I Read Princess Books Because I’m A Feminist
While we at the Riot are taking this lovely summer week off to rest (translation: read by the pool/ocean/on our couches), we’re re-running some of our favorite posts from the last several months. Enjoy our highlight reel, and we’ll be back with new stuff on Wednesday, July 8th.
This post originally ran May 11, 2015.
My three-year-old is all about them princess books right now, and because I am a woman of a certain age, my first instinct is to burn that mother down. Princesses! How has this happened to me!?
Friends of mine post pictures of their daughters wearing tutus and tiaras with the half mocking, half seriously despairing caption ‘Whose kids are these, what have I done.’ I’m zero better. ‘What is your daughter into?’ people ask me. ‘Dinosaurs,’ I say. ‘Pirates. Playing doctor.’
And this is why I am diving head-first into the princessania. I’m sick of stereotypically feminine things being denigrated in favor of stereotypically masculine things. I’m sick of reflexively thinking that playing dress-up is lame. I’m a feminist, and I’m raising my daughters to be feminists, and feminism means having equal access to the things that are important to you. It means that boys can string beads, and girls can play trucks, and neither of those things is better than the other thing. It means that all toddler interests are a valid part of discovering life and exploring preference and personhood EVEN IF THEY INVOLVE PINK THINGS IN SOME WAY.
Much of the vitriol is aimed at the princessification of bath towels and tooth brushes and lunch boxes and melon ballers and the ALL CONSUMINGNESS of it. Let’s not throw the baby out with the capitalist bath water, let’s just not buy that stuff. I’m not advocating for Frozen diaper wipes up in here. And some princesses are awful and lame, and there’s a lot that’s problematic about the Princess Ideology – it’s nepotistic; it places a premium on things like appearance and virginity; it’s trying to sell you Frozen diaper wipes. But A PIRATE’S ACTUAL JOB DESCRIPTION IS THIEVING AND RAPING so let’s not be so literal about our kids’ choice of imaginary occupation.
Because there’s so much to love about princesses, too. Being a princess is about bravery, about complex problem solving, about compassion. ‘Everyone loved Cinderella because she was kind and sweet and gentle.’ YES, those are stereotypically feminine traits to have, but they are also super good social attributes that will help you make friends and influence people. Being a princess is about being fierce and resilient and brave, about rescuing your mother when you accidentally turn her into a bear, and it’s also about being socially adept, being able to cultivate the loyalty of tiny animals so that when you are locked in your ridiculous princess turret bedroom, they come to your rescue.
I’m sick of this idea that, like, Oh, princesses are always rescued by a prince. Cinderella isn’t rescued by the prince. She CLAIMS HIM as her hard-won TROPHY. Ariel literally rescues Prince Eric before he drowns. And lo, there are all KINDS of princesses outside the fairy-tales-bowdlerized-by-Disney canon, doing all KINDS of ferocious shit. Princess Leia, Princess Buttercup, the Paper Bag Princess, LOOK AT THESE MIGHTY AND IMPERIOUS WOMEN.
*PEW* Take that, toxic and outdated stereotypes. *PEW PEW*
When people lament the lack of books for boys to read, they mean books about boys. They mean that they would like to be pointed to the section of boy books, the ones that are about boys so that boys can read them, and also girls if they want to be cool like the boys. Because all these books here are girly books. For girly girls. The worst kind. An entire gender has been turned into a slur, and it just kills me.
Suffice it to say that my feelings on this matter are such that you would regret bringing it up to me at a party where I’ve had a few drinks. But this is why I’m leaning into the princess phase, indulging as many of my daughter’s princessy whims as I would her buggy ones, or her construction worker-y ones. We’re watching princess movies, putting on our princess crowns and going on princess adventures (rescuing people and finding treasure and sitting down for tea. Princess shit) and most importantly, we are reading books about badass princesses.
A brief reading itinerary:
A Mighty Girl has an excellent list of fierce and glorious princesses, PARTICULARLY Princess of Color, which I have been drawing from because I realize that the princess of my childhood and my frame of reference and honestly, this entire article, are super, super white.
In addition to those, my little is little, so we read books like Do Princesses Wear Hiking Boots (spoiler: they do) and The Princess and the Goblin (sooooooo much brave princessing).
Older boulders might enjoy The Little Princess (not a literal princess, but, like, true princessing comes from inside, or something, whatever it’s a classic and I love it). The Princess Diaries or Ella Enchanted both come highly Rioter Recommended.
I just finished Girl of Fire and Thorns, a YA about a princess who is fat! Fat princesses! They do crazy brave shit, and trek across deserts, and make friends out of enemies, and so on, almost as though they were just like regular princesses (and somebody needs to invent a Deadpan Font before I get myself strung up in the comments). I’ve also just read the first volume of Princeless, a comic about a princess who rescues herself out of a tower and sets off to free her seven sisters from THEIR towers. I sorrrrrt of hate the title, because it sets her princelessness up as her defining characteristic, but puns be punning, I guess. But the artwork is great, the dialogue is HILARIOUS, and it’s just building up to some Strong Female Friendship-type dynamic, which is my absolute jam.
What are your thoughts on princesses? Got any good princess recs?