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If we were to select the ultimate gender-stereotype endorsed role for a woman, it would have to be a princess. If there’s ever been a stronger advocate for patriarchal tradition, there’s nothing better than being the royal embodiment of a trophy wife. We watch Disney films, listen to fairytales, and swan around in the ermine of our childhood. A pretty girl should grow into a pretty woman, wear pretty dresses, and be a pretty wife. And that’s just the start.
As we fall victim to the pangs of adolescent hormones, a bulging, greasy, burgeoning sense of self can never be synonymous with beauty. Moving away from a performative sense of princessdom, teenage girls ditch those diamond days to become the sexual or scorned- but in either vein, we are expected to desire someone to save us.
And that’s where the figure of the Prince comes in. The living manifestation of wealth and masculinity, he is meant to be the driving force behind womanhood. Determined to live out that saccharine-sweet happily ever after, so many push themselves to the brink in the quest for the perfect man, attaching themselves to a frog; never finding the Prince.
For isn’t that what we are told to do? Behold the women’s magazine. “How to please your man,” is the constant hot topic, yet when it comes to the simplicity of female masturbation, all of the gossip rags that surround us seem to truly come up short. If we cannot be naked, let us be clothed. Let’s be seduced into flicking through the pages and wearing those pretty dresses that entranced us so before. Sexuality, passion and intelligence are seen as by-products of an overworked mind. Let us turn to those actresses and models, we say. We only have to look to Seth MacFarlane’s Oscar ditty to see how sceptically even the most serious of thespians are regarded.
And that’s where the figure of Kate so happily comes in. In heartfelt narrative, Kate is a commoner who finds herself in a relationship with a prince. Watched through the hawk eye lens of the watchful press, Kate turned from a mortal to a monarchette in record timing. Not only beautiful, but with regal blessing, Kate can act as a bastion for female fragility. “Look how pretty she is!” they exclaim. “Look at how she looks to William!” they add. “Could she be the next people’s princess?” they say.
It isn’t long before the illusion is shattered. The tabloids don’t want to wait around. The freakish cataloguing of the average diameter of Kate’s curls makes way for sleazy long-lens shots of the topless princess, splashed across those same women’s magazines like a dog’s dinner. “Shouldn’t she have covered herself up?” commentators ask. “What was she doing on holiday anyhow?” others enquire. “Her boobs aren’t that great,” others retort. “She’s nothing like Diana,” others smirk. And so Kate’s bittersweet relationship with the press begins, leading her to be in an uncomfortable playpen where her every move ignites the press like dynamite.
And what happens to those who disapprove of her role entirely? The reaction to Hilary Mantel’s informed comments say it all. Although Hilary is a writer of fiction, her historical research grants her a look through the same glass tank that contained trophy princesses past. According to the Booker Prize winner, it seems not a lot has changed for princesses since the Tudor era either. Challenging the concept of a perfect princess, Hilary argued against the figure of the “shapeless mannequin” we see before us, asking for us to use our heads and act for change, casting our vulture-like tendencies behind to see beyond the Duchess’s flesh.
However, her argument was lifted completely out of context to scream in a sensationalist tabloid rant. Butchering the metaphor, the writer’s logically argued response to Kate-o-mania became a slight on the royal figure, rather than a metaphor for her flailing presence as a female role model. Hilary’s argument was transmuted by the tabloids, rendered bitter, leaving her own physical form to be contested. Although I’d like to argue David Cameron’s Eton education means that he can spot a good metaphor when he sees one, it wasn’t long before his right-wing traditionalism kicked in, demanding an apology from the writer who dared to use a literary trope. Soon enough, one of Britain’s greatest writers became nothing more than a shape, as blown out of proportion as Kate’s significance.
Thousands of years on, we still tell the same lie to our children. Let those little girls be princesses, we say. Who wouldn’t want a pretty dress, to have an opulent life, and a romancer as a mouthpiece? If only life could be as simple as those glossy magazines. It is us who need to shatter the illusion that being a princess will never make us truly happy- for Kate’s sake, and our own. When we see that Kate’s glass ceiling is nothing more than a glass palace, and that the ancien regime of a monarchical, right-wing appraisal appears only to be dressage, it is then we can see that our idolatry of princessdom is as corrupting as the perfectly poised clothes weighing on Kate’s back.