I hold my hand up and say that I was a wannabe princess-in-waiting as a young child. Disney princesses, Princess Diana; they were a fixture in books and on TV, and yes, I would idly dream of the day I got to wear the ball gown, being The Fairest One of All. But the world was a different place, it was a different time, and I thought no further than glass slippers. I can’t remember what age I was when I thought that being confined to a tower waiting for a prince all sounded very dull and boring, while the boys got to have the adventures.
From toys to clothes, children are told how they should act from the beginning. Girls are ladylike; they wear pink dresses, they’re precious and pretty, while boys are the opposite; rough and ready to score goals and save the world. Those ideas still exist in 2017. Even birthday cards still grasp at this concept, for God’s sake. The only princess that disbanded this ideal, for me, was Princess Leia, played by the late, brilliant Carrie Fisher. She flipped the switch on what it meant to be considered a mere princess – she was smart, savvy, quick-witted and took no prisoners; she was a hero in her own right. And we’ve moved towards that, Disney has given us a slew of independent, ballsy female characters that challenge the status quo from the powerful Elsa from Frozen to the tough-as-nails, bow-slinging Princess Merida from Brave – these are kick-ass women, giving new meaning to what it is to be a modern princess.
Which is why, when I read that Kate Middleton, the Duchess of Cambridge, was overheard telling a four-year-old named Daisy that she was “very lucky” to be a princess because she was “well looked after by her husband”, my heart sank. Now, if your daughter loves the traditional sense of being a princess, that’s fine. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with this. But there’s another side to the issue as it’s a complex one; to some women, the idea of being a princess is an honour; a big deal, given only to the brave, very best of women. Others see it as a damaging stereotype – another box for women try to fit into, who will fail miserably if they don’t have beautiful long hair, an impossibly small waist or their very own prince to save the day (eh, save your own day!). The Duchess of Cambridge’s comments were (likely unknowingly) presented as the only view a four-year-old girl could potentially have of herself as a princess. And that’s a potential problem.
It’s also a completely regressive statement to make at a time when women are shouting for change – when not four days ago millions of women around the world went out to fight and challenge sexism, bigotry, misogyny and extremism. What sort of message is that sending to Daisy, Daisy’s friends and the many impressionable young women who could hear those comments? On the other hand, yes, it’s a mere comment, it could have been said in jest, but it’s disheartening all the same – even at four, young children are hugely perceptive – and it feels like we’re taking us a step back when we are trying to leap forwards. For a woman who is so warm, engaging and intelligent, it’s disappointing. Kate meant the comments kindly, but it isn’t the point. She is a woman of considerable influence in the public eye, looked upon by millions, and there is a responsibility that comes with that – and why give her husband all the credit for the role she has dedicated her life to? She does many commendable things in her own right, why not mention this also?
When so many of us are fighting to be heard, Kate has a platform from which she can campaign on behalf of women, rather than pigeonholing her position, and by association, her gender.