Theory: Why Women Care About Princesses

Women care about the royalty and their lives more than men do. In Great Britain, for example:

Britain is a nation made up of moderate monarchists and reluctant republicans, according to a Guardian/ICM poll. More people are looking forward to an extra day off work than watching the royal wedding -– but support for the monarchy has nonetheless climbed notably since the crisis following Princess Diana's death. The country is in no mood for a revolution.

The poll shows a large majority think the monarchy is still relevant to national life, makes Britain more respected around the world and is better than any alternative. But there seems to be tolerant scepticism rather than royalist hysteria around the wedding itself.

Only 37% agree that they are genuinely interested in the wedding, while 46% say they are not. Women are much more likely to be interested than men, and only 18% of all people questioned say they are strongly interested in the event.

Even so, 47% agree they will probably watch it on television this Friday, including a majority of women and people aged 18-24. Almost the same proportion, 49%, say they are more excited by the idea of an extra bank holiday than the wedding –- only 31% disagree.

To care about princess Diana* and her life is viewed as silly and frivolous, and that's because it is women who are more interested in her. To care about the wedding of prince William to Kate Middleton (yes, I had to Google the names) is viewed as even more frivolous and silly, and that, too, is because women are more interested in it than men.

At least those are my impressions. So why would some women be very interested in queens or princesses without any real power, on their lives and especially on their weddings? Is it just some "inexplicable" aspect of femininity, like worrying about fashions or fat?

My theory is as follows: Princesses and queens show us the ultimate rewards for women in the traditional (old-old-old) patriarchal system. These are the women who obeyed the rules and got on top! These are the women who were judged on those patriarchal criteria of looks, charm and polite behavior, and they were not found wanting! Their reward is love, fame, celebrity and wealth. They won.

It's not just this that would make the royal wedding interesting to many. It's also the pomp and circumstance, the curiosity about the customs and manners of those life has set apart as "our betters", and it's the echoes which rise from the fact that ordinary people have been to other weddings, know what this ceremony means, and the fact that all is supposed to be happy on that day.

But none of that can explain the strength of the past interest women showed in the lives of royalties and also the royalty-like movie stars of the 1930s and 1940s Hollywood. That interest is based on something deeper, and I believe that it is the power some women gained without kicking against the system.

It seems like this interest is waning now. That, too, would support my theory, because women have other avenues to power and are not as dependent on the few female role models of the past which both "won" and were still regarded as good women: Princesses, actresses, female singers and ballerinas. Those women didn't take jobs from men, didn't have to act "masculine", didn't have to march to get their rights, but they still ended up adored and wealthy (though until the 20th century only "princesses" in that list avoided the possible label of a woman with loose sexual manners).

On the other hand, what is it that little girls seem, once again, to be emulating in their play? Cinderellas and ballet dancers. I believe that the reasons for those choices (by their parents and the toy industry and the society) are the same old ones: Here are role models for girls which apply even in a world of gender inequality, yet don't truly alarm more egalitarian parents. Those role models are not that different from the models given to boys: football players, space heroes, characters with gigantic muscles and super-powers. That they are fewer and more anemic goes with the territory of gendered expectations.

Sure, children grow past those types of toys, and they even grow past the gender-policing stage. But perhaps something remains, something which is then evoked by a royal wedding in women or a football game in men.
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*The story about princess Diana is more complicated and has feminist and quasi-feminist aspects to it. I'm not addressing those here but simply pointing out that her initial attraction was in the Cinderella-story, despite her roots in the British nobility.

This post originally appeared on Echidne of the Snakes. Republished with permission.

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