Last week I ignored “National Princess Week.”
It was officially designated as such by Disney, pegged to the anniversary of the release of its Princess Diaries franchise.
The week also coincided with the anniversary of the Prince William and Kate Middleton wedding.
I ignored both “milestones,” just the way I am trying to ignore the last throes of the princess stage in my own home. (My benign neglect on this front has, so for, been no match for long-legged, short-tutued dolls that seem to appear regularly at our doorstep as if by fairy dust).
A better approach for those of us concerned about the messages all things princess send our girls may be the one taken by D.C. residents Carolyn Danckaert and Aaron Smith.
The couple has just launched a new Web site called “A Mighty Girl.” It’s a repository of books and movies with girl empowerment themes.
“A major impetus for us in creating the site was the frustration we’ve experienced when seeking out presents for our four nieces over the past 12 years,” Danckaert said.
For Princess Week, they created a special page for “independent princesses.” It highlights classic and new works “with a non-traditional interpretation of what it means to be a princess,” Danckaert said.
Some of the books on the site include “The Apple-Pip Princess,” by Jane Ray (Candlewick, 2008) about a budding environmentalist, “The Invisible Princess,” by Faith Ringgold (Knopf, 1998) about an African American girl during slavery and “Princess Pigsty,” by Cornelia Funke (The Chicken House, 2007 ) about a princess who is banished from castle life to live with pigs and finds herself much happier.
It’s true that women are reaching new educational and professional heights, and are also embracing more equality-minded attitudes. Still, the traditional gender messages are often strictly enforced when it comes to children.
Disney’s “Princess Week” is one example. There is ample evidence during the rest of the year, too.
Remember the introduction of girl-themed Legos with which girls are encouraged to build not a rocket ship, but a beauty salon? Remember the viral video from this past holiday season of a little girl ranting that boys had superheroes but she had only pink frou-frou toys to choose from?
“We’ve always been dismayed by the extreme gender segregation that you see in mainstream toy stores and by the content of the toys designated as ‘girls’ toys,’” Danckaert said.
“We searched online for sites with girl empowerment product recommendations and didn’t find anything very comprehensive, although there did seem to be a lot of other people looking for these types of toys and book.”
So she and Smith, both of whom have backgrounds in advocacy work and technology, decided to create their own online store.
“A Mighty Girl” currently lists hundreds of books and movies — from “Pippi Longstocking” to “It’s Okay to be Different” to “The Whale Rider.”
The pair encourages users to submit suggestions for additions to the inventory and hope to eventually introduce toys.
Purchases are made through a portal that leads to Amazon, with Amazon paying the “Mighty” founders a small commission for each purchase.
Danckaert said the response since the site launched a few weeks ago has been encouraging. She has tracked about 360 purchases, more than 500 members and more than 40,000 unique page views.
Their companion Facebook page has about 3000 fans, many of them vocal about gender-stereotyping and quick to share particularly egregious products or advertisements.
It’s unclear if such niche efforts will make a dent in the larger consciousness of the children’s products industry. But the idea itself seems pretty mighty.