Paper White Princess.

An incident occured at work today. Well, I mean it wasn’t much of an incident but it bugged me a fair bit nonetheless.

I absolutely love my current summer job. I work at a bookstore. I am a reading freak so being around books is my dream job first of all. Secondly, I work with a fantastic bunch of people. I actually genuinely like all of them and they are all really nice and friendly. Compared to my last job where I also worked in book merchandising but within the most bitchiest paranoid environment. It makes me appreciate how much more vital it is to be surrounded by good people. That even if I land a dream job, whom I work with is just as important.

I digress. Today I was sorting through some book orders when I came across a much beloved book from childhood.

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I find this book fantastic for various reasons. I won’t go into too much detail other than to say I love how a submissive princess in fancy clothes turns into an empowered individual who in only a paper bag subverts the dragon cleverly and attempts to rescue her kidnapped prince.

So I turn to a male coworker of mine and tell him how much I loved this book and important it is for children to read about a princess who does not allow the prince in her life to control her body or her gender. The dialogue between us then went something like this.

Him: Yes, but I don’t imagine a girl from an eastern culture being allowed to tell her husband to beat it. (Not realizing right away he is referring to me as a girl from an eastern culture).

Me: (wondering why he is referring to girls of eastern culture) Of course, there are vast sexism issues that exist but not all women are ruled by their husbands. I know so many girls from countries like Pakistan who are daddies little girls and won’t tolerate their husband even raising their voices at them. You can’t stereotype.

Him: Yes true, but it still does happen.

Me: Well yes it does. All stereotypes contain a grain of truth.

Him: Yeah, see.

Me: But that has nothing to do with me, I was born and raised in Australia.

Him: Yes but you were born into that culture.

Me: Well my family doesn’t oppress me. I have complete freedom.

And so on and so forth. I end up discussing my family history, my psychologist grandfather whom I was very close to, how my mother and her family pushed me hard to pursue higher education. My love of books strongly comes from them. My grandparents use to tell me over and over that in life people have to guard their wealth, but knowledge is a wealth that guards you. I concluded that sexism is a gender based issue and not just something that exists in one culture alone. We dropped the topic pretty quickly.

I didn’t say anything else to him but I was so mad! I was mad that as someone who is born and raised in Australia, who identifies myself as such, is still seen as an eastern person, someone who is an outsider. It still hurts me that by some I am seen as an outsider simply based on the colour of my skin. It upsets me that people can make assumptions about me based on my race alone.

Furthermore it raised an important issue. The idea that feminism is purely a western concept and cannot appeal to people like me because hey, I’m “eastern’ and therefore am submissive. It boils me over and is an important reminder that people need to see feminism as far more inclusive than it is today.

I’m not going to label this person as a racist. He actually is a very nice person. Which is why this bugs me. If he was a racist, I could dismiss him. But he isn’t and it makes me realize how internalized this line of thought must be in so many people.

But even without racist intent, this form of privileged thinking is still wrong. Because regardless of intent, the way you are made to feel is the same. It fucking sucks to feel excluded over something like my ethnicity, which I have no say or control over.

Title: The Paper Bag Princess

Author: Robert Munsch

Illustrator: Michael Martchenko

Publisher/Copyright: Annick Press, 1980

Genre: Fantasy Format: Picture Book

Awards: National Parenting Publications Award, 2006 Gold Book Ages 6 & Up

Summary:  This is a twisted tale of a princess having to rescue her groom-to-be from a fire-breathing, castle-destroying, prince-stealing dragon. All she can find to wear for her journey is a paper bag but she uses her intellect to outsmart the dragon and rescue the prince. It turns out he wasn’t worth marrying after all.

Description of Illustrations: Colorful ink and watercolor illustrations complement the story and help bring the paper bag princess to life.

Personal Response: One of the books main attributes is that it is unique from other prince and princess stories. The princess is the hero and decides to give up her prize (the prince) anyway. The message is clear; brains over brawn and beauty on the inside are important concepts. 

Classroom Connection: This is a fun story to read aloud and could be used to inspire students to make their own paper bag shirts, dresses, or hats. It could also be used to spur a discussion about using intelligence to solve a problem or defeat an obstacle.

Relevant Websites: http://robertmunsch.com/

http://www.myactivitymaker.com/?q=PaperBagPrincess

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