Princess Culture and Early Childhood Education: The Issue

Posted on April 7, 2017. Filed under: Anti Oppressive Ed, cultural, eci814, Masters, Race |

It all started in the last couple months when I decided to go on a Netflix Disney movie spree. I was getting sick of the large amounts of drugs, sex, swearing, and violence in the “regular” adult TV shows and movies, so I wanted to take a break and indulge in

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Photo credit: Global Panorama via Flickr

something more ‘innocent.’ Now, hear me when I say that a “spree” for a mom of a six month old is watching bits and pieces of these movies every few days/week. But that said, so far I have watched Tangled, The Jungle Book, Finding Dory, Ella Enchanted, (I watched this thinking it was the musical Enchanted. It wasn’t) Big Hero 6, Enchanted, (the correct one) and I am currently watching Maleficent.  It was during Enchanted (the musical) that I started to really recognize the Whiteness that is infused into the movie.

It was during the above clip that I was awakened to the stereotypical race roles that the movie portrays. First of all, the initial men of colour introduced are assumed to be Caribbean, as they play steel drums and shakers, and they are wearing traditional cultural clothing. (Although to be honest, I’m not even sure it’s accurate Caribbean traditional clothing… but it does have patterns and beading, which in the dominant viewer’s mind fits the role of traditional Caribbean culture, therefore does not get questioned.)  These men are immediately racialized as their purpose in the movie is to represent culture and add an ethnic flavour to the song. The men follow the characters (the two white, heterosexual leads) who walk through the park singing about love. The next obvious men of colour introduced are Mexican men in sombreros playing their guitars on a boat.  Their apparent purpose is to support the two White leads with some added guitar music.  The last noticeable man of colour, (I won’t even get started that there were no obvious women of colour even in the song.) is a black man in a bandana, and a loose jersey.  Since the song is apparently trying to include all different cultures, he most likely represents black culture as a whole;

“Black men are also featured as tough and aggressive. Many videos rely on hip hop style fashions, such as multilayered oversized shirts, sagging jeans… tattoos and bandanas, in order to evoke images of controlled aggressiveness.” (Asamen, Ellis, & Berry, 2008).

The massive amount of cultural appropriation that is happening within this short song is disturbing. According to the Intellectual Property Issues in Cultural Heritage Project (2015), appropriation “means to take something that belongs to someone else for one’s own use. In the case of heritage, appropriation happens when a cultural element is taken from its cultural context and used in another” (p. 2). The entire song took race and gender stereotypes and expanded on them to the nth degree. This is troubling for me because while I was looking for an innocent escape in children’s movies, I was actually bombarded by hidden racialized and gendered constructions that shape my ways of knowing without me always realizing it.

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Photo credit: Barb Watson via Flickr

I think most people are aware that the older Disney movies often promoted racism, sexism, and even domestic violence, but “the newer Disney animations continue to play ‘a substantial role in reaffirming, even constructing, an uneven social hierarchy that privileges the status quo and subjugates marginal populations” (Gutierrez, 2000, p.10). With that in mind, it brought me to question how the dominant discourses of media culture influence early childhood education. In what ways is the ‘princess culture’ of today affecting our children’s ways of knowing and being? If it took me, an adult finishing her graduate degree focusing on anti-oppressive education four consecutive Disney movies to really notice the hegemonic practices that were being showcased, how long, if ever, does it take children to question the message they are receiving? In what ways do schools perpetuate princess/superhero culture and preserve the dominant discourse?

My next post: Princess Culture and Early Childhood Education: Over-representation and Erasure

References

Asamen, J., Ellis M., & Berry G. (2008). The SAGE Handbook of Child Development, Multiculturalism, and Media. Thousand Oaks, California: SAGE Publications.

Broadnax, J. (2015, Nov. 18). The Hollywood Reporter’s New Cover Shows Hollywood Continues to Erase Women of Color. Retrieved from: https://www.themarysue.com/hollywood-reporter-cover-erasure 

George, K. (2015, Jan. 9). The Disney Movies You Grew Up with Are Incredibly Racist. Retrieved from: http://www.vh1.com/news/310/racist-disney-movies/

Gutierrez G. (2000) Deconstructing Disney: Chicano/a children and critical race theory. Aztlain 25: 746.

Intellectual Property Issues in Cultural Heritage Project. (2015). Think Before You Appropriate. Things to know and questions to ask in order to avoid misappropriating Indigenous cultural heritage. Simon Fraser University: Vancouver.

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