Can you recommend any feminist princess dolls I can buy for my 6-year-old goddaughter?
September 27, 2009 3:22 AM   Subscribe

Can you recommend any feminist princess dolls I can buy for my 6-year-old goddaughter? I don't mind getting her princesses, but they have to be awesome princesses who really are heroes in their own right! Mulan is the best of the Disney princesses, IMO, but I don't really want to give Disney my money. So far all I've thought of are Wonder Woman and She-Ra (not that I can find affordable She-Ra dolls nowadays anyway), but I worry that they won't seem 'princessy' enough for my goddaughter to really appreciate and love them. Lots of pink and fancy clothing is fine, but I want to show her princesses who save the prince (or don't need one, or ditch him for another princess, or whatever) and kick ass on their own. Any suggestions?
posted by mythomane to Society & Culture (37 answers total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
I don't mean this entirely in jest, but does anyone still make Xena action figures? For all of its cheese (and, alas, violence), the Xena character was pretty kick-ass and certainly wasn't there to be a doormat. On the other hand, she spent a lot of time beating people up...perhaps not what you're looking for. Plus it has been almost a...decade? Yeesh.

Yeah, OK, I used to watch Xena.
posted by maxwelton at 3:52 AM on September 27, 2009

Barbie and the Three Musketeers is basically what you're looking for, if you can stomach purchasing Barbie products. From what I can gather, they have big floofy ball gowns, the skirt of which you pull off and use as a cape, and tiaras that drop down onto the face to form masquerade masks. The gist of the tie-in CG movie is that a girl wants to go to Paris become the first girl musketeer, and conveniently finds three other girls who all want the same thing. Some training montages and whatever later, they have to join together and save the Prince. Not bad, really.

This is what I get for watching too much tv!
posted by Mizu at 4:10 AM on September 27, 2009 [4 favorites]

The nearest things I can think of in terms of vaguely feminist dolls, mass market, are Moxie Girls - but they're still all 'passion for fashion'.

As a child I liked Jem dolls, because they were independent and musicians. Perhaps something similar would be cool? Girls with cool jobs, not girls who just go shopping all day.
posted by mippy at 4:11 AM on September 27, 2009

the powerpuff girls aren't princesses, per se - but get her a couple dvds with the doll/plush/pillow version of the girls and i'd guess she'd have a blast.
posted by nadawi at 4:23 AM on September 27, 2009 [1 favorite]

I can't recommend a doll, but along with one why not get her the book Paper Bag Princess by Robert Munsch. It has a wonderful feminist message.
posted by trigger at 4:32 AM on September 27, 2009 [3 favorites]

I don't know about dolls but check out the books "Cinder Edna" by Ellen Jackson and "The Paper Bag Princess" by Robert Munsch.
posted by winston at 4:34 AM on September 27, 2009 [1 favorite]

Seconding Paper Bag Princess. It's great.

For a 6 year old: just buy a box of used barbies and/or miscellaneous dolls at a yard sale. Our kids love them, and their play is not biased towards any stereotypical sex roles. You can get 20 times as much for the money; you won't be giving the corporations your money and you'll be saving things from the landfills.
posted by DarkForest at 5:25 AM on September 27, 2009 [1 favorite]

Sailor Moon and her peers aren't exactly feminist, but they do battle against evil on their own. And they're just the most obvious of the various magical girl franchises from manga and anime, most of which are not shy about having Ć¼ber femmes, femmey butches and plenty of romance and girly stuff along with the female heroes actually doing their own heroics for the most part.
posted by ursus_comiter at 5:35 AM on September 27, 2009 [1 favorite]

If you'd like some more feminist-princess books to consider, these two are fabulous for a 6 yr old:
*Princesses are not Quitters" by Kate Lum and
"Kate and the Beanstalk" by Mary Pope Osborne (Not a princess, but still a cool fairy-tale hero. And Osborne is in much better form here than in the Magic Treehouse books, in my opinion).

Also: what's amazing to me is that if girls have a wide enough range of stories in their heads, you'll see that *any* doll that is not overtly coded as frail or weird-sexy (like the awful bratz) becomes an interesting and potentially feminist character when they come alive in dramatic play...
posted by keener_sounds at 5:37 AM on September 27, 2009 [2 favorites]

It is kind of a stretch for "princess" but the vinyl Madeline dolls show a little girls body in normal proportions (with appendix scar!) and the books are about a fiesty little girl. Her Anne of Green Gables doll came with the same personality (she had seen the tv show - the books were too old for her at 6). She also has a paperbag princess doll but didn't play with it very much. Also, at that age, I got my daughter an audiobook of "The Princesses of Bamarre" by Gail Carson Levine which is about a timid princess that gets the courage to leave her castle and use her smarts and srength to fight dragons and monsters to save her sister. My daughter would then use generic barbies to reenact the book. She also used various generic puppets and the little Scheich figures with the same feminist story (plus they have female shadow elves that are clearly powerful).

The Barbie movies (except for the horrible tweenie Barbie Diaries movie) have positive messages for girls with hardly a word of fashion. I haven't used them but I have heard the American Girls dolls have stories of strong girls. I get where you are coming from - I've tried to instill the idea that girls are powerful to my daughter too, but a doll alone (even with muscles) is not as effective as an accompaning story that gives her a starting place for her own stories.
posted by saucysault at 5:50 AM on September 27, 2009

You don't like Disney, but my wife and I feel exactly the same as you and we like Belle of Beauty and the Beast.
posted by monkeymadness at 6:16 AM on September 27, 2009

Ahem...Not only did I watch Xena, but I collected the action figures. I'm sure I have an extra. MefiMail me if you'd like it for your goddaughter.

Also, this doesn't entirely answer your question, but if you're really stuck for ideas, you can do what we did with our daughter. We shied away from dolls, and just went with stuffed animals. She played with them the same way she would have played with dolls/Barbies - mostly creating elaborate stories involving magic and heroines and saving the day. The few dolls or figures she was given as gifts became mostly passengers on flying unicorns or drivers of horse trailers.

Good luck. And don't worry if you really can't find something suitable for both your tastes. In the long run, it doesn't really matter too much to kids. They will play the way they will play.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 6:33 AM on September 27, 2009

Joan of Arc?
posted by fire&wings at 6:54 AM on September 27, 2009

Depending on your budget, little girls love American Girl dolls, and they are designed to reinforce relatively good messages about independence, character, self-reliance, etc. The dolls are about $100, but you're in for more if it becomes the kid's thing. All the dolls have books that tell stories that are basically about being of good and strong character.

If you have to go the princess route, though, don't sweat it so hard. It's a phase. It won't turn your goddaughter into a simpering courtesan. She'll probably rip the clothes right off the Barbie anyway.

Hills, dying thereupon, and all that.
posted by fourcheesemac at 6:57 AM on September 27, 2009 [3 favorites]

Not quite feminist or princess, but perhaps the Lord of the Rings ladies? Eowyn, Galadriel, and Arwen.
posted by Kirjava at 7:02 AM on September 27, 2009

American Girl dolls were great for me as a kid (I was a Molly girl!) and she's just about the age to start reading the books soon--go with the historical dolls, not the "Just Like Me" ones. Seconding Xena and Sailor Moon.

But my favorite pretty girl heroine is Cardcaptor Sakura, who, in the anime (which is GREAT), is a jock (her favorite class is gym), a hero, a magical girl, and, thanks to her friend who makes all of her costumes, always stunningly dressed. Here's a doll.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 7:06 AM on September 27, 2009 [2 favorites]

I don't think the identity of the dolls actually matters very much. I'd recommend getting a few "adult" dolls (I'm thinking of barbie, but anything will do) and a slew of little girl dolls. When I was a kid it was Annie dolls (this was the early 80s) and Strawberry Shortcake Dolls. We only had three Annie dolls (which were perfectly proportioned to be the kids of Barbie dolls), but the Strawberry Shortcake dolls had extremely oversized heads. So when an argument would ensue between an Annie doll and a Strawberry Shortcake doll, it would inevitably end with "Oh yeah? Well you've got a big head!"

We had A Marie Osmond doll along with all our barbies. Marie had a very sour look on her face, so she was always the evil headmistress or other power player. We had no idea who Marie Osmond was.

And thus: I'd focus on getting kid dolls. All our best stories revolved around the kids. My sister used to use washcloths and books to make rooms (carpets and walls!), so half the play was building the family house. Then the drama could begin. A way to encourage that is to get play furniture in the right size for the barbie doll family.
posted by Hildegarde at 7:10 AM on September 27, 2009

At her age I loved loved loved the record Free to Be You & Me, which had a princess story on it called Atalanta (a retelling of a Greek myth). It was my favorite story on the record, and I can still remember it word for word. I realize this isn't a doll - but Atalanta is a cool princess, and that might fascinate her as it did me.
posted by Miko at 7:17 AM on September 27, 2009 [2 favorites]

Not a doll, but to go with the other Gail Carson Levine suggestion, Ella Enchanted was one of my favorite books growing up. I know they made a movie of it, I don't know how good it was... But the book has a very feminist message... Ella has to fight a curse that makes her submissive to anyone, and she searches for a way to break the curse and have her free will. (I always wanted to be as badass as her when I was younger!)
posted by bluloo at 7:29 AM on September 27, 2009 [1 favorite]

Belle from Beauty and the Beast was my favorite. She's a reader.
(American Girl dolls are awesome, too. But wait until she's a few years older for them, they're 'nice' and have the pricetag to prove it.)
posted by Green Eyed Monster at 8:24 AM on September 27, 2009

No dolls, sorry, but I have another excellent princess story she might enjoy: The Princess Who Stood on Her Own Two Feet. It appeared in my childhood copy of Stories for Free Children, which was compiled by Letty Cottin Pogrebin, a founding editor of Ms. Magazine.
posted by jocelmeow at 9:02 AM on September 27, 2009

Wonder Woman and Storm are princesses who kick tons of ass with incredible superpowers, are great leaders, and regularly hold their own alongside their male peers. Do action figures count?
posted by ellehumour at 9:37 AM on September 27, 2009

You will not escape Cinderella stories as you raise your daughter. So make sure that she see EverAfter. Best fairytale telling I know.
posted by SLC Mom at 9:43 AM on September 27, 2009

Well, of the actual heroines in Disney movies, I thought Mulan was pretty kick-ass. And getting the prince certainly wasn't her goal (even if it was the happy ending).
posted by timepiece at 9:58 AM on September 27, 2009

Man, that's what I get for not reading the full question - no wonder there weren't any comments mentioning Mulan.
posted by timepiece at 10:14 AM on September 27, 2009

Princess Tutu is about a duck who turns into a girl who turns into princess tutu, who defeats her enemies using dance; she does this with the aim of restoring a prince's heart, which was shattered while fighting a giant magical raven, in a story which became reality and in which the series it set. Also the prince is a ballerina.

That said, the story is quite confusing for a six-year-old, and I don't know if you'll be able to find any dolls.
posted by Mike1024 at 10:53 AM on September 27, 2009

Seconding the idea of generic dolls that can be dressed as princesses: I think it would be brilliant to give a little girl the seeds of a playset for The Ordinary Princess, which is has elements of Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty, but twists them around. Yes, there's a prince at the end, but he's not the point of the story - the princess's path to shaping her own life is.
posted by EvaDestruction at 11:27 AM on September 27, 2009

I am going to raise any future kids on the feminist Miyazaki canon because all his heroines are such bad-asses. While I'd probably have no qualms about showing my little kid Princess Mononoke, most parents would freak at the scenes of her spitting out wolf's blood. Luckily Miyazaki just came out with a new movie that's friendlier to little kids called Ponyo, a Japanese, less-patriarchal take on the Little Mermaid story. Ponyo wears a dress (not pink, though) when she's a human. You can order her in doll format. Then take her to see the movie!

While not explicitly feminist, have you considered stories like A Little Princess, The Secret Garden, and Alice in Wonderland? All those heroines are brave, interesting and face scary challenges. In fact, why not buy her a regular princess doll but then throw in A Little Princess for you or her parents to read along with her?

Nthing Paper Bag Princess and would also suggest Neil Gaiman's new book Blueberry Girl. Also nthing American Girl Dolls. I really loved the American Girl Dolls when I was little partly because they all came with (somewhat) historically accurate books about spunky girls. The company totally ropes poor parents into dropping megabucks on furniture, outfits, accessories, etc, but I was a plenty happy 8 year-old who over-brushed my Samantha doll's hair and read all her books about suffragettes and poor factory orphans cover-to-cover. Samantha has been archived for god knows what reason, so I'd recommend Addie, Felicity, or Kirsten instead. Yes, a AG doll might be too nice for a 6 year-old, but definitely keep them in mind for future birthdays.
posted by zoomorphic at 2:07 PM on September 27, 2009 [2 favorites]

I loved American Girl dolls when I was a little older than 6, but I think I got my first one around then. As for them being nice, you can judge your goddaughter and how well she cares for her things better than we can. I cut the hair of mine and used makeup on some of them and several of them look pretty bad now, but I had a hell of a lot of fun with them. The not-so-nice looking ones ended up being the evil stepsisters, etc, when I played. The dolls are also fairly sturdy, or at least they were around ten years ago.

If your goddaughter enjoys crafts and making things at all, you can save money on the overpriced accessories by encouraging her (probably when she's older) to make her own clothes and furniture for them. That's what I did with mine- I never sewed anything, but that really didn't limit me too much. About the only thing that was hard was pants, but my dolls mostly lived in a sort of indeterminate past (anywhere from medieval to Victorian, depending on what I was reading at the time) so they mostly wore dresses. I used fabric remnants and especially my mom's old clothes to make the clothes- you could get a lot of mileage from a Goodwill type store, buying anything ugly and cheap but made of interesting fabric. It was a pretty good exercise in creativity and a good way to use pretty candy tins, ribbon from packaging, etc. It also meant I could create my own story lines and worlds for my dolls, so they could be princesses, nomads, scullery maids made good, go to boarding school, own their own store- anything and everything.
posted by MadamM at 2:10 PM on September 27, 2009

Re Mulan, my daughter will tell you she is not a princess anyway, she is a MILITARY GENERAL who KICKS ASS and is therefore way cooler than some old princess. Forget not giving money to Disney, it's a lost cause. I vote for Mulan.
posted by nax at 2:11 PM on September 27, 2009 [1 favorite]

I am going to raise any future kids on the feminist Miyazaki canon because all his heroines are such bad-asses.

That's what I'm doing. Not Mononoke yet, because there's a lot more gore than just the wolf blood, but there's NausicaƤ of the Valley of the Wind (in our house she's The Buggy Princess) and Ponyo. (The Goldfish Princess) Sadly, there's not nearly enough Miyazaki merch available.

Also, another vote in favor of The Paper Bag Princess.
posted by lekvar at 2:21 PM on September 27, 2009

Also a fan of Storm of the X-Men.
posted by mazienh at 2:55 PM on September 27, 2009

While not explicitly feminist, have you considered stories like A Little Princess

Oh Yes.

I fell in love with the book when I was 7. I must have read it a hundred times. It's such a wonderful story about a little girl who lost her father and is put to hard maid's work to earn a meager keeping. She uses her imagination and her one gift left from her father, a doll (named Emily I believe) to keep her spirits up.... and then there is a happy ending.

And then get her a doll, like a Cabbage Patch or something, that looks similar to either the heroine or her doll. It will encourage her imagination and make her happy.

Man. I haven't read that book in ages. I should dig it out.

If you decide you don't mind going with Disney, I would agree that Mulan is kickass, but Jasmine is my favorite of the conventional Disney princesses. I believe she was the first non-white Disney princess, but more importantly to me, the first (only?) one to wear pants. She keeps a tiger as a pet, and does her own thing. She spends most of the movie trying to get out of marrying the prince.
posted by Night_owl at 4:59 PM on September 27, 2009





action figures
posted by legotech at 10:49 PM on September 27, 2009

Take a look at the "Little Thinkers" line from The Unemployed Philosophers Guild.

They've got some choice dolls like:
Jane Austen - in a pink frilly dress no less!
Queen Elizabeth I
Florence Nightingale
posted by mrsshotglass at 7:12 AM on September 28, 2009

Rapunzel's Revenge - "This graphic novel retelling of the fairy-tale classic, set in a swashbuckling Wild West, puts action first and features some serious girl power in its spunky and strong heroine." (Booklist)

Hmmm. Grade 5 and up - maybe not for a six-year-old.
posted by timepiece at 1:01 PM on September 29, 2009

Response by poster: Thank you, everyone! She already has and loves the Paper Bag Princess book (and other great ones by the same author) and has seen some of Princess Tutu, actually. I really appreciate all the other great books recommendations on top of the toy ones!

I took her out to see Ponyo yesterday, and we had a great time. She was really into it. Ordered her some Ponyo toys today, so we'll see how that goes!

Thanks for all the wonderful help!
posted by mythomane at 1:52 PM on October 5, 2009

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