By Stephanie Cole
There is no doubt that a manufactured concept of the term “princess” has been a primary tool of our current culture’s limiting construction of girlhood. I’m sure any parent can attest that a multitude of pink “princess” shirts, poufy dresses, and the ubiquitous Disney Princess product line are impossible to avoid as one navigates the world with a little girl. The popular princess is passive, saccharine, and never participates in an activity that would ruin her perfect hair. Her primary goal is to marry a prince.
As a result of this image, many feminists have chosen to reject princesses entirely. The vocal negative reaction to the fact that the upcoming and generally badass looking Pixar film “Brave” stars a princess is evidence enough of that. I would like to present an alternative. We have chosen to not allow the media’s perversion of what “sexiness” is to make us reject sexuality. Instead, we have raised a call to “take sexy back.” Let’s apply that attitude to this issue. I would like to encourage all feminists to step up and take princess back!
The first step is to try to forget for a moment what the media has told us a princess is. A princess is simply the daughter of a king or high ranking royal, or the wife of a prince. As a result, she is a woman in a position of relative, sometimes considerable political power. Mining history can be very helpful if we want alternative princesses to present to little girls.
The amazing Vietnamese Trung sisters, who led armies against Chinese imperialism around 40 AD, were royal women, technically princesses. Mongol princess Khutulun was a warrior and formidable political power, and Queen Elisabeth I, one of the most powerful female rulers in history, was born a princess. Our culture never emphasizes the power a princess can wield, but we feminists should take a cue from the Trung sisters and rebel. I’m sure they didn’t care about their hair while riding elephants into battle.
And we need not rely on history alone. Fiction offers many awesome princesses who can serve as fantastic role models for young girls. The Disney Princess line tends to royally irk me, as it is guilty of some serious character assassination. Mulan is, first of all, not a princess, and she would feel completely uncomfortable in the ultra feminine role that marketers have placed her in. The more recent Tiana, though she technically marries a prince, would also not enjoy tea parties and poufy dresses.
But we need not rely on Disney for fictional princesses. The genres of myth, legend and fantasy often concern themselves with royalty, not because it’s cliché, but because it’s part of the vocabulary of mythic narrative. So Pixar’s decision to have a princess lead its feminist fantasy is understandable. Myth and fantasy are perfect places to find great princesses.
The amazing Hayo Miyazaki gives us the awesome Princess Mononoke (“Princess” in this case, being a term of respect rather than a royal title.) My sister and I recently weathered out Hurricane Irene with a Lord of The Rings marathon, where we were reminded of the very cool Elvin princess Arwen and the unbelievably awesome Eowyn. And I can defiantly attribute my early feminist inclinations to the fact that I became a full blown Star Wars geek at age seven. I had to be convinced to watch Star Wars with the promise that it featured a princess. I was surprised to find that Princess Leia dressed practically (save for that gold bikini moment. No comment), had no problem ordering men around, and happily lead the way in combat situations. I am not embarrassed to admit that as a child, I played dress up as Leia instead of Cinderella.
The sexism that pervades our media and culture constantly tries to convince women that their roles and options are limited. The limited definition of princesses is a perfect example. For many of us, their efforts seem to have worked. Instead of accepting that a princess must be a pretty, passive airhead who should be rejected by feminists, let’s spread the word that princesses, like all women, can be powerful. Let’s take princess back!