As clichéd as it sounds, children’s things just seem different from when I was growing up. Toys, tennis rackets, toothbrushes, everything, it seems, can be purchased in girl or boy specific colors and styles today.
The premise of the book validated my observations. Children are at the center of a huge marketing scheme aimed at getting parents to buy more. How is it done?
The author, Peggy Orenstein, explains that segmenting the children’s market causes people to think they should purchase separately at each level of a child’s development, or for each gender. The concept of “the toddler” is an example. Orenstein “assumed that phase was something experts—people with PhDs at the very least—developed after years of research into children’s behavior.” (36) Her assumption was wrong.
Instead, it “[t]urns out, according to Daniel Cook, a historian of childhood consumerism, it was popularized as a marketing gimmick by clothing manufacturers in the 1930s.” (36)
And, what’s more, “[i]t was only after ‘toddler’ became common shoppers’ parlance that it evolved into a broadly accepted developmental stage.” (36)
Enter the princess market. The princess market was developed by a savvy strategist at Disney named Andy Mooney in 2000.
[A]bout a month into his tenure [at Disney], he had flown to Phoenix to check out a ‘Disney on Ice’ show and found himself surrounded by little girls in princess costumes. Princess costumes that were—horrors!—homemade. How had such a massive branding opportunity been overlooked? The very next day he called together his team and they began working on what would become known in-house as ‘Princess.’ (13)
Within one year, princess gear sales were at $300 million. (14)
Orenstein interviewed Mooney, and his comment made me pause: “’I see girls expanding their imagination through visualizing themselves as princesses, and then they pass through that phase and end up becoming lawyers, doctors, mothers, or princesses, whatever the case may be.’” (Emphasis added.) (16)
How can Mooney be so sure that these girls will end up becoming lawyers or other professionals? After all, the fad started a mere 12 years ago, so the first wave of girls is just finishing high school and starting college.
It seems to me that Mooney is making a huge assumption about the impact, or lack of one, that this fad may be having on both girls and boys. While it’s entirely possible that he’s right, that it may have no impact at all, or that it may actually have a positive impact, what if he’s wrong? What if girls growing up heavily influenced by the princess fad never explore, or fail to explore sufficiently, less gender stereotyped roles for themselves? And, what effect will this fad have on boys’ perceptions of gender in the workplace?