(I know this isn't related to anything to do with YA but it's been bugging me for ages and I need to get it off my chest.)
I don’t care about the Royal Wedding. I’m not anti-Royalist, although I do have my objections with the system, and I wish Prince William and Kate Middleton all the luck in the world for their marriage. I just don’t want to have to put up with every news outlet on this side of the Atlantic (and a few on the other side) obsessing over this event as if our lives depended on it, nitpicking over every minute detail and throwing judgement down on the bride-to-be on every aspect of her life, from her clothes to her virginity (sadly, that’s not a joke). This was always going to be a day of celebration but the oversaturation of the press covering this as if it was a world crisis is just stupid, especially since there are actual crises of importance unfolding as we speak that desperately need more attention than a few waving flags and a big white dress. Mostly, I’ve been ignoring all the fuss, which is easier to do if you’re like me and don’t own a TV, and for the large part that’s been fine. But a recent visit to the bookshop led to me seeing something I just can’t ignore.
Sitting on a display shelf in the picture-book section were several copies of “William and Kate: The Royal Wedding” along with some other various titles featuring repetitions of the words “wedding” and “princess”. It’s no secret that pretty pink princesses and all the implied connotations are openly and frequently advertised to little girls with massive profits, but seeing a book for young girls barely up and walking telling them all about this magical fairytale wedding just freaked me out.
The princess phenomenon, and profiting from it, is nothing new. Disney have made it into an art-form, making anticipated sales of $4billion from their Disney Princess franchise. Go onto Google Shopping and google “Disney Princess” to see how many thousands of copyrighted merchandise with the Disney princess’s faces appears. Absolutely everything can be marketed as princess related, even freaking toothbrushes! These products saturate the market and are pushed specifically onto young girls. I’m sure I’ll get protests from people saying it’s just girls being girls, it’s a phase of life and they’ll grow out of it. That’s all well and good but why is it girls being girls? Gender is not black and white, or should I say pink and blue. It’s not something that’s decided from birth and is the set mould you must follow for the rest of your live
Check out this word cloud put together by “The Achilles Effect” blog on toy adverts and the terms most frequently associated with toys aimed and boys and those aimed at girls. For boys, it’s all about “battle”, “power”, “heroes”, “action” and so on. There’s nothing like that for girls, where the emphasis lies on nurturing, fashion and “babies”. Boys get to make things and be creative while girls get to look pretty and train to be mini-housewives. This is the same sort of stuff we see when we look at the princess phenomenon, especially Disney. The earlier princesses were as docile and passive as can be, doing cleaning and housework or just generally lounging around the forest with their woodland friends. For the majority of them, their focus is on getting a man, sometimes by any means possible (Ariel in “The Little Mermaid” sells her voice to get the man, pretty much forcing her to rely on her body to get the job done. Reminder: Ariel’s 16 years old. Snow White’s only supposed to be 13 or 14.) It’s only recently that the princesses have had any backbone or real development as characters, but the prince charming at the end remains the ultimate reward, except for Mulan.
Isn’t it a little worrying to see a corporation of extraordinary power and influence, one that controls a vast percentage of US and world media, pushing this gender expectation onto girls at their most impressionable age? Advertisers spend around $17billion a year advertising to kids, who will see tens of thousands of adverts a year. How are parents supposed to compete with that when it comes to letting their kids grow up without the influences of archaic gender expectations and unrealistic body images? There’s already so much pressure on girls of all ages to look perfect without the gender default mode being pushed onto kids on everything, from movies to t-shirts to toothbrushes. What about the girls who decide they don’t want to play with dolls and pink dresses, what options are there for them? Or the boys who do want to dress up and be the nurturer instead of the warrior? It’s not just girls who are being screwed over by this all – remember the JCrew advert of the mother painting her son’s toenails pink, and the completely ridiculous outrage it caused? (By the way ,that kid rocked hot pink.)
I’m not saying this is all the Royal Wedding’s fault or something. I’m sure Kate Middleton’s got enough on her plate without that. But when our media doesn’t grow out of its obsession for princesses and the perfect pure beauty, what are we left with? Our culture worships beauty, often placing it above intelligence and wit. Then there’s the obsession with purity. I almost gagged when I saw the headline “Is Kate Middleton a virgin?” It’s 2011 and we’re still shaming women into fitting the perfect princess mode of purity. Middleton, a woman with a St Andrews University degree, is valued by her press for her beauty and her supposed purity because that’s what will make her a good princess. That’s pathetic. The princess madness makes us judge little girls based on their looks, not their creativity or growing minds. I think the term ‘brainwashed’ is a little strong but it’s hard to think of another term to describe constant mass advertising telling little boys and girls what they should like, then having so-called journalists and experts say how abnormal it is for them to deviate from the norm. Obsessions with weddings are weird at any age for me, but there’s something almost dastardly about pushing this obsession onto kids, as if it’s the ultimate goal for them before they even really know what a wedding is. A lot of girls will grow out of this phase, and maybe it’ll just end with a lot of princess toys in the charity shop, but then they’ve got the big bad world of beauty obsessions, 12 page diet specials, plastic surgery TV shows, slut-shaming, virginity speculation and casual misogyny to deal with. The gender role continues. I don’t think it’s too much to ask that we tell the girls they can save the prince instead, that they're capable of being so much more than just a wife, or show them the over options beyond what Disney designates to be profitable. It’d be nice to have the choice.