For all the feminist complaints that fairy tale princesses are victims of the patriarchy, it’s really the women — rather than the men — in fairy tales that are mostly trying to control the princesses. The Evil Queen tries to murder Snow White in a fit of jealous rage. Cinderella’s wicked stepmother forces her into servitude. A wicked witch kidnaps Rapunzel and locks her in a tower. And on and on. It’s women telling other women what they can and can’t do, what they can and can’t wear, what they can and can’t think. Which, funnily enough, is pretty much exactly what’s happening in real life within the movement that’s hellbent on demonizing fairy tale princesses: feminism.
While the term “feminism” simply means “political, economic, and social equality of the sexes,” there are many within the movement’s current iteration who feel that this can only be achieved if all women follow a prescribed set of values and behaviors set forth by . . . feminists. Women don’t need men. All mothers must work outside the home. A “strong” woman is a “badass” warrior. And on an on.
It’s not that all — or even most — feminists feel this way. It’s just that this is the “feminism” covered most frequently by the media and therefore it’s the philosophy that has become, through osmosis, the “feminist” agenda. Women telling other women what to do. Just like in fairy tales.
And, within this feminist prescription for how all women should behave, there is one literary trope that a woman should never — must never — seek to emulate: the fairy tale princess. Why? Because (according to “feminists”) princesses are the absolute epitome of patriarchal victimhood. But if fairy tale princesses are oppressed — and that’s debatable — their oppressors are, by and large, women. Just as real life women who want to be “good feminists” are, by and large, being bossed around, shamed, and bullied — not by men — but by other women.
What is it, though, that “feminists” take such issue with about fairy tale princesses? The largest issue, of course, is the fairy tale princess’s interest in matrimony. “I just wanted a princess who is perfectly content to be #TeamSingle,” writes Caitlin Flynn on Bustle. Princesses are always “blindly marrying the first person to come along and kiss them while they’re fast asleep,” scoffs Kayleigh Dray on Stylist. Sound familiar? “Feminist” mandate number one: women don’t need men.
But surely how important marriage is in your life is a matter of choice. A woman may not need a man (although women, in general, do need men, in the sense that there can be no future women without them), but surely she is allowed to want one? And surely most of us do feel that some kind of romantic partnership — be it with a man or a woman — is fulfilling and desirable. So why shouldn’t a princess — or a woman in real life — choose as her life’s lodestar a man of substance and worth?
Another “feminist” complaint about fairy tale princesses is that they are content to be homemakers. The story of Cinderella, claims Alyssa Rosenberg of Slate, promotes “a fetishization of housecleaning.” The New York Times writes Snow White off as nothing more than a “fervent housekeeper.” “Feminist” mandate number two: all mothers — or women in general — must work outside the home.
But this, again, is clearly a matter of choice. Some women may only feel fulfilled if they go to work every day, but others may only feel fulfilled if they don’t. For some women — many women — keeping a smoothly running home and caring for their children is a joyful and rewarding occupation. Should the desire to be a homemaker automatically label you a “bad feminist?” Surely that can’t be right. Not if a woman’s ability to choose her occupation is to be equal to a man’s. So why shouldn’t a princess — or a woman in real life — take pride in her housework and devote her life to her children?
And then, eventually, it always comes down to “agency” with “feminists.” Fairy tale princesses are “passive” and wait around for a man to “solve all their problems.” The LA Times says princesses do nothing but “fiddle with their coiffures . . . and swoon.” Kit Steinkellner of Hello Giggles says Snow White just “sits around a wishing well waiting for her prince to come.” But it’s not so much that fairy tale princesses do nothing, it’s that they don’t do male things — like fighting, and heavy lifting. “Feminist” mandate number three: a strong woman is a badass warrior.
But, yet again, this is a matter of choice — or ability. Perhaps some women are weightlifters or blackbelts in karate, but most aren’t. In a fight, most women would lose to a man. The idea that a woman ought to pass up the help of a man when, say, a dragon is bearing down on her, or she’s been knocked out by a wicked witch, is ridiculous. She can choose to pass it up (although why she would is a mystery to me) but she doesn’t have to. Nor does she have to be the kind of person who relishes fighting the dragon, or riding into battle. It is perfectly acceptable for her to prefer to leave the heavy lifting to the men. So why shouldn’t a princess — or a woman in real life — turn to a man for the kinds of things that men are typically better at?
In fairy tales — which “feminists” claim to hate — the princess must struggle against a controlling woman. And in reality, women — whom “feminists” claim to support — are constantly being told how to think, act, and feel by other women. You remember what happens to the female villains in fairy tales, right?
Women are not a unit, moving in lockstep through a minefield of men. We are our own free and independent beings. We can choose to be alone or in a partnership. We can choose to work or to happily stay home. We can choose to carry our strength in our bodies, or in our hearts. We are women. We are princesses. We are free. Leave us alone.