Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The Princess Diaries

It has become commonplace, from “Toddlers and Tiaras” to “My Super Sweet Sixteen” to “Bridezillas” to hear young ladies declare “I’m a princess!” Since few to none of these creatures seem to actually be either hereditary royalty or the offspring of a monarch, it is left to the viewer to determine from their behavior in exactly what way these charming creatures in some other way fit the definition of “princess.”

Whether it’s “The Prince and Me,” “Princess Diaries 1&2,” “A Cinderella Story, “Ella Enchanted,” “Pocahontas,” “Mulan,” or Disney’s long-awaited black princess, princesses are everywhere. Even “Sex and the City” fits the mold in many ways; the princesses were a little long in the tooth, and the knight in shining armor took his sweet time coming to the rescue. But where, other than a fairy tale, could a woman—I mean girl—afford a Manhattan pied-a-terre and a vast wardrobe of Gucci, Prada and Manolo Blahniks on the salary of a freelance sex columnist? So what makes a contemporary American princess?

First of all, princesses (unlike queens) are young. Dewy and unthreatening, princesses do not rule, and neither exercise nor seek power other than over the people in their personal lives. Coincidentally (or not?) princesses are also “beautiful.” They always have long, flowing hair, tiny noses, pouty mouths and large, glowing, innocent- looking eyes. Even, as in “Sex and the City,” where the princesses are not young and not really beautiful, they act young, and everyone else reacts to them as if they are beautiful. A parade of princes fall at their feet week after week, as do a cascade of glass Jimmy Choos with nary a price tag in sight (princesses don’t worry about the price).

Second, and seemingly contradictorily, reality television princesses are also “bitches” and “divas.” They don’t “take sh-t.” They demand respect, but they do not give it. They are spoiled and materialistic; they love and expect expensive cars, clothes, handbags and jewelry, things; but they rarely seem to work to earn these goods themselves. Parents or boyfriends and husbands are to provide them, and if they fail, there is hell to pay. “Selfish” and “self-centered” are the terms that immediately spring to mind when one thinks of the princess.

Third, princesses are not expected to actually do or accomplish much of anything. As part and parcel of the long and gloried history of feminine passivity, princesses simply are. The sole exception to this inertia is the time, effort, and (other people’s) money invested by the princess into her appearance. Hair bleach, extensions, tanning, plastic surgery, diet drugs, cosmetics, mani-pedis, tooth whitening, clothes, shoes—the princess spares no effort or expense when the cost is devoted to her physical person. Even when the princess has children (in order to solidify her financial and emotional hold over her husband and family), their main role is to serve as outward displays of the princess’ own beauty and material achievement (the low-rent version can be seen on “Toddlers and Tiaras”). Their clothes are perfect (and expensive) and they are never mussed.

And why does the princess deserve this worshipful treatment? Because she is so lovely and special. She will bluntly declare that she looks better, IS better than the other girls. She is thinner, she is prettier, she has bigger (or has purchased bigger) breasts. She has the highest standards. Other girls are jealous. They want to be her. They wish they had her Mercedes, her Chanel bag collection, her four-caret canary diamond. If those other girls claim to have different standards, different values, to want something more substantive out of life, they are lying. They’re simply rationalizing their inability to be the princess.

The princess, has arguably become an ideal for a certain kind of young white woman. Informed by feminist concepts of choice and independence, but lacking in any real principles, such women believe strongly that they have the “right” to do whatever they choose; but have no desire to put any effort into working towards such a choice. They want both freedom and dependence, and their dream is a life free of responsibility to others. And, as strange as it may seem, those princesses deemed most attractive (e.g., Paris Hilton) manage to achieve this dream. The crème de la crème get to be famous for nothing, pursued by paparazzi and paid to attend night club openings. The rest marry anonymous rich men for money, men who often grumble about wanting women who “want me for me,” but seem to disproportionately end up with princess trophies.

However, the men who lose the princess lottery often end up bitter and frustrated. They can be found grousing on message boards about the perfidy of “American women,” and perusing mail-order bride websites. They postpone adulthood, growing addicted to an online world of perfect and compliant porn goddesses and physically remote 18 year old Ukranian and Filipina child brides. Oddly, it is not necessarily the expectation of dependence that American men seem to resent most about the princess. After all, who is more dependant than a mail-order bride--a 20-year old who may not speak the language, cannot legally work outside the home, and will be deported if she leaves your “marriage”? No, what these men resent about the princess is her expectation of both equality and entitlement. The mail-order bride, and the Asian geishas (of their fantasies, of course) to whom they now flock, will be grateful. She won’t presume to be an equal decisionmaker in your home. She won’t expect you to come home after a long days work and to help her change diapers or vacuum the living room carpets, and she certainly won’t complain that the Joneses just bought an Escalade—she probably never heard of an Escalade. Just about anything you provide will seem impressive and abundant. She knows how to take care of a man and a family. She has real values, values "American" women seem to have lost.

Certainly, the American men who are fed up with the plethora of blonde princesses sound perfectly awful. Their rage, misogyny, and resentment of women seems unreasonable, disproportionate and just plain scary. And their inclusion of ALL American women in their screeds is particularly unfair—after all, the one thing that BW in particular have NEVER gotten as a group is the opportunity to be spoiled and indulged by our men—frankly, WE have been the ones doing the spoiling. And yet, do we want to distinguish ourselves from the princesses? Don’t we DESERVE to be indulged? That’s certainly what the princesses argue.

I think the problem with this line of thinking is twofold. The first is that there are many ways to get what you deserve, and approaching potential mates with the demand that they “spoil” you is probably not the best way to ensure that they will do so. Men are notorious for preferring to make their own decisions; which is why they will happily shower a woman with diamonds and furs as long as they believe such gifts are their idea. Universally, the attributes that men seek in women (beyond physical beauty) are modesty, gentleness, sincerity, kindness and generosity. The man who actually seeks a bitchy princess is usually so insecure that he needs a glittering trophy to bolstering a sagging sense of manhood. You do not want this poor creature coming home to you every night, even if home is a 7-bedroom townhouse on the Upper Eastside—you will NEVER make him feel like enough. Self-esteem is not the same as self-aggrandizement.

Second, BW are in competition. Maybe we don’t like thinking so, but this is a reality. There are simply more men than women, and the statistics reflect that there are increasingly more women than men who are well-educated, professionally employed, and actively seeking marriage and family—this is in every race. In a competition, you play to your advantages—and if one of our advantages is that we possess many of the traditional feminine qualities that men find attractive, despite the stereotypes that say otherwise, why would we try to adapt to a role that men find distasteful and that is not part of who we really are? I just read an article in this months Marie Claire which expressed alarm about the number of ultra-rich white moguls marrying Asian trophy wives—though reluctant to express it, many WW are running scared. And yet on every reality show, there is always the token BW with a tiara perched on her head proclaiming herself a “princess” or a “diva,” and making a spectacle of herself—and being judged much more harshly for it than the WW doing the exact same thing, of course. You know, just because WW do something doesn’t mean that we have to model it. Their way isn’t always the right way—clearly, even WM don’t think so. We need to learn to recognize what our own advantages are, and work them!

26 comments:

daphne said...

Love, love, love this post. I don't watch much TV nowadays, so I'm admittedly out of the loop on much of the pop culture. I know enough to be familiar with what you're referencing in the post.

Nevertheless, I appreciate what you did in your analysis - encouraging balance in our femininity. I definitely believe it's to our benefit to handle ourselves with grace, poise, and warmth, despite the Princess trend. To some extent, the "Princess" personality appears to be the other side of the "Sapphire" coin. It seems to be more acceptable (tolerated?) because it's largely the province of white women.

This is my favorite part:

You know, just because WW do something doesn’t mean that we have to model it. Their way isn’t always the right way—clearly, even WM don’t think so. We need to learn to recognize what our own advantages are, and work them!


Yes, this. I completely agree with being circumspect in our observations of white and other non-black women. Eat the fish, spit out the bones, I say. Particularly since what we, as outsiders, may believe is working for them may not be as beneficial as it appears, particularly when thinking of the long-term.

PioneerValleyWoman said...

Aimee:

I think the problem with this line of thinking is twofold. The first is that there are many ways to get what you deserve, and approaching potential mates with the demand that they “spoil” you is probably not the best way to ensure that they will do so. Men are notorious for preferring to make their own decisions; which is why they will happily shower a woman with diamonds and furs as long as they believe such gifts are their idea. Universally, the attributes that men seek in women (beyond physical beauty) are modesty, gentleness, sincerity, kindness and generosity. The man who actually seeks a bitchy princess is usually so insecure that he needs a glittering trophy to bolstering a sagging sense of manhood. You do not want this poor creature coming home to you every night, even if home is a 7-bedroom townhouse on the Upper Eastside—you will NEVER make him feel like enough. Self-esteem is not the same as self-aggrandizement.

My reply:

It seems to me that with this description of the ideal woman, we get into the realm of women seen by men as "queens," and not in the negative sense of the black women described by some black men: black woman dedicated to black men and "black unity" on black men's terms.

The queens, meaning the true women, who are mature, not childish little girls, the princesses who don't have any idea of what it means to negotiate a grown-up relationships of give-and take, and even the cultivation of a long-term partnership. Everything for the princesses is about "gimme, gimme," not "what can we do for each other..."

Evia said...

Aimee--WELCOME BACK! You have been SO missed!!

As usual, you have sliced and diced this issue. I agree that bw have to be careful about what pages they take from other women's books, just as other women are careful about what they copy from us. From talking with ww who are my in-laws and many continental African, they admire some of the AA women's traits and they have benefitted from us:

1. the way AA women speak up for ourselves (though many AA women are too shrill and go WAY overboard) because we don't have anyone else to defend or protect us;

2. our ambitiousness despite not having a support system to help us in many cases;

3. our resilience-we just keep on getting up (though we don't have anyone helping us or backing us, in many cases;

4. our steadfast struggle against racism and sexism;

5. our ability to laugh and enjoy ourselves and move on up, despite the fact that so many try to laugh at us and demote us. Some folks may try to mock us, but many admire us so much for our spirit;

6. our beauty and our showmanship (no one can/could rock those fashions on Parisian runways the way black models can/could and we plainly saw how the non-black models all copied that 'walk' that Naomi, Mounia, etc. made famous.

Other groups of women watch AA women and they copy from us, that which works for them and leave the rest.

AA women must learn to do the same.

foreverloyal said...

I've been meaning to do a "princess" post for the longest... you've done a good job with the subject. I'll have to think some more and see if I have anything useful to say.

Again, welcome back.

Anonymous said...

(though many AA women are too shrill and go WAY overboard)


SIGH.


Never heard this said about a Black militant man or a White feminist.

Halima said...

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Anonymous said...

Hi, everybody...

It's been a long time since I've cruised through here... hope everyone is well.

As a white guy, and the father of a white daughter... keeping my daughter from turning into one of these horrid little princess beasts has been one of my major projects over the past few years. It's hard work, because the princess role model is way more common than upstanding, work for what you get role models... at least in all the media that appeals to teenage girls. So I don't even try to lecture about tv shows, etc... all I can do is carrots and sticks with my daughter's behavior... how she acts towards me, and around me. More carrots than sticks most days, I think she'll turn out okay ;-)

News... I'm in a relationship now... BW... 4 1/2 months.

Keep on keepin' on.

D

Anonymous said...

As a white guy, and the father of a white daughter... keeping my daughter from turning into one of these horrid little princess beasts has been one of my major projects over the past few years.

LOL at this black woman pretending to be a white man.

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Matrix said...

Oh dear. I hope you come back soon and do some spring cleaning on the trolls and cheap corned beef (i.e. sp*m) on this thread.

Great article on the princess archetype! Side note: having seen the film Avatar twice, I am in LOVE with the princess in that film, Neytiri. She is quite possibly the most positive and refreshing expression of a princess archetype I have seen on the big screen: smart, great warrior, respects her elders but is also is her own person, goes for what she wants, humble and clear. And she's a woman of color! Sure, the color's blue lol, but clearly she's modeled after African / Native American women, and she's portrayed by a black Latina.

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