How a "Princess Diaries" message board introduced me to feminism
Ten years ago, The Wall Street Journal quoted me about my love of author Meg Cabot’s books. I started reading The Princess Diaries when I was fourteen years old, and I was already a fan of the film. Two years after Disney’s big screen version, I devoured all of the Princess Diaries books that had been released — the first four volumes — I and followed the series until the final book was released in 2009. During those years, I also caught up on Meg’s back catalog: the Mediator series, the 1-800-Where-R-You? series, two historical romances for teens, and a couple of her adult books (though not the racy romance ones — I didn’t read those until I was a little older).
Everything seemed to come full circle when, in 2015, Meg surprised fans with a new Princess Diaries book, Royal Wedding, written for adults — because some of her earliest fans had graduated from young adult to adult. The book came out during my first semester of graduate school, when I was living in a studio apartment far away from home with the guy I married. I was at a crossroads in my life — and so was Princess Mia. (I mean, I obviously didn’t have to worry about the princess thing, although I still fantasize about becoming royalty — in the same way I’m still waiting for my Hogwarts letter.)
So how the hell did I end up in The Wall Street Journal? In 2004, when Meg opened the Meg Cabot Book Club (or MCBC, a message board for fans), I volunteered to be a moderator. I worked fairly closely with Meg, the site administrator, and other moderators around my age or a little older who were also fans of the books.
The newspaper was doing a piece on Meg, and I guess they asked her if there was a fan they could quote. She gave them my name after sending me an email one morning, and mere hours later, I was talking on the phone to a journalist from The Wall Street Journal:
“I can be seen as weird like some of Meg’s characters… A lot of the other kids like punk music and I like folk and country. Her books make me feel I’m not the only one out there who doesn’t conform.”
The quote still stands—I’m still pretty weird and I still don’t conform (to what, though, I don’t even know anymore).
I spent my formative teen years on the MCBC talking to other girls around the world about Meg’s books, other literature, and growing up. The majority of members were probably around ages 12-16, give or take a few years.
I wouldn’t be who I am today — or at least not quite who I am — without Meg Cabot and the experiences that came with reading her books. Princess Mia was a vegetarian and feminist, and one of the first outspoken nonconformist female characters I’d encountered in a YA book. All of that stuck with me (even if they didn’t always stick with Princess Mia) — I’ve been pescetarian for about twelve years and feminist for even longer. Meg’s books were (and still are) subtly — and sometimes explicitly — political. So naturally, some of her older readers were also outspoken about their politics on the board.
I remember one moderator in particular who posted that a friend of hers was “pro-life,” and wouldn’t listen to her views on abortion. She (my friend) didn’t know how to explain herself without flying off the handle and alienating her friend. Our site admin replied with a list of talking points and well-thought out responses to anti-choice questions.
I didn’t come from a political family. I wasn’t raised with strong political views, so as a kid who went to a Catholic elementary school, I went on what I knew — I identified as pro-life because abortion ended a pregnancy and that was wrong… right?
So when the admin responded to that post, talking about choice and freedom and all those things, I found myself reading those words and nodding along. Wait, that makes sense, I thought. I agree with that. That, too. Oh, my God.
“Am I pro-choice?” I asked my empty bedroom.
And that’s how it all began. I enjoyed research, so I started reading feminist literature and learning about “women’s rights” and the waves of feminism.
Feministing was one of the first feminist sites I regularly read. I think I eventually would have encountered feminism — but I don’t know when or how. I might have been someone who is feminist, but doesn’t use the word. I could have ended up with an incredibly different worldview, and I wouldn’t even realize it.
I’m not in touch with either of those moderators today, but I’m Facebook friends with a couple original members of the MCBC. We’ve all grown up to be pretty awesome people — if I may say so myself in a rare moment of self-appreciation.
I’ve kept in touch with Meg over the years via email — updating her on important happenings in my life or just saying hi. I did meet her a couple times IRL.
First, I interviewed her for a school project; she was kind enough to give me a little bit of her free time while she was at the National Book Festival. We met for a second time about ten years later — I was with my partner, and we all met over drinks and talked about “grown-up” things. She is very straight-forward about life and love and everything.
We all have favorite writers — writers who change our view of the world around us. But Meg Cabot and the friendships I developed through her books helped me create my view of the world.
And it happened during the most difficult years of most people’s lives — adolescence. And while those years were still confusing, depressing, and seemingly never-ending, her books gave me weird characters to relate to. Her books probably gave me a head start at growing up and creating my own individual self. And that’s all a teenage girl could ask for.