The Princess is a staple of fairy tales. As a young child reading tales, if I didn’t see one, I tended not to be so interested. The beauty, the romance and the idealism are woven together in our much-loved stories, devising the ultimate charming and admirable package. Yet, these characteristics can prove dangerous, forcing us to re-evaluate and fight back against patriarchal constructions.
If you do not view marriage to a dashingly handsome prince who is likely to rid you of all your autonomy as the ultimate happy ending, then some of the most loved traditional princesses may trouble you somewhat.
Traditional princesses such as Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty, are not just vocally silenced, but are restricted from almost any independent action at all. There is an explicit reliance on external forces; men are needed to save the day and rule the land. It is these fairy tales which feminists continue to strive to conquer.
Yet, our inner sentimentalists are right to not give up on our childhoods and to blankly dismiss all princesses. The Grimms’ Twelve Dancing Princesses feature twelve rebels who push boundaries by bursting out of their locked room to dance their shoes out all night long at a fantastical ball. They require no fairy godmother, or the assistance of men to aid their adventures. They reject societal constructions and embody the proto-feminist ideals we so desperately crave in our early traditional heroines.
Rewritings of traditional tales have made their mark on feminist literature; we find bliss and comfort in our new role models: diverse and strong princesses who are able to fend and save themselves. We can still revel in the fantastical and magical world of royalty. Princesses are no longer constrained to fitting an image of beauty and obedience, they evolve to fit the different shapes, sizes and forms today’s women come in. Yet, if they choose to be feminine, this is no longer equated to weakness and subordination.
However, the struggle remains outside of the books we choose to read. The rejection of a princess who embodies the feminist ideals we so eagerly desire is happening right in front of our eyes.
Meghan Markle and Prince Harry’s decision to take a step back as Senior Royals was devastating. My interest in the royals has always been strong. Meghan embodied everything I desired in a princess. She proved that you do not have to compromise on being an outspoken feminist and being in love; you can have the gorgeous white gown and still fight for equality.
Royals are granted a platform to provide real change. Princess Diana shattered myths based on a widespread ignorance towards HIV/AIDS by simply shaking the hand of a patient, without gloves. Meghan’s first project was equally grounded in the reality of today. She chose to illuminate the stories of the women who came together to cook and provide for those who were displaced after The Grenfell tragedy.
Society is lagging behind literature. A cruel intolerance against outspoken women pushing for reform remains strong. Meghan’s race and identity has led to her rejection. While she may have jumped, it is society’s entrenched racism and the abuse she has received which amounts to a violent push.
Their retirement is owed to the intrusive coverage and bullying of a British press which refuses to take a stance towards the ever-real problems of racism and white privilege.
It seems to be a rule that women who speak out are rejected. We saw it with Diana, and now we see it with Meghan, something that Harry has explicitly made comparisons to in recent interviews.
I was particularly moved by one of Meghan’s recent interviews in which she bravely admitted to struggling with her mental health, conceding that it was a question she often was not asked.
Princesses must no longer embody this image of silence and stale perfection. They must be allowed the freedom, like all women, to speak out about their struggles. Meghan embodies our feminist principles. In this tale, she is quite rightly, to the detriment of the undeserving British press and public, the princess who saves herself.
Written by Issie Levin