I used to call my cousin Princess. But she just turned 21, is a strong, unique, extraordinary and magnificent woman who exudes different shades of red at different times. “Princess” no longer felt like the correct term of endearment, and every time it lingered on my lips I found myself catching it on the tip of my tongue with a lasoo and yanking it back inside my mouth.
Today I watched an interview where Rolo from Vikings was speaking about his children in real life who came to play with him on set. He said “my daughter can no longer dress up as a princess without a shield and sword”. This really stuck with me.
Our image of princesses, I have decided, it warped and ridiculous. We see them as disproportioned, pretty, demure, perhaps at most slightly feisty but generally at some point always portrayed to be weak, helpless or in desperate need to be rescued by a man, whether it be from an ivory tower, some beast, an evil captor or a ravenous creature. Who knows – we may have had perspective from that tower, that beast may have been a treasured guardian, we may have been able to evade the captor ourselves and the ravenous creature may just have needed some food or we could have fought it ourselves. Men and women don’t need to do the same things – there are things men are far better at than women and vice versa. Men are generally stronger physically, that is not under debate. But that does not by default make women weak. Who knows what state the world would have been in if women characters were asked what they thought about things rather than entire plots being woven around saving them from perceived threat.
I thought I’d Google “Princess” to see what came up if a little girl had a project on Princesses and wanted some pictures. This was the very first image, and thus perhaps the most disappointing. Nothing about this image screams “REAL WOMAN” to me and it is in fact embarassing. The next set of pictures were groups of Disney princesses. Fictitious princesses, expected to be pretty, good, quiet and in need of some kind of help.
I am SICK and TIRED of these false archetypes! And thankful to shows like Vikings where a woman and a princess at that is portrayed as strong, as decisive, as a wise strategist and as a worthy, respected and revered fighter standing side by side by men. I am not saying that Vikings were perfect morally or in relation to gender, in fact quite the opposite. While there is still patriarchy for sure, and there were some clear gender roles at that time, I appreciate that the directors have chosen to empower their female characters to make gutsy calls, to make courageous ones, to make brazen ones out of pride, to stand firm, to get dirty, to be messy, to be honest, to be unapologetic for who they are, to get up after falling, to strike, to show extreme emotion, to not hide in the shadows and submit, to not give in and, poignantly, to know when to walk away. Saddest of all, I realise that I appreciated this so much in the show because it isn’t the way women are often portrayed in shows.
Perhaps I shouldn’t have stopped calling my cousin princess. Perhaps I should rather have debunked my own warped definition of what a princess is/was, and what a princess can be, and not been so influenced by Disney and Western culture spoonfeeding. My cousin is strong, disciplined, gentle, deep-thinking, loving, she commits time to those she loves, wants to contribute meaningfully to the world, is passionate, functions on many different planes, is sensitive to many forces at play in life and rises to meet challenges in her own unique way, so she is always growing – I think the title of Princess perhaps does apply. Not in submission to her but in acknowledgement of her own internal power. But I don’t know what my cousin thinks of princesses – it is likely to be what I used to think i.e closer to the Google images. That stops now. I had a Barbie once. It was summer and I cut her hair because it was hot, put sun cream on because it was sunny and when her hair didn’t grow back I threw her in my cupboard because she wasn’t real and I was thus no longer interested.
It is not about raising the next generation of women to fight with swords and shields. It is not to say that for a woman to be respected, she needs to be able to fight physically. Quite the contrary – she shouldn’t be respected any less if she can’t. Sometimes, one wise word can end a battle that no number of lives lost would be able to match. It is about raising a generation of women who know how to stand up for themselves, to fight for what they believe in, to discover their own internal power and prowess and to be proud of exactly who they are without trying to be something or someone else. We need no one to save us, nor to change us, nor to do our bidding.
I never felt comfortable with the concepts around princesses but I understand why, in the light of this pondering. Now, when I think about princesses, I no longer think just about pink fluff and tiaras, and I never will again. It is less about princesses and more about women in power and honestly confronting what we all think that looks like, and finding true role models worthy of being respected, for the right reasons. If I think about women in power, NONE of them look like Barbie, nor like Lagertha from Vikings for that matter. We find ourselves in a time where we cannot define what someone in power looks like – there are too many cultures and ideas mingling together all the time. This provides great freedom, but it means we need to check our presumptions, assumptions and cultural beliefs at the door, ready to be humbled.