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The Princess Story

Modeling the Feminine in Twentieth-Century American Fiction and Film


Sarah Rothschild

What is a princess story? In this subgenre, newly defined in The Princess Story, the protagonist either is a princess or is attempting to become one: the girl transforms into or identifies herself as a princess through marriage or through discovered identity, or both. Princess lessons often accompany this transformation, lessons that not only educate the fictional girl but also the reader.
Cultural expectations and anxieties about the roles of girls and women are transmitted through princess stories, and the dialogic nature of feminism and patriarchy, forces for progress and forces for tradition, can be explored through their study. In this book, feminism and progress are embodied by the first, second, and third wave of feminist princess stories; patriarchy and tradition are represented by Disney Studios’ princess stories. All of these stories influenced their readers, some of whom grew up to write their own princess stories, stories that reflected and – they hoped – furthered their ideological goals. Princess stories of the early 2000s are compelling in that they tensely balance romance and feminist assumptions.
Anyone interested in folklore studies, feminist studies, children’s literature, Disney studies, film adaptations, psychology, sociology, or theories of child development will find The Princess Story: Modeling the Feminine in Twentieth-Century American Fiction and Film essential reading. When contemplating the changes made by feminists to American culture, no one figure is as worth examining as the fictional princess, and no book has yet approached the topic as thoroughly as this one.


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Chapter Three: Second-Wave Feminists and Ideologically Intent Princess Stories 91


™ CHAPTER THREE ™ Second-Wave Feminists and Ideologically Intent Princess Stories IN THE 1960S, second-wave feminism became a force for change in society. Women sought and gained economic power, moving out of the household and into the workforce. Feminists began to understand the psychological and material implications of sexism and sexist stereotypes, and the feminist movement helped women move beyond such thinking to expand their life options and improve their lots. In the 1970s, some feminists turned their attention to fairy tales, encouraging women readers to understand the implications and ramifications of sexism and sexist stereotypes in literature, especially literature consumed by young girls. Not only did feminists in academia examine extant fairy tales, their undercurrents and their (presumed) ramifications, but some feminist writers began creating their own versions of fairy tales, using them to “depict the struggles women undergo to define their lives in opposition to the daily lives they experience” (Zipes “Introduction” 2). The feminist authors of these fairy tales had a larger purpose: By reconstructing fairy-tale worlds along non-sexist lines, the writers of feminist fairy tales address society at large, question recurrent patterns of values and the stable expectations about roles and relations. They do not naively believe that one can change gender arrangements and social behavior by simply reformulating the traditional fairy tales. On the other hand, it has been demonstrated by psychologists and educators time and again that stories and fairy tales do influence the manner in which children conceive the world and their places in it...

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