10.01.2004

Philadelphia Inquirer columnist Karen Heller has a terrific new column on the princess myth. She approaches it first from the perspective of a mother whose children demand the latest princess-themed movie, and then dissects the myth's effects on our popular culture. I am just ga-ga over this whole piece, because it starts off a little slow and then just explodes:
The princess myth is a powerful drug, professing that life is a dust rag of misery until some prince Lippizaners along. Julie taught us that, changing from a nun with a dire haircut into a baroness cruising toward a recording contract. Of course, so did Jessica Simpson.

The fiction that every woman is waiting for a prince to save her is responsible for the multibillion-dollar wedding industry, the blinding bling market, the sad lies of "Joe Millionaire'' and "For Love or Money,'' as well as the late-stage interventions of "Queer Eye.'' It's also behind the tsunami in cosmetic surgery predicated on meeting that second or third prince - or preventing the original regent from decamping for a latter-day Anne Boleyn.
This reminds me of an uncomfortable moment that I had yesterday. I was flipping through a junk mail catalog, and although I only thought it to myself at the time, I cruelly ridiculed a t-shirt (and presumably, the personal values and fashion sensibilities of anyone that would ever adopt such a twee slogan) that said, "girls can do anything!" I mean, it sounded so pathetic. Of course they can -- who would ever doubt it?

Later on I was feeling broke and sort of bummed that my career trajectory, which once seemed so undoubtedly vertical, is on a bit of a philosophical jag these days, so I went to a used bookstore in the hopes that a new book would lift my spirits like it always has. While I was browsing, I overheard one of the patrons talking to a couple of the retired women who comprise most of the volunteer staff for the store. They were talking about their careers and both agreed that the only options available to them when they were young women were "teacher, or nurse, or librarian."

It reminded me of my mother, who was a flight attendant for twenty years, telling me how they used to get weighed before they got on the plane; and just always understanding that whole idea of getting harassed by men who think that they can grab your ass because they paid for a first-class ticket, and not getting the respect you deserve, as a, you know, human being. I always feel such a debt to the women of my mother's generation, who had the integrity and courage to let their colleagues know that they "make laws, not coffee" (as a button worn by an early mentor of mine, who was an activist lawyer in the '70s, quite plainly stated).

It makes me feel like a bum sometimes, like I should be an astronaut or something, now that we ladies can do it all. But then I occasionally think that I'm doing alright: that starting a reading series for women writers that is so popular, and means so much to so many people, and has an agenda is enough for today. Or this week.

My main point in telling this story, is, what does the princess myth communicate to girls my little sister's age, who were teenagers in the post-grunge, post-riot grrrl '00s, and are not immune to the charms of the Britneys and Jessicas and other assorted pop tarts of the world?

And what about chick lit? It seems like such a fluffy non-story, books about nothing, as it were. But what are the chick lit, please-Mr. Right-rescue-me books saying as a collective narrative about the right aspirations, to be slightly Buddhist for a moment, of all of us women today?

There is another snippet of the aforementioned column that I'd like to clip and discuss here, because I think it's really pertinent:
There is a boom industry of pale, pathetic Austen imitators, all goo and little bite, everything about engagement, nothing about a society we thought beyond such pressure. Entertainment Weekly, the Racing Form of popular culture, reviews pink-sheathed chick lit separately from other books, a nod that the stuff isn't literature at all but Cosmo without boob shots.
And that's the kicker -- chick lit is reviewed separately from other books.

So if you're a woman writer, and you think that chick lit has nothing to do with you, well, maybe it does.

And if you're a chick lit author, doesn't it bother you that male authors don't get reviewed in a little pink sidebar? Well, maybe it should.

-Lauren
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