I don’t know about you guys, but I’m totally a Megara. I have swishy hip movements and at least one ex-boyfriend who ran off with someone else (she was an elfish pot dealer who was running an “escort service” out of her one bedroom apartment in Studio City, just saying). And there’s still a small part of me that believes my zero to hero is out there somewhere, and that when that day comes I’ll be like “This is me, shouting it from the mountaintops! A star is born!” Then we’ll go the distance and live happily ever after.
This small part of me blossomed when I was just a young, pre-menstrual romantic, mostly concerned with calling the Cinderella costume every time I played dress up with friends. I probably even thought glass slippers would be comfortable. Since then it’s been deteriorating. I think it started around the time Juvenile was advising me to “back that ass up,” and happened to coincide with my first-ever/worst-ever (you get used to it) pit in the stomach from hearing the words, “He cheated on you.”
I’m pretty sure my parents were still telling me never to let a boy treat me like anything less than a princess, though. And I thought was listening to them, because, he may have made out with one of my best friends on prom night while I was away at ballet camp, but he still got me a ruby necklace for my birthday, right? Right?!
Which brings me to my central question: what does it mean to be treated like a princess? Especially in America, where the idea of royalty has been reduced to an anachronistic tradition, to be viewed through the cartoon colored glasses of the Walt Disney Company, or a world laden with CGI, where women ride dragons and families fight for control of the seven kingdoms. Princesses are antiquated. And yet, Julie Andrews is writing books about them that will probably sell, and I am totally guilty of having tuned in to the royal wedding.
The Oxford English Dictionary defines “Princess” as:
A. n. 1. A female member of a royal family. 2. A female member of a royal family other than the queen, a daughter or granddaughter of a monarch (also as a prefixed title). Princess Royal: a title given to the eldest daughter of a reigning monarch, esp. in the United Kingdom where it may be conferred by the monarch for life princess of the blood (royal). 3. A female sovereign or ruler; a queen. Now arch. or merged with sense. 4. The wife of a prince (also as a prefixed title).
However, since I didn’t really start perusing the Oxford English Dictionary in my free time until college, my notion of a princess has less to do with its proper meaning, and more to do with the make-believe people I’ve grown to associate with the word. If someone told me “you will be a princess” tomorrow, I would probably think it meant one of the following:
1. You will be beautiful, no matter what they say.
FOR EXAMPLE: Aurora (Sleeping Beauty). Well, yeah, you’re mad gorgeous. You have John-Frieda style sheer blonde hair, carnation colored/recently exfoliated lips all the time. But how are you supposed to relish in your beauty if you’re asleep? Also, making out is way better when you’re awake.
Lesson learned: Grass is always greener, even when you’re a princess.
2. You have naturally excellent manners. People appreciate that about you, and therefore give you Downton Abbey gowns, vintage brooches, epic jewels… essentially the royal treatment.
FOR EXAMPLE: Mia Thermopolis. She suffers through princess lessons, learns table manners and how to waltz, which are totally practical and might come in handy some day, and as a reward she gets to ride to school in a limo. No fair. But then manipulative teens start using her for her fame and being a princess doesn’t make high school any easier. Also she develops this habit of running away from her problems.
Lesson learned: Princesses are not exempt from the torture that is adolescence.
3. As a woman ruling a kingdom (or about to be), you are in a position of power.
FOR EXAMPLE: Regan Lear. But let’s be honest, you never got along with any of your sisters. Even though you tried to team up 2-Become-1 style with Goneril against Cordelia, there was only enough room for one woman in power. What kind of kingdom is that? The kind where sisters poison your drank instead of respecting Girl Power.
Lesson learned: Maybe Cordelia is better off, after all.
4. You always get the dude.
FOR EXAMPLE: Pocahontas. Yeah, she got the dude. And then she took him just around the riverbend to America. Which was full of diseases and strangers. Just saying, they neglected to write an epilogue for a reason.
Lesson Learned: Sometimes you’re better off without the dude.
After doing my research, I decided it was imperative that I re-examine the meaning of the word “princess.” So, naturally, I had a chat with my Dad to see what he thinks the word means.
Dad: Hmm. Interesting. I think that a lot of men think of the word “princess” as pejorative. For me, princess is synonymous with “high maintenance.”
Me: And yet you have told me, at least once in my life, not to let any boy treat me like less than a princess right?
Dad: Probably. Yes. It’s just that “princess” per se has become a bit of a catch-all descriptor for a woman who expects to be treated a certain way.
Me: So, what did you mean when you said that?
Dad:I don’t know. But, I think that what your basic great guy wants, if I may presume to put myself in that category, is a totally equal relationship in which both parties are in it for life, are totally committed, and have equal skin in the game. Nobody gets to be prince or princess. It’s a team thing. Guys love teams. Guys are totally into the team ethos; you figure out how to add value, plug in, shut up, and do your job. No fanfare, no kudos, just block the big fat linebacker so the star running back can score a touchdown, and enjoy the champagne pouring over your head in the locker room. Nobody gets to be prince or princess. Does that make sense?
Me: So who gets to be the star running back?
Dad: Whoever can run forty yards in 4.3 seconds. I can’t, so I have to block. Or, in a business setting, I can’t write code, but I can build a spreadsheet showing internal rate of return, so my partner gets to be the rock star programmer.
I guess what I’m saying is, “princess” is just a word, and like so many other words in the English language, its meaning has been re-appropriated many times. It means glass slippers. It means breakfast and bloody mary’s in bed. It means replacing your fins with legs and moving to a place where fathers don’t reprimand their daughters. It means a million things and nothing at all. So, I don’t need you to call me a princess, but I still call shotgun on that Cinderella costume.
Grace DeVoll is currently working as an assistant on a TV show about superheroes, and sometimes confusing it with real life. When she isn't pretending she's Wonder Woman, she enjoys making lists, late night adventure-driving, and dressing up like a princess. You can follow her on twitter @offtothegraces, which would really make her day, or learn more about her here.
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