The XX Factor

The Princess Puzzle, Part II

If you have the stomach to read one more thing this weekend about princesses, just one, please let it be Marjorie Williams’s piece The Princess Puzzle , written on the occasion of Diana’s death.  It is one of the most perceptive diagnoses of the princess problem I’ve read-not the Disneyfied, Cinderella-Ate-My-Daughter princess problem (that being a more specific, more recent phenomenon) but the older, more pernicious one that afflicts grown women. Why, Williams asked in 1997, did so many of women feel such raw, outsized grief at Diana’s death, while so many men seemed to take it in stride?  Why so much female identification with-and envy of- such a sad, stunted life?

Williams pointed out that women do not, by and large, have queen envy. “It is the rare little girl,” she wrote, “who wants to grow up to be queen. To wish to be a princess is not simply to aspire upward, to royalty; it is also to aspire to perpetual daughter-hood, to permanent shelter. To dependency.” Here she surely hit the heart of the problem-the reason why, even as some of us tune into the royal wedding ourselves, we worry when our own daughters go princess-crazy.

Read the rest of Williams’s essay online , or find it reprinted in The Woman at the Washington Zoo . In the meantime, I’ll leave you with her conclusion, which seems particularly appropriate today:

The moral of the story is that whether she’s riding in a gilt carriage that bears her to St. Paul’s Cathedral for the wedding of the century, or in a black Mercedes that bears her to her death, a passenger–which is the most a princess can hope to be–is never in charge. It’s a hard lesson for women to learn, and it’s one that men knew all along.

The passenger this morning was not Diana, of course, but a veiled Kate Middleton-now Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge-peering out the window of a shiny Rolls Royce. Kate, Catherine, whomever you are, keep your car keys.