The Princess Problem
I had the opportunity to catch a couple Grammy performances this year. I’m not really an awards show person but I was sitting with Sean when Kacey Musgraves performed “Follow Your Arrow” and I found myself throughly charmed. She went on to win “Best Country Album” and “Best Country Song” so apparently, I wasn’t alone in that sentiment. Now, I happen to like country music and dig the super model meets early Dolly vibe she’s got going on, but in this case I was most impressed with her simple, upbeat message. Follow Your Arrow is a song about the names we call each other and the judgements we make when people don’t behave the way we want them to. The message being: You’ll never please everyone so you may as well just be yourself.
It reminded me of a visit I recently had with an old family friend. At one point in the conversation the topic drifted to personality types and he referred to me as a princess. Technically, he was referring to his girlfriend and he said, “She’s kind of a princess…like you.” We all had a good laugh, like “Oh, I like my creature comforts…hee hee…I like $5 coffees…ha ha…I don’t want to sleep in the back of a van…ho ho ho”. It was all said in good fun but, since a fair amount of truth is spoken in jest, the conversation started me thinking. Marketing encourages little girls to look up to, and aspire to be princesses, yet the word “princess” is typically used with distain and even malice. What does it say about a culture that encourages little girls to be something then chastises them later for being so? We’ll get you the t-shirts, the costumes, the movies but if you become one, you should feel s*^#ty about yourself because it’s a terrible way to be. Why would we push a concept so hard on our children if we’re just going to use it later to insult them as adults?
The dictionary defines a princess as “the daughter of a monarch” and obviously that applies to very few of us. Even our most famous princess, Catherine Middleton, the Duchess of Cambridge only arrived there via marriage. The urban dictionary has a long drawn out list of qualities a princess should possess like poise, humility and benevolence but I’m pretty sure my friend wasn’t thinking of those adjectives when he referred to me as one. Beyond the pet term from your Daddy or boyfriend, “princess” usually refers to someone high maintenance or demanding. Someone who requires only the best and is uncomfortable with any sort of mess or hard work.
Basically, unless your five, or being given a diamond necklace at the time, being called a princess is an insult and it speaks to the double standard our society allots to men and women. Pantene recently did a commercial highlighting this fact, and no matter how you feel about gender inequality or double standards, I think we can all agree there is no urban vernacular term equivalent to Princess for men. In general, the most derogatory terms skew female. Bitch. Whore. Slut. Even words that are used to humiliate men are typically female biased – Pussy, Wuss, Sensitive. “Can I get you a tampon with that drink?” Even put downs like High Maintenance and Bossy are reserved primarily for women. “Princess” is just one more way to tell women there’s something wrong with them and, despite the fact it was said to me with love, being called one p*^# me off.
Look, there are truly unbearable people out there. People who are clueless to the plight of others. People who send back their water because it’s not Voss or the lemon isn’t myer. People who talk down to waiters and request only green M&M’s. I’m not talking about those people. There should be a special word reserved for those people. D*^ks might fit since it implies selfish, single minded behavior, but in the wake of my princess argument being gender biased, perhaps a*#hole is better since it skews gender neutral but with less than favorable implications.
The question remains, is it really “high maintenance” to send something back if it’s wrong? Is it truly “demanding” to request a seat by the window rather than one by the kitchen door? Is it really such a terrible thing to know what you want and ask for it? Why should I feel ashamed if I value myself enough to not just meekly take what’s offered? Should I feel the need to apologize for preferring to sleep in a bed or use an indoor toilet? I’m Canadian. I’ve camped a lot in my life. It was fun. I’ll probably do it again. But, given the choice, I’d rather sit in a cabana at a chic hotel. That doesn’t make me a princess. It makes me different than a camper. Throwing a fit if you don’t get what you want is a problem. Taking steps to make what you want a reality, that’s just proactive. Why can’t we see that type of behavior for the positive it is? Why must we judge with such rigorous standards and, how can we possibly get it right if everyone’s standards are different? You want to backpack around the world with one pair of pants? Knock yourself out. I’d literally lose my mind doing that but, I don’t judge you for it, so don’t judge me for aspiring to a nice house or a pair of Leboutains.
We tell women this…
Then we treat them like this…
Something is wrong with that.
When Sean and I first started dating we talked about going to Vegas. We didn’t have a lot of money so he suggested we put down the back seats of my SUV and sleep in the car. I immediately burst into tears. I thought, “Oh my God, this guy doesn’t know me at all. How could he suggest such a thing? I would rather not go on a trip than go to a place with a million hotels and sleep in my car!” I worried that even though we were very serious about each other he didn’t truly accept me for who I was and I was devastated. For him it was merely a suggestion that could be abandoned. For me, it was a sign something was glaringly wrong. Not wrong with me (who doesn’t like hotels?) or with him (there are a lot of people who aren’t hung up on creature comforts), but with us as a couple.
I was reminded of that feeling when my friend made his comment which, incidentally, I don’t think his girlfriend was too crazy about either. After he left our house, I asked Sean if he thought I was, in fact, a princess? He said no, that what “princess” implies doesn’t fit who I am and, whether he was paying me lip service or not, when it really comes down to it I think we should be able to be who we are without having to apologize for the label placed on us for being that way. I don’t advocate acting like a jerk in the name of “being true to yourself”. I just think we need to stop using labels to degrade and berate each other for behavior that’s different from our own.
If you live life with respect – for yourself and others – then any other personality quirk is just that, a quirk. One more thing that makes you, you. Your preferences and traits are not BAD or GOOD, they are mearly another layer to a fuller, more realized person. If I want to be fancy, I’ll be fancy. If you want to be spartan, you be spartan. Let’s try being ourselves without apology or judgement.
And please, let’s stop calling each other names.
Except the a#@holes. They kind of deserve it.