The feminist cartoon princesses we've been waiting for have arrived
As much as we all like princesses (The dresses! The balls! The princes!) it’s worrisome to think about generations of girls that grow up with these role models that put fashion, beauty, and men first. We can have a soft spot for pink, sparkly princess culture while still recognizing the aspects that are problematic.
So if we have a problem with princesses as role models for little girls, rather than trying to get rid of princesses (good luck getting THAT to happen, we will have a little girl insurrection on our hands) it makes much more sense to give girls princesses that function as relatable and inspiring role models.
Enter “Guardian Princesses” a series of books set on giving girls diverse princesses with stories that have nothing to do with getting the right dress, getting to the ball, and getting the man. Rather, the Guardian Princesses embark upon heroic quests in which they are tasked with protecting natural resources, defending the environment, and saving Earth. Other themes that crop up in the stories include peaceful resolution to conflict and the promotion of healthy eating habits. You know, all those things we want our next generation of little girls caring about, believing in, and fighting for.
The princesses represent a wide swathe of races and cultures as well as exploring the spectrum of gender fluidity. The creators of “Guardian Princesses” put their Princess Ten Ten forth as “the first ever ‘gender independent’ princess.” Ten Ten refuses to follow the gender norms of her culture, she refuses to wear traditional women’s garb and dedicates herself to the traditionally male pursuit of martial arts.
Because of Ten Ten’s refusal to conform to gender norms, she is bullied by her peers and her father refuses to accept her for who she is. She shakes off her haters and becomes a super heroine. And the story also makes a point of embracing her mixed heritage (Ten Ten is Korean, Chinese, and Japanese) and educating readers about East Asian cultures.
Guardian Princess Alliance’s co-founder, Setsu Shigematsu, was inspired to create these princesses for her own daughter, whom she wants to grow up with A+ role models.
“As an educator and mother with a young daughter, I was concerned with the messages of the dominant princess industry currently marketed to our children,” she told Mic.
Though originally her goal was to please her own daughter, Shigematsu is thrilled that so many others are benefiting from her stories:
“We get many emails and messages from parents, teachers, pediatricians and librarians who have all expressed how appreciative and excited they are that we created this project,” Shigematsu said.
Ashanti McMillon, Shigematsu’s partner and Guardian Princess Alliance’s co-founder, is equally thrilled to be giving little girls inspiring heroines:
“Being an African-American woman who grew up in a low-income household, I wasn’t the princess with the glitzy and glamorous clothes who lived in a big house,” McMillon told Mic. “I believe perseverance makes a true princess, and that’s what we want young girls to realize. It doesn’t matter if you are from the hood or from the suburbs. If you can believe in yourself and use your skills to make a positive change, then you are indeed a princess.”
On the website, the mission statement of the Guardian Princess series is emboldening and speaks to exactly what we need in a society that fantasizes the idea of royalty. The aim is “to transform the cultural meaning of princesses and princes into positive role models who take action to protect living beings and the planet for future generations,” the authors state. Through diversity and gender inclusivity, and by expanding “the cultural representation of beauty by including different size princesses and princes, as well as those with disabilities,” they’re changing the way we see and idealize child heroes and heroines. Did we mention, their stories also have a healthy does of science embedded in the narratives to introduce STEM subjects to a new generation of girls? Yeah, this is good stuff.
To paraphrase a “Dark Knight” quote almost past the point of recognition, these are not the princesses our image-obsessed, super-sexist society deserves, but they are the princesses we need. We need princesses who reflect all walks of life, heroines that girls can both relate to and look up to, and the nontraditional heroines of Guardian Princesses are a real step forward in a thrilling direction for kids, and hey, some of us adults, too.