Why Are Princesses Always Targets?

This is a sort of follow-up to my post about "How Princesses Represent Hope." Being a princess in a fantasy world often means having a neon target on your head. I do not want to use the word "victim" because that is separate from being a target. Modern princesses are more capable than ever of defending themselves, something that has changed over time as a direct response to the "Damsel in Distress" stigma. Yet, the fact that princesses can defend themselves from threats has not changed the fact that they are constantly being threatened. Even in stories with male leads, it is usually the princess or female love interest who is threatened, not the hero himself. Take for example Megara's binding servitude to Hades in Hercules or Frollo's relentless obsession with Esmeralda in The Hunchback of Notre Dame. There is a reason that princesses are coveted by heroes and villains alike.

 Estelle from Tales of Vesperia

I was inspired to write this post after being introduced to yet another video game princess, Estellise, from Tales of Vesperia. Aside from being kind, lovely, and innocent, Estelle is quickly targeted by the game's villain for her unique magical abilities within that world. Being targeted like this is an intrinsic and unfortunate aspect of being a fictional princess, especially in video games. Just look at how Kairi got screwed over in the last Kingdom Hearts game. The obvious reason for this is that there's no story with no conflict, but it goes deeper than that. So many stories with male leads are about protecting or avenging a woman, such as Sweeney Todd, where the troubled antihero commits heinous acts in the name of avenging his wife and daughter. Meanwhile, stories with female leads, especially princesses, are usually about defending or seeking protection for themselves. While this may read as sexism through a superficial lens, it is actually a tribute to how powerful and desirable these future female monarchs are.

One reason that princesses are always targeted is that they are in a position of power, so those who want to take that power for themselves would need to get them out of the way first. This has always been the case when it comes to royalty in both real-life history and fiction, with the most famous example being Shakespeare's Hamlet. Yet, there's more to it than that. Though Snow White and Jasmine were targeted over jealousy of their positions of power, princesses who did not start out in such positions like Cinderella or Belle were sought after for different reasons. After all, being a modern princess does not require you to be the daughter of a king or queen. Instead, "princess" has become synonymous with any ideal woman of her time. Such a wondrous level of kindness, purity, and beauty will inevitably attract all sorts of attention both from those who wish to protect her and those who wish to do her harm.

The targeting of pure-hearted princesses is also a metaphor for loss of childhood innocence. Most of us don't experience anything as traumatic as a villain who curses us to fall into a death-like sleep before we turn 16, and thank goodness for that! Some things should only be in stories. Yet, as we get older, we experience smaller disappointments that make us more cynical about the world around us. Over time, those experiences transform us into healthy adults. Though we are still able to use our imaginations and enjoy a good story, the magic of it becomes more delicate or artificial. Fairy tale princesses are the epitome of that magic, so the jealous villains who come after them want to destroy that purity and turn them into boring ordinary adults. No one wants to lose their sense of innocence, which is why the happy ending usually involves the princess finding a place of love and protection where she can never be tainted by the wicked grasp of reality again.

The most obvious reason that princesses are always targeted by ne'er-do-wells is that it creates instant sympathy for them. While it shouldn't be used as a substitute for character development, you can't help but care about a character who is kidnapped or attacked despite doing nothing wrong and being kind to everyone they know. As far as I'm concerned, princesses are lovable based on their kind gentle nature alone, but it is harder for most people to relate to a conventionally beautiful maiden who has everything she could possibly want than someone with problems that need to be overcome. Princesses tend to be so beautiful on the inside already that there is no need to give them an internal conflict, so their demons are almost always be external.

Comments

PrincessContent said…
I really like how you take this trope that’s often seen as sexist and actually give us a feminist way to look at it.

I only find this trope problematic when the princess is not a character of her own, when she very easily just could be replaced with an object without really changing the story.
I’ve seen many “My-wife-is-dead.-Now-I-need-to-protect-my-daughter”-movies and the best ones are the once where the daughter has a personality.

Speaking of princesses who needs protection, I’ve watched a few episodes of Fena: Pirate Princess and… Well, it sadly suffers from some of the awful pirate clich├ęs… I expected that the villains would be awful towards women but sadly the heroes drop their sexist comments here and there too. If there is one thing I hate about anime is when sexist behaviour from heroes is being portrayed as a funny quirk.
So I lost interest in the show, which is sad sense I really like Fena. She’s super cute!

Anyway, I found a different anime from 2003 called “Petite Princess Yucie”. I’ve only watched 3 episodes out of 26 but I really like it so far. Its whole premise’s about what it means to be a true princess.
Also, have you seen the trailer for the Netflix movie “Maya and the Three”? It’s yet another warrior princess story but it looks like it could be a fun treat.
Lisa Dawn said…
Right. I feel like the "problematic" element of this would apply to Princess Peach from Super Mario Bros. or Princess Daphne from Dragon Quest because getting kidnapped is literally the only thing they do. Then again, I had someone argue in my post about video game princesses that Peach became more of a feminist in newer games, so I guess they changed it.

I stopped watching Fena after the first two episodes. My husband thought it was funny when the "hero" character knocked her out with his sword, but I kept saying "That wasn't nice!"

No, I haven't heard about either of those shows. I just watched the trailer for Maya and the Three. I thought it looked pretty generic, but it was funny that she used the slogan From Sky Dancers at the end. I'm not sure if that was supposed to be a reference, or the writers didn't realize it. LOL

The Princess Diana musical is coming out this Friday, and I plan to review it next weekend, so I'm looking forward to that! Thanks for telling me about it!
PrincessContent said…
I’ve never played a Mario game but from what I’ve heard from friends who do, it seems that Peach has been given more of a personality over the years. She’s still a huge damsel in distress but at least she’s not completely bland. I wonder how she will be like in the upcoming movie.

Oh gosh the hero… He was such a disappointment! He seemed so cool in the teasers! They really ruined it with given him the “hitting on head”-quirk.

The slogan is probably a coincidence. I don’t think it is suppose to be a reference xD

Yes! Thanks for reminding me! I’m looking so forward to the musical! I hope Netflix will stream more musicals after this! <3
You’re welcome! <3

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