For the third time in four weeks I told my daughter to put down her books and crayons and watch television.
The first time was Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s speech about misogyny. ‘That’s what a strong woman looks like, darling’ I told her. Next came Obama’s reelection acceptance speech. ‘The good guy won, sweetheart.’ And then yesterday I sat her down in front of a video of Justice Sonia Sotomayor on Sesame Street.
The first female US Supreme Court Justice from a minority background explained to Abby Cadabby that, ‘Pretending to be a princess is fun but it is definitely not a career.’
This was news to my three year old. Despite surrounding her with gender-neutral toys and censoring most princess stories — or at least subverting them — I suspect that if she were to fill out her tertiary entrance form today, her first preference would be a toss-up between Princess Studies and Fairy Spells 101.
Some people are more comfortable with little girls embracing the whole princess thing. And no, I’m not referring to the parents who feature on reality TV-fare like Toddlers and Tiaras.
No less than Naomi Wolf has weighed in to tell anxious feminist mothers like me to back off Cinders and her mates.
Wolf says that Second Wave feminists got it wrong when they banished Snow White and her sisters out of the Magical Feminist Kingdom.
Writing in the New York Times, Wolf argued ‘If you look closely, the princess archetype is not about passivity and decorativeness: It is about power and the recognition of the true self… What other female figure can command an army, break open a treasury, or even, as in images of Kate Middleton or of Diana Spencer, simply bestow, with her presence, a sense of magic, excitement and healing?’
In short, girls’ longing to be princesses is more about wanting to be powerful and less about aspiring to wear pink stuff.
I’m a big fan of Naomi Wolf, but when it comes to princesses I’m siding with the US Supreme Court. Shacking up with a prince seems to be more a labour of love than a dream job.
Our most famous real-life princesses, Kate and Mary, seem like nice enough people, but what do they do other than look pretty, smile a lot, defer to their husbands and accept flowers? Constrained by a monarchical system, their whole existence is providing womb-services and eye-candy.
Sure there are princesses who buck the trend. Diana Spencer did, but it didn’t exactly end well. Trapped between the vicissitudes of celebrity culture and an inflexible monarchy, her power was reduced to public spectacle and all the limitations that that entail
Her daughter in-law Kate is hardly faring better. She’s seen but rarely heard. Day by day she’s turning into a walking clothes rack. The recent publication of topless pictures of her while holidaying in France, contrary to Wolf’s hopes, is a truer measure of the value our culture places on princesses: she’s a bit of fluff served up for titillation and magazine sales.
And on the rare occasions we actually hear modern princesses speak, it is so innocuous and painfully practiced as to have all the interest of boiled turnip. They are the ultimate in female objectification.
Even though the odds of my daughter — or anyone’s daughter — marrying a prince are pretty slim, the aspiration to be a perfectly-accessorised doormat is worrying. The real-life version of the princess is not the fair mistress of her realm, but the trophy wife or the girl next door drowning in passivity, waiting for a man to come along a rescue her.
So sit your girls down in front of this video and tell them to listen to Abby. Because Abby is a fairy, and fairies know their sh-t.
Kasey Edwards is the best-selling author of 4 books 30-Something and Over It, 30-Something and The Clock is Ticking, OMG! That's Not My Husband, and OMG! That's Not My Child. www.kaseyedwards.com.