REVIEW: Princesses Behaving Badly, Linda Rodríguez McRobbie

Friday, 29 June 2018

You think you know her story. You’ve read the Brothers Grimm, you’ve watched the Disney cartoons, you cheered as these virtuous women lived happily ever after. But the lives of real princesses couldn’t be more different. Sure, many were graceful and benevolent leaders—but just as many were ruthless in their quest for power, and all of them had skeletons rattling in their royal closets. Princess Stephanie von Hohenlohe was a Nazi spy. Empress Elizabeth of the Austro-Hungarian empire slept wearing a mask of raw veal. Princess Olga of Kiev murdered thousands of men, and Princess Rani Lakshmibai waged war on the battlefield, charging into combat with her toddler son strapped to her back. Princesses Behaving Badly offers minibiographies of all these princesses and dozens more. 

Another month, another book to read about fabulous historical women. At this point, I have read a good half-dozen or so of these books and no matter if I am reading about the same selection over and over, I am still having a pretty good time.
Nonetheless, I think Princesses Behaving Badly has to be the weakest of those I have read so far. Still enjoyable, yes, but I think it missed some of the empowering and non-judgmental tone that the others had buckets of - particularly when it came to criticising the Disney machine for creating generations of shallow children obsessed with princesses and their pretty dresses, and yet constantly seemed to focus wholly on the princesses’ appearances.
Every damn time.
Unless the woman used her looks as a weapon, or they were used as a weapon against her, I did not find it to be entirely necessary and felt that it just continued to reiterate that, whatever else these women did in their lives, the only thing that mattered was how she looked.
Aren’t these books supposed to be proving the opposite??
It also seems that, to be a princess featured in this collection, the women had to reject femininity entirely; undertaking traditionally male roles and displaying traditionally male traits. It created a confusing sort of contradiction in which, to be deemed worthy, the women had to be unnaturally stunning or horrifyingly ugly, with a penchant for participating in male spheres and doing it better than any male could.
Whilst, yes, a lot of kick-arse women today and throughout history can claim to have done exactly that, it only applies to subset and continues to tell young girls that the only way to achieve greatness, is to reject femininity entirely.
That femininity is evil and something to be shunned.
And honestly, there is something almost misogynistic about that way of thinking.
It is an ideology that continues to erase and ignore amazing women who have embraced femininity wholeheartedly and excelled at things that have been traditionally deemed as part of the women’s sphere, or were part of the only options available to women in the time period.
It is something that more and more makes me ask, what makes women great? What makes princesses great? The answer that I have landed on?
Just being who they are.

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for sending me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

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