who wants to be a princess?

  • 10

who wants to be a princess?

Not me. No thank you! Even the modern day ones (sans corsets and impractical dresses) have lives that I just could not ever possibly want. Forget wandering down to the market for a nice block of cheese and some tomatoes, and eating picnics in the park with your family.

If you put on a bit of weight you’re gonna be hounded by the media, and you’d better watch every word that passes your lips for fear of it becoming a headline and/or a foreign-affairs disaster.

People say that little girls want to be princesses, as if they’re hard-wired that way.elena's favourite jacket

Elena’s favourite coat is not the pink one. Shock horror.

That’s just rubbish. Little girls (and little boys) want to be loved and accepted by their peers and their parents and whoever else they know and love. Part of this includes wanting to look a particular way – and in most societies girls who look like princesses are more likely to be loved and accepted.

Which is just awful. But there it is. No one’s surprised. The trick to love and acceptance, if you have a vagina, is to look a particular way. A couple of people might care that you’re kind or talented or whatever, but basically, priority number one is appearance.

Though god knows what a princess looks like. Or should I say, Disney knows what a princess looks like.

disney knows

I haven’t seen frozen and I’m sure it does wonders for the whole pretty-but-useless trend. Well done, but whatever.

Why do girl heroes have to be princesses? Don’t we all agree that democracy is the goal here? It’s problematic, sure. But not as problematic as a monarchy.

I managed to explain this to a bunch of post-lunch-lethargic fourteen year-olds so it can’t be that complicated. Democracy is the goal of governments seeking to protect human rights. Monarchy, while it remains a valued, perhaps important, symbol, is not what we are aiming for.

I saw a great tweet just now:

 


(LOTR = Lord of the Rings. ST:TNG = Star trek: The next generation)

 

Nice, eh? But tea and holograms aside, I think we can all agree that power should not be used by half a dozen royals and no one else. So we can agree than little girls (and boys) probably shouldn’t be aiming to become actual monarchs.

Just powerful.

But really? People who seek power first and foremost, at least in all the stories I can think of, usually turn out to be the villains.

I’m going to get off the soap box now (partly because Elena is wearing disney princess sneakers to nursery), but I can’t be the only one baffled (and angry, yes) about this fixation.

Wearing a dress can be problematic.

 

 


10 Comments

Seth

June 3, 2014 at 1:10 am

I think there are other reasons for the Princess theme that perhaps laudable. (Warning: affluent white male opinion approaching)

First, A princess is special not for any reason that her birth – it thus becomes a metaphor for unconditional love, monarchy is non-negotiable, it is who you are, not what you do. Thus, had a I daughter she would my princess in that figurative monarchy is a vestment of value that she cannot remove. The old political theorists had the doctrine of the “kings two bodies” which was that the king had a mortal body, but also another body that represented his sovereignty. Princess language vests the daughter with this other body, and secures the relationship as important, powerful and familial. The language of monarchy is the language of value based solely in blood, there should be an overlap between it and the language of family.

Second, the daughter while “venerated” in this figurative sense is not rendered sexually available by the language. This is important. Care must be taken not to sexualize the language with which children are lauded. The princess is beautiful and powerful without being sexually available – like a lover, or bewitching – like a fairy. Most of the methods that literature uses to extol the powers of feminine beauty are wholly inappropriate to a parent child dynamic. (Daughters should not be intoxicating, for example.) The language of princess strikes a balance, beauty can be praised, but praised from the position of servant, knight of the realm, rather that suitor.

My mother had a friend that didn’t send her daughter to kindy because they were “too close as friends” to do without each others company, even for a morning. When my mother asked what they did together in the mornings she said they watched Ellen, My Kitchen Rules and Home and Away. I assume the last sentence caused some discomfort. The point is that even the standard models of adult friendship when applied to our children is detrimental. We have to be careful to render to relationship as one of disinterested service. Princess language helps to this end.

Third, the language ironically mocks the power dynamic of early childhood. What we call parenthood, and especially motherhood, in the early years, is basically a life of servitude. Giving the child and executive title is funny. In the perverse status-seeking consumerism of princess commodities this comedy has been lost. Helena is COO of your house, working in tandem with CEO Luis to get the most value out of overworked and underpaid PA Amy. It funny because it’s true. Princess language turned mum into a lady-in-waiting. It’s funny because its true.

Monarchy in the senses above IS what we are aiming for. Let me put the question this way, should be have elections to decide who your daughter is, or is there a more important bond than any civic one in play?

Looking like a princess shouldn’t matter. You are entirely correct. But the daughter of Will and Kate will be still be a royal, even if she looked, smelled and acted like a cross between a doberman and pit bull terrier. That is an important lesson to learn. One that the “disneyfication” of princesses often makes very difficult to teach.

    amy

    June 3, 2014 at 9:42 am

    Also a father of sons…

    But let me answer you point by point:

    Firstly, I do not call Louis a prince. There are any number of words and ways to show our daughters that they are loved and valued members of our families, that we want them and will always want them. Darling, beloved, we might even give daughter the same weight and worth as son. I do not need the word princess, or its stories – stories in which princesses are sometimes treated terribly by their families.

    We do occasionally call Louis, King Louis, but this is teasing him when he’s being a spoiled narcissist.
    Which brings me to your third point: I have no wish to encourage, even in jest, the kids to think they are little bosses. I am not their servant. I know this happens and on a bad day it happens here too, but it’s certainly not the goal. It’s not even the accepted norm. They put their jackets on the hook, their bags in their bedrooms, their shoes in the cupboard (perhaps more readily than their parents…) – we have to ask them to do these things, but I’m not down on my hands and knees doing these things for them. The goal is, week by week, month by month, for them to learn to be members of the family, contributing and sharing as well as grateful (not entitled and selfish) recipients of our service.

    To your second point, princesses are sexually unavailable for their childhood, but then they reach adulthood and are married off. This is usually to ultimate goal, the end of the story. Their sexual availability and ability to have children is touted as their greatest value. Yay for being able to have babies, but I’m a hell of a lot more than a baby-maker. All women are. If a woman is unable to have children she is still able to contribute to society and she should be loved and valued regardless. I know, I’m living in a fantasy world, but surely this should be the goal, even if it is yet to be a reality. Princesses and fairies are not the only options here! That said, the options are rather limited. Looking at our children’s movie collection I’m noticing that Nemo, the Monsters inc monsters, ratatouille, wall-e, simba, flash mcqueen, stuart little, elmo, thomas and hairy mclairy are all boys. Dora seems to be the exception, but just in case the boys started to feel left out, there’s Diego. Whew.

    I’m not sure what you were saying in the middle there – surely not that Elena will get on better with her peers if she plays the princess game. At this point most of her friends are boys. If she is the princess among them then that’s all kinds of limiting. If Elena wants to play princess, fine, but I will ensure she is exposed to a much wider range of characters to play at.

    I think your point was probably about putting adult relationship models on kids. Princess stories do this. The princesses in the stories are teenagers and adults. They are reaching sexual maturity and seeking a spouse. We can (Gosh, I hope so) teach kids that relationships can be about disinterested service, unconditional love, without the princess narrative. It is too unhelpful in too many other ways.

      seth

      June 3, 2014 at 10:53 am

      Firstly, I do not call Louis a prince. There are any number of words and ways to show our daughters that they are loved and valued members of our families, that we want them and will always want them. Darling, beloved, we might even give daughter the same weight and worth as son. I do not need the word princess, or its stories – stories in which princesses are sometimes treated terribly by their families.

      I don’t think you addressed at all the natural overlap between the language of monarchy and the language of family. “Darling” and “beloved” are terms of endearment and endearment is the opposite of what I was referring to. Princess refers to a non-negotiable relationship. That is a good thing. Desire is not, and never can be, a synonym for blood. If we do not use monarchy we should find some other metaphor. It is a message worth keeping.

      We do occasionally call Louis, King Louis, but this is teasing him when he’s being a spoiled narcissist. Which brings me to your third point: I have no wish to encourage, even in jest, the kids to think they are little bosses. I am not their servant. I know this happens and on a bad day it happens here too, but it’s certainly not the goal. It’s not even the accepted norm. They put their jackets on the hook, their bags in their bedrooms, their shoes in the cupboard (perhaps more readily than their parents…) – we have to ask them to do these things, but I’m not down on my hands and knees doing these things for them. The goal is, week by week, month by month, for them to learn to be members of the family, contributing and sharing as well as grateful (not entitled and selfish) recipients of our service.

      The language of monarchy mocks the initial condition of servitude. It does not make it an end goal. It esteems children while admitting that they (as yet) do nothing for themselves. Chores are a good thing, teaching independence is a good thing. But “King Louis” is a specimen of exactly the kind of tongue-in-cheek sarcasm and delight that many stories should be read with.

      To your second point, princesses are sexually unavailable for their childhood, but then they reach adulthood and are married off. This is usually to ultimate goal, the end of the story. Their sexual availability and ability to have children is touted as their greatest value. Yay for being able to have babies, but I’m a hell of a lot more than a baby-maker. All women are. If a woman is unable to have children she is still able to contribute to society and she should be loved and valued regardless. I know, I’m living in a fantasy world, but surely this should be the goal, even if it is yet to be a reality. Princesses and fairies are not the only options here! That said, the options are rather limited. Looking at our children’s movie collection I’m noticing that Nemo, the Monsters inc monsters, ratatouille, wall-e, simba, flash mcqueen, stuart little, elmo, thomas and hairy mclairy are all boys. Dora seems to be the exception, but just in case the boys started to feel left out, there’s Diego. Whew.

      Mosters Inc. is about a world of men bending over backwards to delight and protect a little girl. Wall-E is out classed by Eva in every scene they share. The female chef in ratatouille is the only non-corrupt/non-pathetic character in the entire story-line. But that is a side issue.

      The issues of sexual unavailability wasn’t addressed to the relationship between the woman and society-at-large. (Yes, women are more than baby makers and any attempt to paint them as such is misogynist and backward). My point was at once darker and more banal. Children should not be sexually available to their parents. The language of romance is ill fitted to describe a daughter as it is a language designed to seduce and woo. That is what I meant by “Most of the methods that literature uses to extol the powers of feminine beauty are wholly inappropriate to a parent-child dynamic.”

      The (admittedly murky) point I was making in the next paragraph was that while any actual sexualizing of the parent-child relationship is traumatic and catastrophic, making the bond merely fraternal or collegial is also detrimental. (Thus you watch kids movies with your children. You understand that to treat them directly as equals would be a dereliction of duty.)

      I think your first point may be the most important. Yes, I am a father of sons. But the emphasis I would put is on the first phrase. I am a father. In the (unfortunately! regrettably!) male dominated literature of the past the metaphors were drawn through male eyes. My point start-to-finish is that much of the princess language is understandable, if not laudable, when understood in terms of a father-daughter relationship. Drawing the daughter -valued-for-who-she-is, desirable, virtuous and beautiful in a carefully non-sexualized way – as a princess. Men drew those figures for good reasons. J. M. Barrie, Lewis Carroll, the Brothers Grimm, Hans Christian Anderson – these were generous men writing generous metaphors for the love of a father, or an uncle.

      We need to write the stories of the future rather than uncharitably misinterpret the stories of the past.

        amy

        June 3, 2014 at 12:32 pm

        Yes, I hope we can acknowledge that these are stories of the past, and that as such they might be from very good men, but they are from men, and men entrenched in an archaic and patriarchal way of thinking. Bring on the stories of the future.

        It is not that I cannot understand why the princess thing is popular, it is rather that I wish there were a wealth of alternatives. Yes, there are great female characters in all those stories, but none of them are the title character, the point-of-view from where the story is told. It is boys/men telling stories about the girls they like/admire/love. Again. And that in itself is not a bad thing but the balance is so very far off. And we can do better than ‘princess’.

        PS. princess is often used as a term of endearment. And most terms of endearment (probably including this one) can be turned sexual given context. If coming from a parent, I would hope, most of them don’t have that flavour.

          Seth

          June 4, 2014 at 12:58 am

          Actually, I agree with all of that. Yes, Princess is often as term of endearment, but we can agree that that is my connotation, rather by denotation. A completely unendearing person can be a princess. (And are!)

          There are a few added wrinkles to the picture that should be added for completeness.

          One, in most Early modern monarchies, all printing was done with the permission of the ruling king of queen. No sedition in print was tolerated. Thus, Princess Stories were easier to publish in early print culture. Easy to get censor’s approval on those stories. As were stories about gentry. Never attribute to malice what you can attribute to the laziness of men (and Jane Austen).

          Two, I too wish there were a wealth of other options. Full-bodied, complex female characters are interesting. We need them to be written, irrespective of the genders that write them – Austen’s Elizabeth, Hugo’s Fantine, Montgomery’s Anne (the one with the gables), Macguire’s Elphaba, Lewis’s Lucy, Rowling’s Hermione, Dahl’s Matilda even Whilte’s Charlotte (the one with the web) are a good start.

          But, we also must admit that the issue is not one of balance. The vast majority of characters of either gender in literature are boring and 2-dimensional. Clancy and Fleming can’t write an interesting male psyche to save themselves. Their men are backdrops for action sequences. Grisham’s men are vehicles for courtroom action. My point is that the issue is not the male-dominated-ness of literature. But the assumed male-dominated-ness of popular culture, and weak characterisation in almost everything. But as long as there have been novels there have been bold and interesting female characters. The novel proper started with Defoe’s Moll, and Richardson’s Clarissa and Pamela.

          amy

          June 4, 2014 at 8:07 am

          I wasn’t attributing anything to the malice of writers… Though I’m sure we can do better. Writers have agendas, but they play to gender stereotypes and tropes with or without intent. Further proof of how entrenched sexism is in our psyches.
          I suppose if I’m annoyed at any one group (Hollywood aside) it would be parents who do not think it matters. Going ahead with nicknames and stories and play and mythologies WITHOUT considering any of this. Think, people!

Wdzl

June 5, 2014 at 5:47 pm

There are many MUCH bigger problems facing girls than Disney Princesses. I have not seen any evidence that Disney/playing princess has caused any long term psychological damage to girls (or boys for that matter).

    amy

    June 5, 2014 at 6:15 pm

    Disney princesses on their own may not be responsible for psychological damage but they certainly play into some damaging stereotypes. Without boycotting princesses (and not just disney ones) surely we can broaden the roles we encourage (thoughtfully, intentionally or otherwise) our daughters to play.

      Wdzl

      June 5, 2014 at 8:08 pm

      Perhaps you are not giving our daughters enough credit.

      “A lot of parents will do anything for their kids except let them be themselves.” – Banksy

        amy

        June 5, 2014 at 8:16 pm

        Surely, by exposing her to a variety of role models, I am letting her be herself… Whatever that turns out to be! Even if she doesn’t grow up to be royal and unrealistically proportioned.

        I won’t stop her playing princess. I’m not going to encourage it, though.