It is interesting that Western culture has so many fairy tales associated with princesses. Princesses and Frogs. Beauty and the Beast. A princess has to kiss a frog to make him into a prince, but a princess never takes the shape of, say, an ugly lizard.
I first heard the expression “An American Princess” a few years after I had finished graduate school in Berkeley. A Jewish woman I was taking a kathak dance class with asked me if I had heard the expression “A Jewish Princess.” I confessed I had not. She said, “Well, I am a Jewish American Princess.” She was completely serious. And I was completely baffled. I didn’t know what exactly she meant. I didn’t know whether being a princess required you to be (a) rich, (b) beautiful, (c) spoiled rotten, or (d) all of the above.
When I began to look around me, however, I discovered that there were princesses who didn’t fit any of the attributes, yet they were princesses.
But now I know what being a princess really means. Being a princess does not require you to have any particular attributes. A princess is a state of mind.
By that definition, I will never be a princess. Because a princess is someone who takes certain privileges in life for granted. The privilege of living in a house on the hill, for example, or having a husband with a certain number of digits in his salary. A classmate of mine who was living in Washington, D.C. with her boyfriend who had just gotten himself a professional job with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) once complained bitterly to me about the fact that her boyfriend didn’t make enough money for her to have a decent summer vacation in a place like Greece or Italy. Now that is what separates the princesses from us mere women.
Mere women like me would feel guilty that our boyfriends were working while we were busy making little pots of tea in the afternoon for our girlfriends, and then going over to the swim club for a quick dip before our beaus got home, but princesses have no such conscience.
A princess is someone who (a) expects her husband to bring home that six figure paycheck, (b) help with the kids and the dishes when he gets home while she goes to her yoga class, and (c) who insinuates divorce if (a) and (b) do not fall into place.
So what is the secret of being a princess? I think I have figured out the answer to that question. The world bows to those who demand attention. This is particularly so of American culture. To twist the words of Professor Higgins fromMy Fair Lady, “A princess earns the treatment she demands.”
A Vietnamese American friend of mine recently told me that she had observed a certain female professional in our office who was fond of spreading gossip about herself. More specifically, she would circulate stories about the numerous men who had asked her out, and the hilarious ways in which she had refused, until every man in the place began to suspect her to be in possession of some secret amorous charm, and actually started thinking of asking her out. Her imaginative stories became self-fulfilling prophecies.
I was never a princess, because I never had the gumption to think I deserved to be spoiled rotten.
Perhaps it is the emphasis on self-esteem in the me-generation that has created this princess phenomenon. However, I have this sinking suspicion that underneath all that psychobabble about self-esteem and inner peace lie a lot of insecurity and turmoil. Your whole universe can go out of kilter if your center of gravity is solely determined by whether you can serve the correct brand of Merlot at dinner parties or not. Shallow minds will no doubt create shallow lives. And we all know that shallow waters are easy to muddy up.
The other drawback of being a princess is that a princess is utterly at loss without her frog prince. What if the princess looks and looks and she cannot find her prince? What if she wanders around the forest, and finds that all the available princes are otherwise engaged? What then?
I know one or two princesses out there who are on there own, searching for a perfect prince charming. And I have a feeling that they have been and will be looking for a long time.
And then there is the whole business of living up to the reputation of being a princess. If and when the princess becomes a mother with a progeny of her own princesses to be raised, the whole enterprise could turn quite hellish.
So I guess it is just as well that we real women settle for frogs. It is easier on the frogs as well. They don’t have to worry about whether they will be able to metamorphose into princes on command.
Sarita Sarvate writes commentaries for Pacific News Service and KQED.