The Princess Paradigm Lives On

By Lisa Bennett, NOW Communications Director

OK, I confess: I watched the first hour or so of coverage of the royal wedding this morning. Yes, I wanted to see the bride’s gown and all the hats and the excited crowds. It was like eating a big piece of cake with extra frosting. Tasty, yet nauseating, and now I feel guilty.

But seriously, what is it about royalty, and about princesses in particular? Long after one would think that monarchy holds any meaning to a child growing up today, the dream of being a princess is still being sold, successfully, to girls. And lovely Kate Middleton just gave the princess industry a major boost. To hear the TV announcers slobber over how she would enter the church a commoner and leave a princess, to hear them go on about the tiara and the carriages and the curtseying. Who needs the Brothers Grimm and Disney when you have this giant commercial?

Some of the lure is obvious, and it fits in with our society’s general worship of fortune and fame. Clearly, a princess is rich and doesn’t want for anything. How nice it would be not to have to worry about doctors’ bills or the price of gas or how much those boots cost. You don’t have to work or do chores. If you want to throw a party, you have a whole staff that can make it happen. Life is just less messy (in the literal sense, not so much in the larger sense, as we’ve seen).

And people revere you. Who wouldn’t want to get automatic R-E-S-P-E-C-T. Heck, your face is on plates and mugs. You are the ultimate famous person — famous for, um, just being you. The royal version of you, of course.

But the desire for wealth and notoriety is universal and could appeal to men as well as women. So, where does the track veer off into feminine stereotype-land? Where it always does, of course. In the departments of appearance and behavior. It doesn’t much matter how a prince looks (it doesn’t hurt if he’s considered good looking, of course, but it’s not critical to the story). A princess, however, is supposed to be pretty, and she should do her best to look, dress and act the part.

Perhaps even more important than the genetics of conventional beauty is the princess’s adherence to etiquette. She should be genteel, graceful, proper. If purity is too much to ask these days, she should at least seem untouchable. Kate has managed to walk the fine line of being sexy (remember the see-through outfit she was modeling when she supposedly first caught Will’s eye?), but in a presumably classy, non-threatening way.

And don’t forget, the princess is nothing if not a symbol of heterosexual longing fulfilled through a traditional marriage. She got herself a prince, after all — isn’t that what all girls should want? Taking things to the logical next step, just moments after the wedding, the talking heads on NBC were already speculating about how soon the bride might start producing children.

When will women be freed from the extra standard of flowing locks, trim waists, demure smiles, wishing and hoping for that ring someday, being inspected for possible baby bumps? The princess myth might be unattainable for 99.99% of women, but all the trappings can be had, to a certain degree, for the right price and a measure of sacrifice.

It’s just a fantasy, right? What’s the harm? The harm is that through this narrative, gender roles and expectations are sold to little girls every day — girls who could be encouraged to go after so much more and to discover their true selves.

Diana herself blossomed into a remarkable person, but along the way she struggled with an eating disorder, left her prince, and, like other women in the public eye, her life ended tragically and far too soon. The princess paradigm should have died with Diana, but it’s not too late to give it a final send off in honor of all the Kate-wannabees.

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