You said its much more interesting to have a character try to fit into their role and fail then a princess character who automatically rebels. Can you tell me more about it and what makes it interesting? I really like your insight when it comes to stories and fairytales.
Ah! Thank you! Well, I really dislike the ‘Rebellious Princess’ narrative for three reasons, and I’ll just go into them below before talking about more interesting approaches
- It’s Classist.
This is the most obvious issue. Your hero is a rebel princess, born into a life of status and privilege. She is the 1%.
Every time the Princess laments that she’s trapped by her own wealth and status, she ignores the fact that her problems are minute and petty in the grander narrative. Princesses are inherently privileged, and it’s ignorant to ignore their own wealth in favour of chasing some bohemian ‘freedom’.
We get it, kiddo. You hate needlework and you don’t want to be Queen. But your kingdom is in the middle ages, people eat dirt and no one is happy. The Princess might yearn for some vague concept of ‘something more’, but that’s myopic and selfish when her people yearn for electricity and proper sanitation.
I have extreme difficulty enjoying Star vs the Forces of Evil.
2. It pits the hero against other women to make her rebellion look good.
So you have your Princess who rejects the institution of traditional femininity. All well and good. But in order for her to be rebellious, there must be an institution in the first place for her to reject.
Enter The Institution. Call her St Olga’s Reform School for Wayward Princesses, call her Prudence, or Marina Del Rey. No matter what she looks or acts like, you know you’ve seen her before. She’s prudish, traditionally feminine, tough as nails, and probably sews her own ballgowns on her weekends off.
She is a perfectly good woman in any other sense, but since she’s everything your princess doesn’t want to be, conflict has to arise from the princess fighting her and her ideals.
And of course, the princess will win, because traditional femininity is evil.
Oh, Prudence, you deserved so much more than the Disney Sequel you got.
In a feminist world there’s nothing wrong with fighting old ideas of what women should act like - but in a postmodern feminist world, one must be aware that some women willingly are quite happy to be traditionally feminine, and some don’t have the luxury of choice to pick whatever kind of femininity they embody.
Pitting the ‘feminist’ rebel princess against traditionally feminine women is a microaggression in itself: we have never needed to sell men an empowerment narrative by pitting men against each other, so why start here? Also note that Disney is extremely fond of this, especially in marketing Frozen and its reboot movies by saying it’s better than ‘classic princess’ movies because ‘classic princesses’ needed men:
3. It’s a White-Feminist narrative.
Oh GOD is it a White-Feminist narrative!
I said before that some woman don’t have the luxury to be rebel princesses, and some willingly want to be traditionally femme. This is especially so in POC cultures.
In Chinese culture, the concept of filial piety is a very important one: to be dutiful and respectful to your parents, and placing your family’s honour and their values above your own.
Mulan does not have the luxury of ‘rebellion’. Rebellion would dishonour her family, rebellion would shame her parents. Mulan’s entire character arc exists to teach her to balance her parent’s needs with her own, and it ends with her bestowing her war prizes to her father - at the height of her own glory she doesn’t forget where she came from - and it’s the greatest show of honour she could possibly give.
To turn Mulan into a rebel princess would be to undermine everything her culture and the folklore surrounding her represents. A lot of these themes are repeated in Moana - how much of yourself do you give up to make your parents happy? What is the true meaning of tradition? When you exist for other people can you still know who you are?
Moana is great. Watch it.
Making White Feminist statements like ‘my princesses isn’t like a classic princess! she feminist and doesnt need to listen to anyone!’ does a massive disservice to other cultures who have to balance force of will with filial piety.
So, about those Interesting Narratives…
Pans Labyrinth (2006) is thematically about ‘rebellion’ - it’s set in the Spanish Civil War and half of its narrative is about fighting a military dictatorship. It’s other half is about Ofelia (a fairy changeling), who is given instructions so that she can return to the magical world. Ofelia proceeds to mess all of them up: she eats from a magical table when she’s told to take no food, she refuses to kill an infant to open a gate to her homeworld. While excited to be a princess, Ofelia struggles to cope with the morally dubious or downright strange demands she’s presented with. Her rebellion isn’t a girl with a weapon in her hand: it’s a girl who legitimately wants to be a princess but isn’t cruel enough to do what it takes to get there.
I wanted to give others - and they are plenty - but this post has gone on long enough. ;w; Do come back to me if you want to know more, anon! I’m overjoyed to be able to talk about this!