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Mark A. Philbrick / BYU

Study Suggests Disney Princess Culture Is Harmful for Little Girls

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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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Pablo, a Groundbreaking New BBC Series, Teaches Kids About Autism
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Autism spectrum disorder affects one in 68 kids in the U.S., but there’s still a lot of confusion surrounding the nature of the condition and what it feels like to have it. As BuzzFeed reports, a new British children’s program aims to teach viewers about autism while showing kids on the spectrum characters and stories to which they can relate.

Pablo, which premiered on the BBC’s kids’ network CBeebies earlier this month, follows a 5-year-old boy as he navigates life with autism. The show uses two mediums: At the start of an episode, Pablo is played by a live actor and faces everyday scenarios, like feeling overstimulated by a noisy birthday party. When he’s working out the conflict in his head, Pablo is depicted as an animated doodle accompanied by animal friends like Noa the dinosaur and Llama the llama.

Each character illustrates a different facet of autism spectrum disorder: Noa loves problem-solving but has trouble reading facial expression, while Llama notices small details and likes repeating words she hears. On top of demonstrating the diversity of autism onscreen, the show depends on individuals with autism behind the scenes as well. Writers with autism contribute to the scripts and all of the characters are voiced by people with autism.

“It’s more than television,” the show’s creator Gráinne McGuinness said in a short documentary about the series. “It’s a movement that seeks to build awareness internationally about what it might be like to see the world from the perspective of someone with autism.”

Pablo can be watched in the UK on CBeebies or globally on the network's website.

[h/t BuzzFeed]

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These Mobile Libraries Roaming Zimbabwe Are Pulled By Donkeys
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The people behind the Rural Libraries and Resources Development Program (RLRDP) believe you shouldn’t have to travel far to access good reading material. That’s why they have donkeys do a lot of the traveling for the people they help. According to inhabitat, RLRDP manages 15 donkey-powered library carts that deliver books to communities without libraries of their own.

The organization was founded in 1990 with the mission of bringing libraries to rural parts of Zimbabwe. Five years later, they started hitching up donkeys to carts packed with books. Each mobile library can hold about 1200 titles, and 12 of the 15 carts are filled exclusively with books for kids. The donkeys can transport more than just paperbacks: Each two-wheeled cart has space for a few riders, and three of them are outfitted with solar panels that power onboard computers. While browsing the internet or printing documents, visitors to the library can use the solar energy to charge their phones.

Donkeys pulling a cart

Carts usually spend a day in the villages they serve, and that short amount of time is enough to make a lasting impact. RLRDP founder Dr. Obadiah Moyo wrote in a blog post, “The children explore the books, sharing what they’ve read, and local storytellers from the community come to bring stories to life. It really is a day to spread the concept of reading and to develop the reading culture we are all working towards.”

Kids getting books from a cart.

About 1600 individuals benefit from each cart, and Moyo says schools in the areas they visit see improvement in students. The donkey-pulled libraries are only part of what RLRDP does: The organization also trains rural librarians, installs computers in places without them, and delivers books around Zimbabwe via bicycle—but the pack animals are hard to top. Moyo writes, “When the cart is approaching a school, the excitement from the children is wonderful to see as they rush out to greet it.”

[h/t inhabitat]

All images courtesy of Rural Libraries and Resources Development Program


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