Saturday, January 30, 2016

In Defense of the Princess: How Plastic Tiaras and Fairytale Dreams Can Inspire Smart, Strong Women


Rating: 2.5 Stars


I received this book as an ARC via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

I absolutely loved this one for about the first half or two thirds or so. The rest was such a disappointment. This may come as a surprise, since I seem to be the target audience. After all, I myself am a princess. My name means 'princess' in Hebrew, I have the word 'princess' tattooed in Hebrew on my body, and I was pretty much raised like a princess, being an only child - and only grandchild for ten years. But the problem with this one is that the author applies modern thinking while making general statements about all princesses - that princesses are caring, protective of their kingdoms, etc. Disney Princesses, yes (more on these lovely ladies in a second), but REAL princesses, in the middle ages? They had no power themselves and lived to be pawns for their fathers to gain power through marriages. Princesses then were decidedly NOT powerful, so I think it is important that the author makes the distinction of being a modern princess who has autonomy and control over her own life.

I like how the book started out, specifically focusing on Disney Princesses. We love Disney in this house and I will never apologize for that. My daughter is two and a half and loves to watch Frozen, Tangled, and Brave especially. She dresses up in the Elsa and Anna costumes, then plays with her dump trucks and garbage trucks. I have zero worry that she is being damaged by unrealistic expectations that Disney supposedly promotes. So, I appreciate this aspect of the book and the author suggestions that these princesses display self-reliance, compassion, critical thinking, ingenuity, etc. However, lets be honest, that was not the message being sent when Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, and Snow White came out decades ago. I do agree that these princesses were more on the weak side when compared today to the likes of Rapunzel and Merida. And before you tell me that Rapunzel waited for a man (Flynn Rider) to help her leave her tower, I must remind you that she had never left the tower and had also asked Mother Gothel to take her. It was not that she needed a man to protect her - she did that just fine on her own. She just needed someone to show her the way to the lanterns.

A quote I particularly liked in reference to this issue: "I'm not suggesting we negate all critical thinking when it comes to viewing Disney films with our children - but if someone tells me that Disney princesses possess zero redeeming qualities, I must and will protest" (8%). This, I certainly agree with.

Another positive: the author mentions Boudicca and Eleanor of Aquitaine in the same sentence and they are awesome. My daughter is named after Eleanor of Aquitaine and her nickname has evolved over the last two years to Boody, for Boudicca. It makes sense in my head and in hers, trust me.

My biggest issue with this book is that the author assumes that women and girls want to be princesses because of the qualities of kindness and compassion, caring for those around them, caring about the 'global and human implications of decisions and not just financial implications'...that is all well and good and OF COURSE we want to raise all our children, not just girls to be kind and caring people. But this assumes then that girls are not also competitive or things that might be perceived as more 'masculine' qualities, because the author uses the phrase 'scientifically proven' several times at the end when discussing the characteristics of women/princesses. Sorry I'm not sorry, but I am super competitive and I always want to win. If I win, that means someone else has to lose. That does not make me any less of a princess. I'd wear my tiara to work every day if I could, but unfortunately I live in the Midwest where people would look at me like I was crazy and I just don't want to deal with that. If I lived in New York or LA, no one would look twice. But I digress. Back to the topic at hand - the qualities the author says princesses have are not the ONLY qualities we possess and that is okay. It doesn't mean that I want everyone else to fail so I can win, and of course it depends on the situation, but still, she is supposing a lot.

Another issue that bothered me was when the author repeatedly discussed Prince William losing his hair in her section on Kate. The author previously made the point about not emphasizing beauty, yet she takes these little potshots at the fact that he is going bald. The first time, I let it go, but then the second mention came in the form of, "...back in the days when his cheeks had color and his head had hair"...and following up with this one a swipe later about, "...November 2010 when his eligibility came to an end and so did much of his hair." Why is it okay to do this and repeatedly comment on his looks, when we should not do this to women/princesses? Speaking of Kate - while I was among the many who watched the wedding, enthralled, I am a bit skeptical of the author's prediction that she will one day be known as 'Kate the Great'. Does the author know that only one ruler in the history of the country - from even before England was united as England - is known as 'the Great'? He goes by the name of Alfred and he busted his butt to secure Wessex and the surrounding lands, fight Vikings, promote religion and learning, create burghs. I am guessing she does not, since she also stated that the royal family of England goes back to the 400s AD. Um, no, they definitely do not. Roman occupation slowly dwindled out and the country eventually became divided into small kingdoms. It was not until Aethelstan, Alfred's grandson, that England even became united into England in Anglo-Saxon times. Please know your history when it is relevant to your topic.

As an aside, the author mentions a 12 year old girl in California who has discovered that all US presidents except one are directly descended from King John (That would be Eleanor of Aquitaine's youngest son, Richard I's brother who is possibly one of the worst kings England had, and thus came Magna Carta). I found this fact very interesting and wanted to know more about this, how she came across this information and what materials did she have access to in order to determine this?

In the end, I was highly disappointed in how the book devolved from how princesses could be strong, powerful and capable, to a diatribe about feminism. I do agree that you can be pro princess and a feminist. Feminist is not a dirty word, being a feminist simply means you recognize gender equality as a must in our world, so let's just get that out of the way. Yet the author goes on saying how we hate ourselves for buying Princess Diana biographies, and don't want our daughters to have princess-themed birthday parties...Um, please. My daughter's first birthday was Disney princess themed, complete with a three-tiered replica of the Disneyland Castle. I am entirely not ashamed of my princess-ness and no one else should be either. Being a princess is awesome.

And for the record, my toddler knows she is a princess too. She says it every day while she twirls around in her fancy dresses, surrounded by all her trucks.

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