You bet they can! And feminist fairytales are doing their best to make sure the public knows it, and I want to take a look at one of these stories. In the book Don’t Bet on the Prince by Zack Zipes, there is a story called The Princess Who Stood on Her Own Two Feet by Jeanne Desy. It is everything I would expect from a feminist fairytale and more. This story holds the same morals as most feminists, and those who favor equality. It also uses a strong image of hyper masculinity for the Prince in the story to show traditional gender roles.
In a gist, The Princess Who Stood on Her Own Two Feet is about a young Princess who is a quick learner, leaving the audience to perceive her as intelligent and powerful, since she is a princess. The only thing this young girl cannot learn, that she desires, is love. Many fairytales use love as a driving factor for particular actions, and this story is no different. Her wizard givers her a dog, an animal never before seen in their kingdom, and they become the best of friends. The Princess is set to marry a young Prince because of a new alliance between their kingdoms however the Prince is mortified by her height. Since she is taller, the Prince feels emasculated, as explained by her talking dog, who cannot seem to fully justify his reactions. (Rightly so.)
Already, this story is different from how other fairytales describe the princess of their story. Usually a Princess is the damsel in distress and she will need a Prince to save her from something or someone. They are not always learning and being taught by the best masters in the kingdoms, and they certainly are not the tallest in their families. In this story, although the Princess is searching for love, and makes some questionable decisions in her quest for love, she still gets past all of it in the end.
The Prince in this fairytale is very demanding. He meets a lot of standards for a “real man”. He wanted to be taller than his wife because, who really knows why. The dog even realizes this as he explains to the Princess that the Prince left because of her height. When she does not understand the logic behind this, the dog searches for an explanation for her and quickly realizes that even he cannot provide one, because it is not justifiable.
The Prince then “felt like leaving again” when they were riding and the Princess fell off her horse. The Princess, being a quick learner, knew how to ride the horse well, and even how to hurdle on her horse. The only reason she fell, was that the Prince had demanded she ride sidesaddle, as a proper lady should. Upon taking the hurdle, she lost balance and fell off. When she stood to get back on the horse was when the Prince wanted to leave. He was reminded of her height and unsettled by it. Realizing this immediately, she fell down to the ground and complained of not being able to walk anymore. The Prince lifted her back up and was pleased that his bride-to-be could not walk, making her no longer taller than he. Although it does not help empower the image of the female spirit, it does show how powerful her actions were in regards to their relationship, and their kingdoms.
Soon after, the Prince tells her “Haven’t you heard that women should be seen and not heard”. Hearing this made me cringe. Just reading the words, and seeing the scene in my mind made me feel riddled with disappointment. For a moment I thought, “No female would ever write this” and “this must be a misprint”. As I reread the line over and over again, I realized that is exactly how Jeanne wanted me to feel. If I had not been so upset about the Prince saying this, then I would need to reevaluate my morals. The Princesses being told this, later learns so much from his wrong doing, and she is not unlike other females. Strong women hear degrading remarks like this all the time, and by reading it, and forcing readers to reflect on it, opens our eyes to the problems in our everyday lives. Since the Princess is sitting down all day to please one aspect of the Prince’s disappointment, her height, she practiced witty remarks which displeased the Prince even more.
The last request that the Prince makes for the Princess is for her to get rid of the dog. He wants rid of it so much that when the dog was out of sight for a day, he told the Princess that he believed he was allergic to the dog because he was not as jolly when around it. This, as we know, is foolish and impractical. After saying this, the Prince thumps his chest as a sign of manliness and authority.
In the next paragraphs in the story, Jeanne says that the Prince “tried feeling hurt” as if he could not just feel emotions naturally. This reflects how men are socialized to hide emotions. In America, boys are taught from a young age to hide the way they feel, to not show pain and to be strong. The Prince is the spitting image of this, and this line was the icing on the cake. When she says that he “tried feeling hurt” it shows how not only did he not know how to feel, but he did not understand what he was feeling. This is a problem. Emotions are a fundamental part of human nature. It is beneficial to understand the way we feel and to be able to communicate these feelings to others. The Prince’s reaction seems to pave the road for the Princess to understand what is really going on in her relationship.
The end of this story was beautiful. I loved the way that the story all came together at the end and connected pieces of the story that I did not even pick up as connecting. I re-read the fairytale immediately after finishing it, out loud this time, to get a deeper grasp of the story. The dog being the true love of the Princess reminded me of the theme of The Princess and the Frog. In both stories, an animal (or reptile) is changed at some point in the story to be in the body of a human due to a love between themselves and a princess. This feminist version of the tale revolves more around rebirth and sacrifice for a loved one rather than a women needing the man to get by. There is a deeper and more honest and equal meaning behind this version of the story and it is so apparent, right down to the name.
This fairytale is called The Princess Who Stood on Her Own Two Feet because the Princess stops putting on an act to stand up for her beliefs. She literally stands on her own two feet, she also figuratively does. When she chooses to go and bury the dog and plant white roses on his grave, she is following her true love and her natural instincts. The Princess is choosing to go against the alliance and what her parents expect from her, in order to be true to herself and her life and her morals.
The story really brings out the power of the feminine voice. It was told by a female, and holds the opinions of a female, allowing those thoughts to go out to the world. By having a Princess stand up for herself, and defeating her own battles, it is empowering for women and girls to read/hear. Part of the beauty of fairytales is that they are in nature, oral stories. They get passed down verbally from person to person with passion in the voice. Occasionally, these stories get read as well. Oral stories are being written down more frequently than ever before because of the power of technology and printing. This allows for the female voice to be heard more loudly and clearer than ever. If we make room for these voices to be heard, the space will be filled, and these are the kind of stories we want our children to hear. They teach a lesson that is valuable for everyone. They can be adapted to fit the time period and the specific values of a family.
Don’t Bet on the Prince
The Princess Who Stood on Her Own Two Feet