Wednesday, February 09, 2011


Here's a fascinating interview with Peggy Ornstein, author of Cinderella Ate My Daughter, a book about the "every girl's a princess" marketing meme driving Disney's profits.
Another writer told me that when she got her sonogram recently, they didn't tell her, "It's a girl." They said, "It's a princess!" So now you're already a princess while you're still in the womb.
A generation ago, your mother would have been horrified at a T-shirt that said, "Spoiled." Why on earth would you want your child to be spoiled?
Let's not hear any predictable feminist conspiracy theories blaming the all-pervasive "patriarchy." Little girls will always be suckers for princess imagery. I would argue that we can make the image work for the betterment of our culture, and not just the betterment of Disney's bottom line. Parents can use "royalty roleplaying" to teach responsibility -- and to draw children away from narcissism.

Here is the one historical truism which most parents have neglected to emphasize: A princess is a political animal. Princesses and queens did not simply play dress-up; they had serious obligations.

Forgive yet another reference to the Empress Eugenie (long-time readers know about my fixation with the Franco-Prussian war), but she may serve as a useful historical point of reference. Yes, she was lovely and chic -- a real-life Disney diva. Her fashion choices affected the decisions of every affluent female on the continent.

But she also ruled France while her husband was away; arguably, even when Napoleon III was in Paris, she made many of the most important decisions. Some say she that was the true instigator of the war with Bismarck. She was no mere "girly-girl;" she was a ruler -- a role for which she had trained since childhood.

Even in exile, she kept up with political events. During World War I, the elderly Eugenie remained extremely well-informed on military affairs; her knowledge of weaponry exceeded that of most men.

She also had great sympathy for the poor. As Empress, she would visit struggling households incognito and offer financial assistance.

Eugenie's good friend Queen Victoria was another woman who wielded enormous power. If you read the correspondence between Tsar Nicholas and Tsaritsa Alexandra, you'll understand that she made many of the most important decisions. (Incidentally, people who call her the "Tsarina" are mistaken; there's no such word.)

Princess Diana provides a more recent and more admirable example. She was politically engaged, and her charitable work was inspiring.

So, parents, take Diana as your cue. Do not allow the marketers to sell an image of princesshood in which glamor is divorced from political engagement.

Tell your daughters: "You want to wear the pretty pink dresses and the sparkly tiara? Fine. But with great power comes great responsibility. Take a look at the news on TV. See all of the problems we're facing? The duty of a princess is to help solve those problems. The world is broken, and when you grow up, it'll be up to you to fix it. You start training for that job now."
Joseph, what an excellent commentary. Princesses are really political animals that are groomed to be queens. The difference is that while queens are self-possessed as you point out, princesses are merely possessed (by the prince,by her father the king, by her country). It is the conversion of this which makes one a queen. I'm waiting for the Disney version of Queen Elizabeth I or II, or the Empress Eugenie.

We're obsessed with princess-hood even in America because we still romanticize it. While in other countries who have them those who have become royalty by marriage, like Diana and Grace Kelly, learned that the responsibilities and expectations were something one had to be groomed for and without it struggled. Sometimes this grooming was not enough and the princesses became alcoholics (like Grace) while they struggled to find an identity (we all know Diana's story). Both princesses' lives ended in tragedy. I can't hope but wonder how the new princesses on the horizon will fare.

And besides that, the problem overall in USA, is that Americans in general infantilize girls and boys to sell them products. Girls wear tees saying "spoiled" because its sold to them and they think they're buying girl power. Much like how cigarettes were marketed as something else -- independence. It's just much easier to capitalize on the 'lets be perpetually young and unaccountable' because its easier to sell and oh so much more profitable (botox anyone) than selling independence. We believe on a whole that being this way -- spoiled, diva, college-boy mentality -- is the way for us to enjoy our freedom, unattached to responsibility and accountability. Adults yearn for it too because who wants the continual drudgery of alway being the parent, the responsible one? That's boring, we're taught.

And I might add, now we have a POTUS who'd rather be the little princely king, than the self-possessed hardworking queen, Hillary. Because she is an accountable hard worker who measures her discourse; he gets to pass the buck while still partying as his daily itinerary. Hillary's like our Queen Elizabeth I, and Obama daily exemplifies the Louis XVI.

And we thought Disney just affected girls.
I think this article should be sent home with the mother of every little girl born in America.
What a wonderful post, Joseph!

An aside: Grown daughter and I went to Disneyland last October, and the place was overrun with mini-Princesses. so you can imagine our delight when finally, we saw one of those little girls dressed as Maleficent!
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