Pink princess toy cameras. Pink princess wallets. Pink princess magic meal time cutlery. Pink princess backpacks, pencil cases, water bottles, golden hair extensions, and the most fabulous silver sparkle princess shoes with pink flashing lights.
After only a week in full-time school, my daughter Eryn has embraced this new world of marketing around princess culture — and even though she has never seen a Disney princess film, she can now name all of the popular princesses off by heart.
Princess culture is ubiquitous — from their original fairy tales to lego. As an empire, it’s selling a whole slew of negative gendered stereotypes, unattainable beauty ideals, and a message that a woman’s agency and action is found only through her sexualization. Even the most “brave” anti-princess princess of the Disney franchise, Merida, was at one time subjected to a sexy redesign — which was pulled after a huge backlash favouring her original bow and arrow over huge breasts and a sparkly dress. And let’s not forget the problematic Jasmine of Aladdin, our favourite Muslim princess at MMW, who not only falls victim to orientalized cultural stereotypes, but becomes a heroine by seducing the bad guy with a bare midriff, fluttery eyelids and a hawt kiss.
There is nothing wrong with children loving the colour pink or wanting to “sparkle” — but there is definitely more to life than buying into the message that vapid beauty and inaction will help little girls everywhere snag (and be saved by) a rich, hetronormative prince.
So in looking for alternatives to balance out this growing influence, and to help my daughter find positive examples of Muslim identity in the media she consumes, I was recently overjoyed to find an Islamic alternative to the classic Disney Cinderella story.
Cinderella: An Islamic Tale by Fawzia Gilani-Williams is a wonderful children’s book. Set in medieval Andalusia, the classic tale receives a both religious and pro-woman retelling. The fairy Godmother is replaced by a grandmother who holds real social power and is the one who saves Cinderella. The evil, ugly stepsisters aren’t punished, but turn over a new leaf and are forgiven. They’re also not ugly or necessarily evil to begin with — softening the villainization of stepfamilies that plagues many fairy tales. The prince’s role in chasing Cinderella, after being seduced by her beauty and grace, is downplayed by the actions of the Queen — a strong character who spends the evening with Cinderella and facilitates their marriage. And what I love the most about this story is that Cinderella is recognized for her piety, patience and humble nature — and not necessarily her beauty.