The Feminist Toy Box

buying Disney princess dress up clothes, feminism and Disney princesses, Barbie can't code without boys, So, I ordered a set of Disney princess dress up clothes for my daughter.

I hesitated over the image on my phone screen for a while, wondering about the implications of a feminist mother purchasing princess gear – Disney princess gear, no less – for her daughter. I began justifying it all in my mind. My little girl loves dressing up. We already have dress up stuff for small fire fighters, police officers, astronauts, train conductors and what have you. She doesn’t know the stories yet and I can still imprint different ideas for what “princess” means on her. Right? RIGHT?

I finally ordered them because of one burning reason: I would have killed for dress up costumes like that when I was a kid.

Not long after I hit “purchase” on the silky little dresses, there was a minor disturbance in the feminist parenting force when Mattel released a story book that had Barbie as a video game designer – one who needed some guy friends to do the coding on her game for her. Why can’t Barbie code? I have no idea. Maybe because her fingers are fused together? Or her boobs block her view of the keyboard? The whole story was another strike in the long list of negatives against Barbie and her unrealistic body image and reputation for encouraging girls to care more about their looks than their minds.

My mom didn’t want me or my sister to have Barbies. Not because Barbie couldn’t code (coding wasn’t a thing in the early 80s – in those days Barbie was still working as a flight attendant or veterinarian.) but because there was no chance on earth that either of us was going to look like Barbie when we grew up. Our gene pool simply wouldn’t allow for it, even if the limits of the human form did. For the longest time, she held fast to the no-Barbie ideal until we got Barbies as birthday gifts from friends. The advent of Barbie joining our universe must not have been that big a deal because I remember so little about the dolls and what we did with them. I do know that at some point my mother explained why she didn’t want us to have Barbies in the first place and I’ve never forgotten that.

We did have unfettered access to princesses as kids. I remember having an LP of the music from Disney’s Cinderella, though my mom doesn’t recall that. She only remembers reading her own Cinderella storybook with us. She and I, however, both recall vividly a day when I was about 14 and we hit the mall to get a second piercing in my left ear, which was all the rage back then, followed by a trip to see a re-release of Disney’s Cinderella in the theater. What neither of us remembered about the movie was Cinderella’s entrance to the ball. The ballroom opens out onto a terrace, which is where Cinderella ends up after the mice-turned-carriage-horses dropped her off. She then wanders in circles on the terrace, unable to find the ball that was happening literally right behind her. My mom leaned over to me and whispered “I think Cinderella is a doofus.” We still laugh over the daft princess unable to see the party happening right over her shoulder.

So, here I sit. A forty-one-year-old feminist who was once denied Barbies while being told the story of Cinderella. Later I got to have Barbies and laughed as poor Cinderella blew it by being too dumb to find her way in to the party. What does it all mean? Are Barbies bad or good? Are princesses magical or decidedly not? What lessons did I learn from them all?

Or…did the lessons I learned not come from Mattel and Disney at all? In the end, it was never about Barbie or Cinderella. It was always about my mother sitting with me and telling me why she did what she did, thought what she thought. It was that at 14, she was taking me to get the second piercing in my ear and laughing with me at the movies. The dolls and the fairy tales only mattered as much as they gave my parents an entry point into explaining the world to me.

I’m giving my daughter Disney princess dresses for Christmas this year. I’m also giving her the kind of mother who talks to her honestly about women and the world. I think I know which will matter more in the long run.

Rebekah Kuschmider is a D.C. area mom with an over-developed sense of irreverence, socialist tendencies, a cable news addiction, and a blog. Rebekah has an undergraduate degree in theater and Master’s in Arts Policy and Administration and a decade of experience managing arts organizations and advocating in the public health sector.  Rebekah also blogs about her life, her thoughts, and her opinions at She was voted one of the Top 25 Political Mom Blogs at Circle of Moms. Her work has also been seen at,, Redbook online, and the Huffington Post.

To schedule an interview with Rebekah contact her at

Image via Wikimedia Commons/CC License

  • I am supposed to be cooking Thanksgiving dinner (ours is a day late). Instead I took a break and saw you in the Midlife Women Friday share and had to read your article. I so agree and love the last paragraph. Great post and wise thoughts.


  • Ozge

    If your daughter is only into the looks of the dress, it is not a problem. People can love sparkling stuff 🙂 But if she starts to think how she looks is the most important thing (as it is coded to all the princess’ minds) then there is a problem And again, if she is into the story behind them, always being rescued by men etc, that is another problem, too. But I believe that you, as a feminist mother, can successfully prevent these codes before being encoded to her mind. Or successfully de-code them 😉

  • Lori

    This is exactly how I raised my daughter. She wanted every princess dress, so I bought them for her. Now, she is a staunch feminist (like her mom) who is majoring in Women’s Studies to be a journalist and report on women’s issues (just like her mom).
    Being a role model is the best example!!!

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