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Princess Cultures

Mediating Girls’ Imaginations and Identities

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Edited By Miriam Forman-Brunell and Rebecca C. Hains

Princesses today are significant figures in girls’ culture in the United States and around the world. Although the reign of girls’ princess culture has generated intense debate, this anthology is the first to bring together international and interdisciplinary perspectives on the multitude of princess cultures, continuously redrawn and recast by grownups and girls from the Ancien Régime to the New Millennium. Essays critically examine the gendered, racialized, classed, and ethnic meanings of royal figures and fairytale and pop culture princesses inscribed in folk tales, movies, cartoons, video games, dolls, and imitated in play and performance. Focusing on the representation and reception of the princess, this collection sheds new light on the position of princess cultures mediating the lives, imaginations, and identities of girls from toddlers to teenagers – and beyond.
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Chapter Five: Playing to Belong: Princesses and Peer Cultures in Preschool

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 CHAPTER FIVE

Playing to Belong: Princesses and Peer Cultures in Preschool

KAREN WOHLWEND

Children’s extensive engagements with princess culture have sparked controversy over the potential identity-shaping effects of popular media on young girls, evident in high levels of public debate in social media spheres around recent mass-market books, including, My Princess Boy (Kilodavis and DeSimone 2010) Cinderella Ate My Daughter: Dispatches from the Front Lines of the New Girlie-Girl Culture (Orenstein 2011) and The Princess Problem: Guiding Our Girls Through the Princess-Obsessed Years (Hains 2014). Educational research in the past decade shows benefits to literacy learning when teachers build upon young children’s diverse strengths and popular media interests that show up so often in their play (Dyson 2003; Marsh et al. 2005). For young preschool girls today, these literary repertoires often connect to their deep knowledge of princess characters and stories in popular culture (Sekeres 2009; Wohlwend 2009). At the same time, literacy studies have alerted us to the gendered and consumerist ideological messages in these identity-shaping princess texts (Mackey 2010; Marshall and Sensoy 2011; Saltmarsh 2009). Yet we know little about the ways that the target consumers—very young girls—actually enact princess media messages during play. What happens when girls play together in classrooms where teachers provide princess dolls and encourage children to remake the princess stories into versions of their own? In this chapter, I share findings from a year-long study of critical media literacy in preschool and primary classrooms that...

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