Sunday, April 17, 2011

Why Royal Wedding is lethal for young girls

When I became a school Governor in a comprehensive school, I was shocked at the lack of educational ambition, among both working class boys and girls, even their parents. It was something that was less obvious in Calvinist Scotland, where I was brought up. I saw, and spoke to, young girls who were infatuated with make-up, looks, fashion and the lethal, mistaken hope that luck, marriage or fate will get them somewhere. They had given up on education as a means of advancement before they had even started. Since then I've been looking for causes.

Rousseau and reading

“Reading is the great plague of childhood” said Rousseau, in Emile (On Education). What he meant was the way the dead hand of a fixed narrative can shape a child’s outlook, not always to good ends. This is a debate that goes all the way back to Plato, who warned that an early infatuation with fiction has its dangers.

There was a vivid illustration of Rousseau’s point on Radio this week, when a smart, young, black, woman author, Michelle Gaye, who’s written a book called ‘Pride and Premiership: from Wags to Riches’ (what a great title), described today’s young women as being obsessed with the Cinderella narrative. She saw the WAG phenomenon, the relentless pursuit of footballers, who would rescue them from their ordinary lives, as a playing out of this narrative. The poor girl gets her prince. It’s a fixed, fictional narrative that drives young girls (and men) to extremes of behaviour, fuelled by a newspaper and magazine industry that has long abandoned serious and real events, for the perpetuation of fairy stories.

Cinderella crushed

The Diana affair was mass hysteria, based around this ‘princess’ myth, albeit a tragic extension to the story, where the princess, being driven from the Ritz, gets smashed to pieces in that most fairy tale of cities, Paris. The crowds, of largely women, that flocked to the streets and laid flowers, were not shedding tears for Diana. They were playing out a narrative that locked them into a fatuous fairy tale. They had never met the woman, and acted upon their anger that the fairy tale had been usurped. It was a cathartic vehicle for their own failed dreams. They weren’t mourning Diana, they were mourning the death of a fairy tale. The story had been hijacked and skewered. Childhood dreams were being crushed.

Frankie Boyle hits a nerve

Frankie Boyle shocked the nation, and shot to fame on the back of one famous joke that hit a nerve with anyone who saw through this nonsense, when he recommended that we celebrate Diana’s death by, “by staging a gang-bang in a minefield”. It was typical Boyle, but clever in its own way, because it is so extreme. It was a disturbing and obscene counterpoint to an equally disturbing and obscene myth. It got 1.6 million hits on YouTube.

When Princes go bad

Prince Charles screwed around with the Princess story, and got burned. He’s now forever a baddy, having shacked up with one of the ugly sisters. That wasn’t meant to happen. It’s not what we wanted. Prince Andrew married Fergie, a puffed up, rouged, pantomime buffoon, and they’re still playing out the Cinderella tale gone wrong. Both have turned into money-grabbing caricatures of a Prince and Princess, and we all shout ‘boo’ when they appear. The youngest has already been written off, after his ‘nazi’ uniform gag. What a lark – eh? They thought they had supressed all that German Nazi stuff when Edward abdicated, then he splashes it all over the forever loyal, Royal, red-tops.

Third time lucky?

Third time lucky the nation hopes. This time it may work, and Royalty will clear away the broken crockery and put a new mug on the mantelpiece for the nation to adore. This time it’s an unbreakable plastic mug, as this Prince is an anodyne cypher of a man, devoid of personality and original thought. He may very well play out his destined role as the quiet actor in this crooked old pantomine. So the fairy tale will continue with the WC wedding. A large section of the nation will, once again, play out their role, resurrecting the memory of Diana and what should have been. The tape is rewound and her bloody death and possible marriage to a dark skinned foreigner, can be erased. England will revert back to buying bricabrac, eating cake, and watching their Cinderella marry her (gormless) Prince, on TV. Once again, young women will be seduced by a dangerous fiction, that if you get a makeover, tan and hawk yourself around the circuit, you’ll find your Prince.

Disneyfication of Royalty

In the second half of the 20th century two forces united in UK popular culture, Disney and Royalty. Royalty became Disnified, in the sense that the sanitised, feudal idea of a ‘Prince’ and ‘Princess’ was seen as ideal and aspirational. Young women are being seduced by this ideal into believing that it’s possible, when it’s the very opposite. Princes have been replaced by boorish footballers, but it’s the same old myth. Was there anything more depressing than the recent series Big Fat Gypsy Wedding, where the Disneyfication of the wedding reached absurd proportions. The lower the caste in society, the more they hang on to these dreams, as it’s a way of avoiding reality.

Don’t read Cinderella to your children, especially your girls, it’s a lethal cocktail of falsehoods that will do them inestimable harm.


Derek Robertson said...

I'm still mulling over a blog post about how the image of the wannabe princess, shopping mall-bag a footballer personality can be constructed with the help of sites like Stardoll! Will appear soon.

Was reading Rumplestiltskin to my daughters when they were 5 & 6. Near the end of the story the young prince tells the girl, (on their wedding night I may add), to stay in a cold room in the tower and spin all the straw in the room in to gold. I asked them what they thought of that and what they would say to 5 yr old said, "I'd be out of there!" That's my girl!

You might also want to check out the site

Great post.

Donald Clark said...

Thanks Derek.
I'm speaking in Dundee on August 26 - free even I think:

Be great if you could make it.

Kim Thomas said...

Interesting post, Donald, but not sure I agree. A lot of working-class girls seem to have given up on the Cinderella idea and are more keen on the idea of having a baby than having a husband. And there doesn't seem to be any interest in the royal wedding among young girls, as far as I can see - nothing to compare with the hysteria about Charles and Diana 30 years ago.

Anonymous said...

Hi Donald. Interesting post… although I’m not entirely sure I agree with it all. I have no desire to marry a footballer, but I enjoy the Cinderella nature of the royal wedding, watched all the Disney films when I was younger and read fashion magazines now, and hope to marry and have children myself while still young. None of that stops me being ambitious, successful and hard-working in terms of my education and career. Admittedly, my background is middle-class though – do you think this is a problem that only affects the working class? Anyway, what I really wanted to ask was whether you’ve managed to tackle the lack of educational ambition in the school (amongst boys and girls)? It would be interesting to know what, if anything, they responded to.

Donald Clark said...

Kim - disagree with this 'girls want to to be single and pregnant' idea. It was put about by Cameron and co who famously got the stats wrong. The teenage pregnancy problem, at school, is minimal. Indeed, the rate is falling.

The real problem is the number of girls (and boys) leaving school unskilled and ill-prepared for employment and life. The Katie Price, Cheryl Cole, WAG, Diana vein is new and worrying. Just watch how the interest in this wedding grows among young girls and will reach a crescendo on the day.

Is Catherine Middleton a desirable role model for women? Someone who is defined by her subservient relationship (male progenity) to her 'Prince' who inherits, rather than deserves, his position in society.

Donald Clark said...

Stephanie - you have the choice, they often don't. The 'Cinderella' myth, for many, leads to abandoning reality and educational ambition.

As with my reply to Kim, I'm just astonished that any woman would be a monarchist, as it, by definition, promotes the idea of inherited male superiority. You're either on this bus of off it.

A more insidious pehnomenon is the 'Cinderellisation' of weddings, even school 'Proms' a very recent Disney-like, US import. In some societies this reduces families to lifelong debt that is tantamount to slavery. In modern times the cost has soared, in proportion to their tackiness.

Have I done anything about it? Yes. I'm a lifelong Republican and promote those values. I've been a school Governor, and Trustee in educational and Arts charities that play a role in determining serious values in society. In particular, Learndirect, that has given a second chance to 3 million learners who fell into the trap of thinking that school didn't matter. And blogging!

Kim Thomas said...

Donald, I trust very little of what Cameron says so I wouldn't rely on him as a source! I spend quite a lot of time with 12-year old girls, however, and I don't know any who shows an interest in getting married. As far as I can tell, the whole idea of marriage as something to aspire to has died a death.

Quite a lot of my family still lives in a small South Wales village that used to rely on coal-mining, but where most people are now unemployed/doing menial jobs. Most of my young female relatives have got pregnant at a young age (17 or 18), and in some cases the boyfriend has stuck around, and in some cases he hasn't, but almost none of them have got married.

Kim Thomas said...

Sorry, just to add one thing - I remember the hysteria from the 1981 royal wedding. I went out of my way to avoid watching it, only to have to put up endlessly with people talking about it for days afterwards! But there's been nothing like that this time - neither my daughter nor her friends have shown the slightest bit of interest in it.

IK said...

Well having failed to vote for a republic years ago, Australia is still stuck with the 'Cinderella' myth big time. The colonial power is still strong. So strong in fact a local coverage of the wedding by the Çhaser team (fairly black humorists), was banned from going to air. This is a small taste, from the colonies....