Princess Nation

“Princess Nation,” Acrylic on Canvas, 24 x 30 in.
She is hopping
On one bare foot
Spongy grass gives underneath
She is
Drinking water from the hose
Sidelong watching rainbows form
Forgetting she is a girl
Staring not through the window
Observing dust motes floating
Gazing out at the rain
Over her desk
         her cash register
         her espresso machine
Anxious about the plans
Bored with the preparations
She dreams of a styrofoam future
In a place that has no rain
But opaque rainbows extend across the sky
Devourer of men
Or just a girl

This painting and poem express a train of thought begun when I started to explore the idea of princesses in our culture. Years ago as a graduate student, I studied gender and women’s issues in the Middle East. I could never get around the paradox at the heart of the issue: that women’s sexuality and femininity represented power that needed to be restrained and covered, resulting in the second-class status of women in many regions. I find traces of a twin attitude subtly at play in our own culture when we read about women outpacing men in education, work, even in terms of weathering the recession and the raised voices asking, “What about our troubled boys and men?” In counterpoint to this, women continue to make 77 cents to the dollar that men earn and violence and human trafficking involving women are greater problems than ever.

Many activists continue to worry about the future of girls and the effect of the “Disney Princess” culture, suggesting the trend will produce grown women who are slaves to consumerism and low self-esteem, seeking an unattainable ideal. They indicate the existence of a direct line from the princesses to the Twilight craze, to the fashion-obsession of Sex and the City.

Whatever the answer is (and I do want to emphasize the ambiguity and complexity of the matter), the “Army of Princesses” represent a threat that shifts between the power of girls and the power of consumer culture. In his twisted mind, the Norway killer Anders Breivik also reacted to the threat of Sex and the City, which for him represents a lifestyle in which “men are not men anymore, but metro sexual and emotional beings that are there to serve the purpose as a never-criticizing soul mate to the new age feminist woman goddess.”

Are there neck-twisting contradictions here? I believe so. This painting is an expression of the question and not the answer.

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