Mara Wood is a school psychology doctoral student at the University of Central Arkansas. Her research focus is on the educational application of comics as well as their use in therapeutic settings with children and adolescents. She is a regular contributor for Talking Comics, a co-host on The Missfits podcast, and writes about psychology, comics, books, and Dungeons & Dragons on her personal blog. You can find her on twitter as @MegaMaraMon
Maria Werdine Norris is a final year PhD candidate at the London School of Economics and Political Science. Her research is on British Counter-terrorism strategy and legislation, with a focus on nationalism, security and human rights. You can find her on Twitter rambling about comics, human rights and magical girls as @MariaWNorris
Every girl wants to be a princess. At least that’s what we are led to believe. In fact, juggernauts such as Disney believe in this idea so much that they have built an empire around it. The Disney Princess franchise regularly makes around $3 billion a year globally, which is remarkable considering it markets itself primarily to women and girls.
Here at the Vocal Minority, we love princesses. Growing up, Maria was obsessed with princesses. She walked around dressed in pink tulle with a tiara on her head, ordering her siblings around. She watched all of the Disney movies, but strongly disliked the ones that did not feature a princess. To this day, stories featuring princesses feature high on her list of favourites. Mara learned all the song to the Disney movies and collected the paper dolls. She spent hours designing ballgowns for them (Star Wars Episode I nearly killed her with dangerous combination of a queen and high fashion). There’s nothing wrong with loving princesses. But there is something wrong with princess culture.
Princess culture encourages conformity, both of looks and behaviour. Most princess stories, especially those aimed at children, place beauty higher than brains. So women are taught from a young age that not only is their appearance important, but that beauty looks a certain way. On top of that, princesses are portrayed as objects of desire to a prince, a prize to be won by a handsome prince who swoops in and saves the day. And that way is pretty much the definition of cisgendered heteronormativity: white, heterosexual and demure. This enforcement of a very specific set of looks and behaviour is damaging for young women, having been linked with premature sexualisation, depression, eating disorders and narcissism.
Knowing the problem is only half the battle. Efforts have been made to portray princesses as beacons of strength. Look at the success of Disney’s Frozen – they incorporated elements outside of the princess mythology. Brave is another example of a movie that utilizes a princess in a different fashion. However, for lasting change to happen, an overhaul of the expectations of a princess story must occur.
Jeremy Whitley’s Princeless story does just that. Inspired by the lack of diversity in princess stories, Whitley set out to make something different. His creation is a force to be reckoned with – a princess of color who is not satisfied waiting to be rescued. Adrienne is perhaps the most important princess created in that she has become a vehicle for a new generation of girls to explore their potential and come to the realization that they are more than a pretty face. Princeless has introduced other characters, one of which is Raven. Her story will be told in Raven: The Pirate Princess. Not only is she out to debunk the princess (and pirate) mythology, she is out to provide even more diversity in the comics we read.
The Vocal Minority started with a commitment to the future of comics, and we have a firm belief that that future is a welcoming, diverse place. Comics are for everyone, regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation, or genre preference. Princeless has a place in our hearts, and we hope that you will give it a shot this month as we explore why this series is so important to comic book readers.