018.

The initiative, dubbed Legal-Ade, was reportedly inspired by an incident that occurred in Denver just last week in which two brothers who were selling lemonade for charity were forced to close down shop because they didn’t have a permit. In recent years, similar cases have been reported in Texas, Maryland, Iowa, Georgia, and more. Some fines have climbed as high as $500.

“When we saw these stories about lemonade stands being shut down for legal reasons, we thought it had to be an urban myth,” Adam Butler, an executive at Kraft Heinz, which owns Country Time, told CNN. “A very real response seemed the best way to shine a light on the issue."

The company posted a playful advertisement on YouTube showing a group of hard-nosed lawyers crossing their arms and cracking their knuckles behind a child’s lemonade stand. “Entrepreneurship? Good work habits? Good old-fashioned fun? Shut down because of old, arcane, but very real laws,” declares a voice in the video. “Tastes like justice,” one man in a suit says after downing his lemonade and crushing the plastic cup in one fist.

The company says it’s prepared to cover up to $60,000 in fees. To apply for some lemonade relief, head to Country Time’s website and upload a scanned copy of your child’s fine or permit receipt.

[h/t CNN]

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