Tuesday, 15 March 2011

today on missing the point theatre

The Escapist is running an article on the 'Princess Problem' that seems a little bit lost.

Princesses are also embarrassingly weak. In an age when we are accustomed to seeing sassy and resilient heroines with actual depth, the image of a timid young woman desperately yearning for a knight to whisk her away is so pathetic it's uncomfortable. There's a tendency to think this weakness stems from an outdated gender stereotype - that because these stories were written so long ago, they cast women in roles both passive and powerless. You only have to look at the wicked witches and the domineering stepmothers, however, to realize that this is not the case at all. These characters hold plenty of power, and they wield it with a calculating intellect. So princesses aren't weak because they're women; they're weak because they're princesses.

Evil women are strong. Good women are weak. [sarcasm]There's no gender stereotype problem at all there![/sarcasm]

They're not weak because they're princesses, they're weak because they've been written as goal-objects rather than characters. THere are hordes of video games with the exact same null position held by a female character who is NOT a princess. Usually, it's the main character's girlfriend, although it might be his boss's daughter or something.

That meme is so persistent that it even turns up in games about robots which have no need for gender or useless girlfriends.

Of course it's a stupid threadbare excuse plot. Of course it's bad writing. But it's something that people fall back on time and time again if they don't have any better ideas. And why they fall back on 'save the girl' as a goal rather than 'save the guy' is more about gender and culture than just about princesses. :)

It's not like there aren't any active, outgoing princesses in fiction, or even in video games. Especially nowadays, where there's a tendency to slap 'princess' onto any female character in the hopes of attracting a princess-loving audience.

1 comment:

David said...

This reminds me of the analyses I've read of classic folktales, which pointed out that in many of them you could replace "princess" with "sack of gold" and have exactly the same story. But even in folktales there were exceptions where the princesses are active characters (although admittedly the ones I can think of at the top of my head revolved around them looking for a good husband. Most of the folktales I remember about female characters rescuing a male in distress involve siblings, like Hansel and Gretel.)

But yeah - I couldn't help but think of all the princesses in games that don't follow that stereotype. Heck, even Zelda these days breaks the mould - she's either an active companion or she plays your boss as a politican. And it's amusing how they mentioned the contrast between Midna and Zelda as an example - who do they think the titular "Twilight Princess" refers to? ;)