Did Someone Say

PRINCESS?

Because that reminds me: I just found Princess Gwenevere and the Jewel Riders on youtube.

What’s that, you say? You did not spend the fourth year of your life watching Gwen, Tamara and Fallon soar on their flying unicorns through a pastel Lisa Frank wonderland, defeating evil with the power of friendship?

Which would you rather watch, My Little Pony or My Crime-Fighting Unicorn?

You did not spend recess bickering over which jewel rider each girl got to play, not minding that you always ended up with Fallon, because she was clearly the underrated best?

You did not careen around, thrusting forward your tiny fist in a gesture strangely reminiscent of the red salute and yelling “by the POWAH of the MOOOONSTONE” at anyone who attempted to thwart you?

Ah, my friend, coy Fortuna cannot be kind to all of us.

However, she smiles on you now.

In Defense of Their Majesties

Update: Also at First Things’ blog, improved by pretty picture and a good editor.

So, Sesame Street, as I’m sure you already know, thinks little girls should ditch the princess swag and start dreaming law school.

Poor Sesame Street. They try so hard, but fail to ask the simple million dollar question: am I implicitly assuming that female nature is substantially different from human nature in general?

Little girls are human, and trade in the mythic and heroic. Even if making them starry-eyed about middle management were remotely feasible, why would we want to encourage our boys in colossal, parti-colored, cape-swishing flights of fancy and our girls in the Protestant work ethic?

I understand the backlash against tiaras: they seem such a vehicle for the tasteless, flouncy, woman-as-product aesthetic, and for nausea-inducing paeans to girlhood like the following:

“Every woman was once a little girl. And every little girl holds in her heart her most precious dreams. She longs to be swept up into a romance, to play an irreplaceable role in a great adventure, to be the beauty of the story. Those desires are far more than child’s play. They are the secret to the feminine heart.”

But, contra John and Stasi Eldridge, the great adventures of my childhood had little to do with playing the “Beauty” of the story.

From when I was about eight, my brothers and sister and I would play a game in our backyard after school. It sprang out of nowhere, fully formed, and suddenly I was at the reins of a giant flying chariot, guiding our trusty pegasus, as Sir Ronan and Princess Ariana shot arrows at the bandits below. My brother was a knight, my sister was the princess, and I was the queen (I never needed another name).

I ruled a great forested kingdom constantly besieged by wild bandits, and frequently rode forth to do battle with them by the side of my trusted lieutenant, Sir Ronan. He had come to the castle after years of grim wandering, and any questions about his origin or former deeds met stony silence. He commanded a special garrison called the Eagle-Wing knights, who trained till I summoned them in the Eyrie, a castle atop a remote mountain in the north. They were sworn enemies with the Lizard Knights, dastardly renegades who often joined forces with the bandits.

I spent my time in statecraft, my flying chariot, and wrangles with my headstrong daughter, Princess Ariana (eternal apologies to my sister for bossiness). I wanted her to help me rule the kingdom; she wanted to become a magician-cum-healer, and was constantly climbing down the castle walls on her rope of unicorn hair in order to look for rare herbs in the forest. Once she was captured by bandits, and I went on a bit of a rampage until she was safely returned.

Younger siblings were allowed to be helpful blacksmith’s apprentices, elves, or friendly feral children raised by wolves.

Sir Ronan wore blue and black, I wore a dress of green velvet edged in gold, and Ariana wore red with silver sleeves. There was no pink, and nary a flounce in sight.

The crap sold to little girls is lousy not because it involves princesses, but because the princess industry depends on bending little girls’ imaginations into a very narrow and purely decorative channel. The problem isn’t that little girls want to be princesses, that their fantasies latch onto our set of cultural set of stories with women at the center.  The problem is that the only princess available to them is Marie Antoinette.

If they’re given the space and freedom, little girls and boys will come up with much better games, much better roles, much better stories, than anything currently hawked by either Disney or Sesame Street.

Princesses, loosely defined

Eleanor of Aquitaine

Catherine de Medici

Boudica

Grace O’Malley

Rani Lakshmi-Bai

Elizabeth of Hungary

Jadwiga of Poland

Elizabeth of Portugal

Cruel and unhappy princesses

WTF princesses

Don’t Call Me A Maiden

Kind of awesome.

There’s a lot of maidenhood floating around these days. We’ve got books and blogs and purity balls all dedicated to helping women claim their identities as maidens of virtue, princesses of the king, precious pearls in an oyster of modesty, and so forth. We even have helpful guidelines on how to manipulate call forth the protective instincts of men through an image of projected innocence.

We women, we angels of the home, we fragile butterflies of charm and mystery, we must be covered and protected, we must guard our hearts and withhold our kisses and pledge our virginities, lest our marzipan pedestals crumble beneath us.

Or not.

Here’s the thing. I am actually not a princess. No, seriously.*

I am not a perpetual minor or a symbolic figurehead, or a be-crowned and bejeweled human objet d’art.

I am a woman.

I am 20 years old. Not so old, they tell me, and yet I have paid a mortgage, punched a man, flunked tests, aced papers, lost friends, broken my heart, broken other people’s hearts, stuck by my guns, worked for my goals, sung a boozy rendition of Rosalita to a room full of strangers,** comforted children, screwed up royally, apologized and made amends,  and done it all over again the next day. I am a whole person, with flaws and sins and triumphs and secrets and memories.

In the immortal words of Kate Nash, I’ve got a family, and I drink cups of tea.

So first, let’s stop exhorting women to virtue with a term originally used to refer to the status of a woman’s virginity. Because our virtue is more than our sexuality, and we are more than our sexuality.  That’s kind of the whole point of chastity, in fact–understanding and respecting that we that we are whole, complex, persons, not genitals on legs.***

Secondly, ENOUGH with the sentimental, infantilizing argot that floats around any discussion of female modesty, chastity, body image…or really anything involving women. Sure, we are beautiful daughters of God, and that should be close to the core of our self-perception. But it can’t be the whole of it. It’s too static–it doesn’t convey our sharp-edged, intrusive, multidimensional realness, our agency and potential.

We  are not princesses or pearls. We are mystics, warriors, artists, rugby-players, saints, mothers, cooks, writers, friends. We are Caryll Houselander and Dorothy Day, Frida Kahlo and George Eliot, my mother and yours, Marie Colvin and that little old lady from daily Mass, the one with two warts and a mantilla who held your hand when you got that news.  Or at least we should aspire to be.

Because we are women and most us will probably end up, if we’re lucky, warty, bony, calloused, decidedly de-maidened and with nary a hint of pearl-like sheen on our lined faces. But that’s ok. Because we are not princesses, we are people.

*I go to an Ivy League college and hence know quite a few girls who have the princess thing going on. And you know what? I don’t like them very much.

**It’s a good story.

***Ok, not the entire point, but you get the idea.

Addendum: If this is what you mean by maiden, then ok, fine, I guess.