When I was a small child, I wanted desparately to be a princess. Or, as I would pronouce it, a "PrinCESS." I also wanted to be a Safeway Cashier (since Safeway was a fun place to visit, and we went on a playschool field trip there where they gave us treats), and soon both of these ambitions gave way to my desire to be either a writer (sometimes writer/illustrator, because in my world all books had pictures) or a teacher. But the Princess ambition held on for a long time. It was the sort of ambition that I would tell strangers about.
In the midst of all the analysis of gender that I do, it's very strange to remember this about my childhood. But it's really interesting because of the specific culture it's rooted in. My "PrinCESS" ambition was not of the "Disney Princesses Choke-Yourself-On-Pink Marketing Scheme." Instead, it was very much the result of the early-80s media obsession with the Royal Family, with the marriages of Charles and Diana, and then Andrew and Sarah. I couldn't get enough of that stuff. I think the whole "Princess Diana was just a teacher before she met Charles" lore really caught on with kids like me. And I'm Canadian: she was going to be my queen!
I know that it was very escapist. I know that it was outright avoidance of the discoveries that I kept making about the "real world," such discoveries as the idea that after I'd finished all that school that stretched before me, I'd probably have to go to some scary-sounding place called "University," and then work at a job. None of that sounded particularly romantic to a little imaginer like me. (Little did I know that University could become my own make-believe world, where I wouldn't have to spend my whole day in an office, but instead I could both write and teach.) But "Princesses" were different. I was convinced that they were part of some different time, where they wore crowns and robes all day and did everything I read in my fairytales. Obviously, this was before the tabloids. Before the divorces. Before I became a historian, and before I learned about class and poverty.
And that leaves me in the strangest place. A little of that remains in me, which played a large role in my wedding dress and veil purchase (as I wavered between Grace Kelley and Audrey Hepburn's role in Roman Holiday), but when I'm faced with outright marketing of "princesses" aimed at girls, I feel a little sad.