Ten famous women as Disney Princesses: So what?

An artist's satirical take on the princessification of girls is getting lost in social media world, but the rush to judgment may be premature Photo: Associated press

WASHINGTON, November 12, 2013 — Last week, cartoonist, David Trumble, got renewed attention over his sketches of 10 famous women in history as Disney princesses. The princessified images of US Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Harriet Tubman, Marie Curie and Rosa Parks, among others, were first unveiled in a May 2013 Huff Post article. 

Trumble has said he created the satirical images  in response to uproar of the “princessification” of young girls after Disney updated the Pixar cartoon character Merida from the movie Brave to be prettier.  Trumble said he wanted to show that there was no need to give all the princesses the same doughy eyed, wide mouthed and big buxom look, neither have all of them the same size and wearing the same glittery dresses.

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Why do we need to turn them into princesses in the first place to prove this point?

The images from Trumble’s Spring’s release are getting a second life and being circulated again this fall, and more widely in social media.

Only this time, they aren’t always attached to Trumble’s initial satirical commentary. When he first released the sketches, next to each image was a criticism by Trumble of how society downplays the feats for which the woman portrayed are most noteworthy, and instead steers girls to focus on their outward appearance and the sparkle in their dress.

“Princess Susan B. Anthony! Being a suffragette doesn’t mean she can’t look her best,” he jabbed. Of Malala Yousafzai, the 16-year old girl shot by the Taliban for advocating for the education of girls, he poked, “She risked all for what she believed in, for education and equality for young girls everywhere! But never mind that…look! Sparkles!”

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But all of that snark has lost its way in our social media world of sharing.

Now, most people seeing the Rosa Parks figure, for example, all prissyed up in a debutante dress are oohing and aaahing at how pretty she looks. They are proud, and applauding the sight of this noteworthy woman being turned into a princess, and in the process, totally missing the point.

Trumble says some wanted the illustrations to be made into actual dolls that could be marketed. Trumble explains that he isn’t against the idea of a princess, however he believes there should be a lot more selection to choose from. “So that was my intent,” Trumble said. ‘to demonstrate how ridiculous it is to paint an entire gender of heroes with one superficial brush.” 

Courtesy David Trumble

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Given what has been written in the past  over the princessification of young girls, there are a couple ways to approach Trumball’s efforts.

First, acknowledge that Trumble’s permeations of these women is still a dumbing down of these girls and women by presenting them as princesses to begin with.

Who says a woman has to be royalty to be considered noteworthy? Also, for little girls to want to know more about them, why must they be donning brightly colored poofy dresses? Where did we all go wrong as a culture? His figures are also sexualized. Several men stumbling on the articles about the cartoons have asked in the comments, “whose the hot one in the shorts on the floor”, for example

Well there you have it. Jane Goodall’s decade’s worth of work is all but ignored when she is packaged in a pair of hot shorts and squatting on the floor looking seductively into the camera.  Many do not react to the writing or caption attached to an image but directly to the visual stimuli alone and that is the danger. An artist cannot control the way his art is perceived by audiences.

Dressing these important figures up as ladies-in-waiting puts the focus on how they look and their physical appeal more so than the deeds they did that make them historical in the first place.

Even if not fitting under a certain look as Trumble claims, each woman in his renditions still have sparkles and big bright eyes and are all wearing lipstick and sticking themselves out to be judged on their dress and outward appearance. A flask or a flower in the hand doesn’t add much to explain their contributions to society.

It would be different, perhaps, if women known for their looks and business savvy were portrayed as princesses. Like say super models Kimora Lee Simons, Heidi Klum, Tara Banks and Iman, who, like Jessica Simpson, for example switched from being sex symbols to being owners of several successful businesses ventures.

But Holocaust victim Anne Frank and abolitionist Harriet Tubman?

In another vein, little girls do love dolls and Disney and all things frilly and pink and sparkly. 

Perhaps if this is one of a few ways to get young girls to pay attention to these women of value, then perhaps it is what needs to be done. Perhaps.

Certainly, this could turn out to be like another unpredictable success like the relatively recent experiment for low income kids.

Several people shunned early efforts to use rap and hip hop music to teach math and other subjects to struggling inner city and urban school kids. Over time, there has been several anecdotes and quantifiable output showing that the CDs do and have worked to improve test scores in critical school districts.

At the start of the millennium,  Silver Spring, Maryland-based music producer David Printis Sr, his son D.J. and nephews Alonzo Powell and Everett Roundtree could be see peddling math rap CDs out of the trunk of a car.  Printis created Multipication Hip Hop to help kids learn how to multiply. Printis, a music producer and owner of De-U records, told NPR in 2006 that he grew up watching School House Rock cartoons on TV and wanted to emulate that to get kids to learn their math tables.

“Multiplication has always been kind of tough for kids,” Printis tells NPR’s Bob Edwards. “It was tough for me when I was a kid. This [CD] just makes it an easier way for them to grasp it. They just listen to it. You know how kids are. They just listen to the same thing over and over anyway. So why not something like this that’s going to give them a positive result?”

Around that time elementary school teacher Karen Kunkel created her own CD “Multiplication Hip-Hop” and saw comprehensive test scores raise from 23% to 72% for math proficiency within a year and credited the CDs influence for the jump. 

And in Pittsburgh, one educator, Chuck Herring, produced his own line of CDs to teach children about adjectives, “I saw how my kids knew all the words to Tupac, Wu-Tang, Biggie,” Herring told the Chicago Tribune in 2003,  “But they didn’t know what an adjective was! So I came up with a little ditty about adjectives.”

Critics, such as one educator in a 1999 bulletin board community, responded to reports about universities experimenting with rap to teach, saying rap and hip hop are bad role models, the approach is racially divisive and untested, and used inner city children as guinea pigs.

But he was wrong. They all were.

Around 2005, San Diego teacher Alex Kajitani became known as The Rappin’ Mathematician and his method of using rap to teach earned him the 2009 California Teacher of the Year award, and a top 4 finalist for National Teach of the Year. California Teacher of the Year award.

And today, there are several companies, like Flocabulary, Learning Wrap Up, Songs That Teach,   including several corporate ones that use rap and hip hop music in their education CDs. Even the videos on popular websites created by McDonald’s, Disney’s Choo Choo Soul and other companies use rap to teach concepts to all children, not just inner city or urban ones.

So while it may be cringe-worthy to some to see distinguished women in history drawn in cinched waist ball downs and  painted-on full lashes, it could be a worthwhile trade off if in the end, more girls getting interested in their feats of greatness.

What may be more noteworthy is what this photographer mom did for her 5-year old: dress her up and photograph as famous women in history: Amelia Earhart, Coco Chanel, Susan B Anthony, Helen Keller and Jane Goodall.

Now that’s a great way of teaching little girls women history.


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Jeneba Ghatt
Jeneba Jalloh Ghatt is a former journalist turned lawyer turned citizen journalist. Currently, she manages her boutique communications law firm, where she has represented small businesses and nationally-recognized civil and consumer rights organizations before the United States Supreme Court, federal courts and the FCC. She also covers the White House and US Congress for the online news site Politic365.com while authoring her own influential blog JenebaSpeaks.com which is frequently accessed by top policy makers and think tanks, and the investment community. JenebaSpeaks.com focuses on the intersection of politics and technology and reports on policies and rules in the communications and tech sector.
Before opening her law firm, The Ghatt Law Group, which was the first communications firm owned by women and minorities, Jeneba regulated Comcast and Starpower as the Assistant General Counsel for the District of Columbia's Office of Cable Television and Telecommunications, and at one point was the only communications regulatory attorney in the entire city. She is founding member and policy chair for a new trade association, the National Association of Multicultural Digital Entrepreneurs and provides advice and counsel to new businesses in the tech industry, particularly small businesses owned by women and minorities.

Born in Sierra Leone, West Africa, but raised in the United States by her Catholic mom and Muslim dad, she started her college career creating web content for one of the earliest websites in history while working part time for the University of Maryland's Office of Technology. Following her graduation from the Catholic University of America, Columbus School of Law, she founded and co-wrote one of the earliest blogs and since then has gone on to found and author six different widely read and influential blogs. She was one of only 22 writers and bloggers to attend the first White House summit for African American media.
She holds a Certificate in Communications Law Studies from Catholic; a Juris Doctor from there as well, and a Master of Law in advocacy degree from the Georgetown University Law Center where she first taught and lectured as a Staff Attorney and Graduate fellow at that law school's Institute for Public Representation. She later went on to teach Media Law at the University of Maryland at College Park and guest lecture at Yale Law School and Penn State University, College of Telecommunications. She is well skilled and versed with social media and manages several Twitter, Facebook, Linked In accounts and groups.
She sits on the board of several non profits and trade associations.

Contact Jeneba Ghatt


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