Storytelling Arts' mission is to preserve, promote and impart the art of storytelling to develop literacy, strengthen communities and nurture the human spirit.

Monday, February 28, 2011


Hello, I am Julie Della Torre, Master Storyteller with Storytelling Arts, Inc. I have been working as a Professional Storyteller since 1985 and have 9 years of elementary school teaching experience along with the study of child development and curriculum. More information about our work in storytelling and education can be found on the Storytelling Arts website

An interesting debate on princesses has been brought to my attention on the Motherlode blog of the NYTimes. My son, father of a 2yr old son and uncle to a 3 yr. old niece, follows the blog and sent me the following. Some great reading, discussion and debate commenced.

‘The Princess Wears Plaid’ By Lisa Belkin (February 3, 2011) discusses an article by Peggy Orenstein that led to the book "Cinderella Ate my Daughter"

Ms. Orenstein in 2006 takes on the Disney corporation as a feminist and a manipulated consumer. All quotes below come from this article.

The discussion on Motherlode revolves around reading children’s books that show a more balanced view of girls, books that offer a healthy prototype of heroines. We as storytellers should feel obligated to do the same. There are hundreds of stories from around the world that offer strong, enterprising, loving, clever, and smart heroines who end up happily ever after. We should search for these stories and add them to our repertoire.

I am tired of corporations (in truth corporate owners) forcing their own views -- of beauty, of appropriate language, of appropriate behavior, of appropriate values, of appropriate skin color -- and telling us what is important in a good life. Imagination and thinking is taken from us.

“Playing princess is not the issue,” argues Lyn Mikel Brown, an author, with Sharon Lamb, of “Packaging Girlhood: Rescuing Our Daughters From Marketers’ Schemes.” “The issue is 25,000 Princess products,” says Brown, a professor of education and human development at Colby College. “When one thing is so dominant, then it’s no longer a choice: it’s a mandate, cannibalizing all other forms of play. There’s the illusion of more choices out there for girls, but if you look around, you’ll see their choices are steadily narrowing.”

Walt Disney and his studio follow a long tradition of changing oral folktales. Each time a tale is told it is changed. The problem comes when it is written down, or immortalized in film. Ownership is then possible. Jane Yolen (storyteller, author and folklorist) says in many articles that the old tales are always changing depending in part on who tells them and why. The old nanny who is putting the children to bed may soften the tales, shorten them, or change them so nightmares don’t ensue. Parents, or preachers, or dictators, may change them to teach a moralistic or nationalistic lesson. Entertainers change the tales to please each audience and thus ensure ample reward.

Walt Disney’s Cinderella is now the ‘real’ Cinderella story, and it is American. It’s told as a rags-to-riches story where anyone can wish on a star and dreams can come true with no effort at all. In Cinderella tales from around the world this is NEVER the story. In Grimm’s it’s a riches-to-rags-to-riches story in which Cinderella has to be clever, respectful, resourceful, and hard-working to regain her rightful place in society. Cuteness and idle waiting and wishing have little to do with this story. When I ask classes to visualize the princess in a story told (no matter where the story comes from) everyone, even teachers, see Disney’s Cinderella. This film version of a princess is now ‘the Princess’ in all parts of the world.

One can easily look up and track the changes made as the Grimm’s brothers collected their tales in many editions. By the time Disney got hold of the tales they had already been changed. Like the Grimms, Disney changed the tales to fit his own moralistic view of the nation and women’s place in it. Disney had strong views on America, the nation’s dream and of women’s place in American society. To hone his message, Disney took all the strength out of our heroines. The company infantilized these princesses and gave them no redeeming values. Then Walt Disney stamped his name all over everything associated with the films. Disney took complete control and ownership of our heroines. Walt Disney and the studio became one. The studio learned its lesson well and continues to control the message and the product.

Today the merchandizing of the Princess ideal helps girls and women believe that wearing the Cinderella panties or carrying the Princess Lunchbox, will help their dreams come true, their dreams of being a princess, marrying a prince and living happily ever after. ‘Princess’ is no longer about a story, it is a product:

There are now more than 25,000 Disney Princess items.

“Princess,” as some Disney execs call it, is not only the fastest-growing brand the company has ever created; they say it is on its way to becoming the largest girls’ franchise on the planet.

As a student of folklore I have issues with Disney and the old tales that differ yet overlap with the issues which concern Ms. Orenstein and the mothers on the Motherlode blog.

My strongest aversion comes with the fact that Disney has chosen one princess, his princess, for us and is now selling her to us all on everything imaginable.

Some further reading/background that I found illuminating on the topic:

Jane Yolen tackles Disney in ‘America’s Cinderella’ in Cinderella: A Casebook by Alan Dundes, and in Mirror, Mirror, ed. By Jane Yolen and Heidi Stemple. Jack Zipes takes on the issue in ‘Breaking the Disney Spell’ in his book Fairy Tale as Myth: Myth as Fairy Tale.

I went to Surlalune and read the discussions that had taken place over the years. (see FAQ: Disney and Fairy Tales and FAQ Women and Fairy Tales)

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