I was watching anime last night, and the sentence “All girls are born princesses” floated across the screen in an almost humourously out of context scene (the show is pretty dark and gothic overall). While anime/manga shouldn’t be held as a gold standard for feminism the implication of girls being princesses initially made my skin crawl. However, if I think about it a little it can also be used to support feminism if interpreted correctly.
My gut reaction to “all girls are born princesses” was the sense that women and girls are something precious that must be protected, put up on pedestals, and generally objectified. It made me feel that females held a less valuable role and were solely defined in connection to their relationship with men (see many of the Disney princesses blindly waiting to be saved by a mostly characterless man). Being a princess may have been better than being a peasant historically, but they were still political pawns without a lot of agency. Girls being born princesses in this sense isn’t really a positive thing, is it?
However, I forced myself to step back and think about “reclaiming” the word princess. It’s easy to condemn the princess boom as creating women who think that they should be rescued by men, but if we move away from the obvious imagery and meaning “princess” can be a good thing. If we teach girls that they are born to be respected, treated well, and valued for their abilities that is also a form of being born a princess. Self-respect, confidence, and the belief that you are worthy of a certain degree of chivalry gives a girl power. This type of princess can navigate the world without being constantly mistreated and dependent on others for her identity. In this sense all girls are born princesses; society just strips the title away.
I’m not crazy enough to think that my anime was implying the latter, but I’d like to believe we can embrace powerful, self-confident princesses as much as the frilly ones who dream of a Prince Charming. Adult women owe it to ourselves and to the little girls who look up to us to remake the term and make princess something strong, not just a pejorative.