We were watching an event on TV recently, and I noticed William and Kate, aka the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, our future King and Queen, in the audience.
I said to my daughter, “Look, there’s a princess.”. *
“Where?” she replied.
I pointed out Kate, wearing sunglasses and what I am sure is a perfectly nice dress – but a world away from the sparkly tiara and ballgown clad ladies of Disney and other princess fiction. I could see our daughter looking confused.
Explaining the concept of a constitutional monarchy to a child is tricky, but the fact remains that we have a Queen, Princes, and Princesses. I’m one of those mildly hypocritical Brits who’s an anti-Royalist yet also thinks we are incredibly lucky to have someone like Queen Elizabeth as our head of state.
But when I analyse my anti-royal feelings, it’s not because of any resentment of their wealth. In fact I think I only realised why when William and Kate’s children were born.
I felt sorry for them. Especially Prince George, but Princess Charlotte too. I felt sorry for their lack of opportunity. That try as they might, their parents will have very little impact on how they eventually lead in their adult lives.
The British royal family exist in a bubble of scrutiny and pre-destined duty. Sure, there’s privilege attached too, but their role is rigidly defined and any life choices are endlessly criticised – who they date/marry, any work they undertake, what they wear, how they relax. Doing military service is a given, however they may feel about armed conflict.
Their path in life is decided from birth, with a duty to serve the people of Britain and the Commonwealth. It is in many ways a life of servitude.
I am baffled why so many parents of girls encourage them to dream of being a princess. Why would we want to promote such a pre-determined life to our children?
Princesses aren’t banned in our house. They are not encouraged either. But they are ever present in products and media targeted at girls. While many Disney Princesses have admirable qualities in their own stories, the branding reduces them to posing in sparkly dresses with empty smiles to match. So I have always been keen to introduce other fictional princesses who subvert the stereotype.
There is the superhero princess Wonder Woman (Princess Diana no less), the space princess Leia. Others have been useful such as Studio Ghibli’s Princess Mononoke as well as Princess Nausicaä in their Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind.
These are women who are princesses in name only, and have much more admiral qualities than looking pretty, wearing fancy dresses, and getting a prince to fall in love with them. Most importantly, compared to most of the real life Windsors, they have chosen their own paths in life.
Another interesting fictional princess has been the character of Princess Pearl in Julia Donaldson & Axel Scheffler’s children’s book Zog – where she relinquishes her royal role to become a flying doctor.
This was recently mirrored in real life in our hometown, right next-door to my daughter’s nursery. Prince William paid a literal flying visit – landing his Air Ambulance helicopter in a field next door. Someone nearby had been injured, and William and his team arrived to help.
Much like Princess Pearl, William has chosen to work as an aviator to help those in need of medical assistance. By all accounts he enjoys the work immensely. But he isn’t able to devote much time to it. And as he nears his ascension to the throne, he will have even less. His destiny – since birth – has been to be King.
Like most parents, I want to provide our daughter as many opportunities to find her own way in the world as possible. William – and his children – have very little say in theirs.
Princess culture endorses this pre-determined life, where only birth and/or marriage defines your existence. The British Royal family are living proof of this.
Is that the kind of future we really want for our girls?
*Note: Despite the title of Duchess, Kate is still a Princess. In fact her occupation on the birth certificate of her children is stated as ‘Princess of the United Kingdom’