I write to you from my sickbed, by which I mean the couch. Also, I’m on a whole bunch of Mucinex so if this veers off into a discussion of how pretty and sparkly my new glitter is, I apologize in advance.
So, there’s this guy. A very well-meaning father type guy with twin girls. Oh, how he clung to the idea that gender was solely socially constructed (nature + nuture, y’all), and how he valiantly struggled to protect his daughters from that most vile expression of female gender construction: the princess.
Now he’s got more princesses in his house than he knows what to do with -- too many, he says, so they’re skipping the new princess TV show, "Sofia the First."
Here comes the obligatory disclaimer: I don’t have kids, so I could be talking out of my ass. But I like kids a lot and I think they are, by and large, pretty interesting little people. And, you know, we were all kids once. So we’ve got something in common!
Something else I have in common with a whole bunch of little girls? I love princesses. I love the big ass dresses and the sparkles and the tiaras and the talking animals. And did I mention the big ass dresses? Because those might be my favorite part. If there were grownup fat people size Disney Princess costumes that weren’t of the slutty variety, I’d probably own one.
Oh, wait, I kind of do -- I already have a hoop-skirted Edwardian ballgown. If you don’t have a hoopskirt in your closet, you’re missing out on prime princess style.
It’s kind of the business right now to hate princesses, isn’t it? In fact, there’s only one toy I can think of that parents work even harder to keep out of their girl children’s consciousnesses: Barbie.
Man, Barbie Princesses must be some kind of evil vortex of social conditioning, right?
Here’s the thing though: Little girls recognize a fundamental truth. Princesses are awesome.
I understand the motivation behind people’s disdain for princesses and the whole princess marketing megashark that never stops swimming and eating all of us.
People think princesses embody all the worst qualities of socially constructed femininity. Princesses are, supposedly, obsessed with appearances. They are passively waiting for a man to come along and save them. They’re naïve and they get their power because of their desirability as trophy wives for the aforementioned man who comes along -- their prince.
That’s all valid. Critical analysis of the stories we tell our kids and ourselves is my jam, after all. You know how much I like to overthink things.
But the outright rejection of princesses because they like pretty dresses feels not only like we’re trying to reject that notion of womanhood but like we’re just hating on femmes. And I have a problem with the idea that we have to reject and indeed scorn a specific image of womanhood in order to truly be women.
Because there is no wrong way to be a woman. I know I've said that before, but I will continue to say it.
And, ultimately, while I get all the criticism of the princess trope and am willing to participate in it, I think we've forgotten a whole lot of why people like princesses in the first place. If you sit down and do your Disney due diligence, you'll find that even the commercialized and watered-down versions of these fairy tales tend to model a lot of virtues as well.
Princesses are good and kind. They make friends with the people around them -- even if those people are fish and seagulls. They get themselves in trouble because they are curious -- and they often solve their problems through teamwork.
Cinderella works hard -- she puts up with her trainwreck of a family because they are her family. Would I like to see a version of Cinderella where she tells them off and makes it on her own? Absolutely. But I also recognize the value of hard work and a positive attitude because sometimes we can't actually freak out on our bosses. The bills got to get paid.
Aurora (she's the princess in Sleeping Beauty) lives in the damn woods, y'all. That's not actually easy. And, yes, she lives in the woods with three fairies but, as the cake-baking and dress-making scene illustrates, it's not like they are particularly competent fairies. (Also, while I love her dancing around barefoot, mostly all I can think as an adult is that she would be in dire need of a pedicure.)
Tiana is working to open her own restaurant, OK? And she's doing it as a woman of color in the South in some vaguely historical time so, you know, give a princess some credit. (Also, can we talk about how little girls of color especially never get to be princesses? This is the princess shit we need to discuss.)
That guy with the daughters? He's concerned because his little girls want to be princesses. He's concerned that they don't want careers. I'm concerned because, well, his daughters are three years old and I don't think they really need to have their entire life planned out to the extent of their careers just yet.
There's also a certain class element going on here. I mean, how much of our entertainment as a nation is built on the escapism that comes with the trope of the unexpected fortune? Money might not buy happiness but when you're trying to figure out how to keep the electricity on and eat for a week, money doesn't actually buy misery.
We have this conflicted relationship with the concept of wealth in America. We want it, but we don't trust it. Little girls are smart and are perfectly capable of recognizing that a life of fancy dresses and sparkling fairies doesn't sound all bad. I mean, I'm a grownup and I love my job(s). But I'd sign up for a princess gig, absolutely.
There is nothing wrong with wanting a nice dress and someone who loves you. Rejecting that out of hand because we'd rather our little girls aspire to be doctors and judges feels like we're telling them it's wrong to fantasize about a magical life. (And, really, those princesses went through some shit, so even a magical life is not an easy one.) It feels like we're saying you can't be a princess AND a doctor. And I'm not into limiting things like that.
It's a shame those kids won't be watching "Sofia the First." Sofia is seven years old and learning what makes a real princess: what's on the inside. Sounds like a good lesson to me.