Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Counteracting the "Princess Myth"

Class is now in session!!

In my last post, I explained the itch that I have been feeling lately to reconnect with my teaching roots, and decided that I would kick off this week with a series of posts on teaching and/or raising feminist daughters and non-sexist sons. I'd like to discuss one of my very favorite books that expose children to a different type of princess than what they typically see in many of the mainstream books and movies regarding princesses: "The Paper Bag Princess". 

I think that the whole princess culture is pretty stupid, if you ask me. The castle, the prince and the fluffy dress have never appealed to me in the least. Someone once told me that she was going to put a curse on me so that when I have children that I will have little girls who worship the princess cult. Well, I most definitely hope that will never happen because it's something that I refuse to tolerate. The only princesses I want anything to do with are the bad ass little princess who knock the knight down and steal his horse. Or men who dress up as a princess.

"The Paper Bag Princess" is a great book to read to children, adolescents, and even adults in order to have discussions regarding the princess myth. It's also a great book to have discussions with boys and males about respect for women, selfishness and patriarchy in general. Let me tell you a little about "The Paper Bag Princess", if you haven't already read this classic book:

The book begins with a beautiful princess who wore all the pretty princess clothing and was of course betrothed to the handsome prince. One day, a mean dragon flies into the kingdom, burns everything down and kidnaps the prince. The poor princess is left with nothing, not even clothing, and she uses a paper bag to dress herself before she sets off to find and rescue the prince. 

The princess arrives at the dragon's castle and ingeniously devises a plan to outwit the big, bad dragon. She appeals to his ego (yes, HIS ego..) and persuades him to huff and puff and show her how big, bad and strong he is. The dragon soon grows tired of his huffing and puffing. Then she convinces the dragon to show her how fast he is, and the dragon zips all around the place to demonstrate his speed. Finally....the dragon collapses from exhaustion and the princess swoops into the castle to rescue the prince.

Immediately after she beats down the door and saves the day, the prince begins to criticize her for the paper bag she is wearing. He says something to the effect, "Princess, you have ashes all over you, your hair is messy, and you are wearing a silly paper bag. You need to clean yourself up before you marry me!"

And what do you suppose the princess did??

Well, she kicked him to the curb. She tells him, "You know what, you fuckhead?? You don't appreciate anything that I did for you. You are USELESS!" (My summary is obviously an adult reconstruction of the children's book, but she really did tell him that he was useless).

My favorite part of the story (besides her telling him that he was useless) was the ending when the princess skips off into the sunset. Instead of the "happily ever after" bullshit, the book ends with: "The princess didn't marry the prince after all". 

I absolutely LOVE, LOVE, LOVE this book and highly recommend it. I have even read it to adults when I have trained teachers, and they love it. You've got to have it on your bookshelf. If you only have boys, you should still read this book to them because there are many productive conversations that can be made regarding the prince's behavior. You can buy the twenty-fifth anniversary edition here.

Additional Resources:

Just because I am on the topic of princesses, there is another really great story called "The Princess Who Stood on Her Own Two Feet".  It has a similar theme--the prince doesn't accept a princess because she is too tall, too smart, and the list goes on and on.  You can also check out some additional non-traditional princesses in the Bad Ass Femmes store.

For some of you adults who have been trained that you need a man to take care of you, maybe some of you need to read this book to beat that princess ideology out of your heads--Prince Charming Isn't Coming: How Women Get Smart About Money. Stop sitting around and waiting for a future prince to save the day. You're a grown ass woman, for Goddess's sake!


garvey george said...

i also remember loving 'the ordinary princess' when i was a child. the heroine does get the prince in the end, but they initially become friends, rather than betrothed.

Miss Unconventional, Latina Fatale said...

I'll have to check that out!

Jamie said...

I'm reading Amazons! Women Warriors of the World to my girls. It's helping them to see themselves as powerful, courageous, and just. It's also bloody and violent, but, there's no bs about princes or weddings or fairy fucking godmothers that make it all better. LOVE IT.

Wicked Bitch, Latina Fatale said...

I've never heard of the amazons book. I will have to check it out! They are so lucky to have stories that feature strong female characters. I was hand fed so much of the prince bullshit as a child.

Anonymous said...

Wow, I find it sad that you are so cynical. There's nothing wrong with wearing pretty dresses and wanting to be in love. The princess ideal is about being a good and compassionate person first and foremost. And what's wrong with wanting a happily ever after? Whats wrong with wanting true love? Perhaps you should read "A Little Princess". I think it captures the notion that you can still be strong and be feminine at the same time.

Wicked Bitch, Latina Fatale said...

And I find it very sad that you are brainwashed with the princess myth. My criticism is not about being feminine. It's about children being exposed to myths that portray women as nothing more than someone who wants to be saved. You are correct that there is nothing wrong with living happily ever after; the books that I mentioned have the princess living happily ever after. I am rejecting the brainwashing that little girls are subjected to that shoves down their throat that happily ever after only means that a prince sweeps girls off their feet.