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Thursday, 30 March 2017

Guest Editorial: Is The 'Kidnapped Princess' Trope Inherently Sexist?

Editorial: Is The 'Kidnapped Princess' Trope Inherently Sexist?

(Guest Editorial by Reecey.)

Anita Sarkeesian, I'm coming for you.
(With words, not -- not like a knife or anything,
I understand you get that a lot.)

So apparently she’s been shooting her mouth off and making a fool out of herself again, this is hardly a surprise.

But I’m not really here to talk about that, I haven’t played Breath of the Wild, that was Doug’s job and mine is Horizon: Zero Dawn.

No, I’m going to talk about the trope of a kidnapped princess and what the issues with it are, and why it’s not an inherently sexist plot thread to use.

Princesses are members of the royal family, and to be able to take a member of the royal family by force does not reflect well on the monarch or their parliament.

Consider the prevalence of the trope of the ‘daughter of the president being kidnapped’, it’s exactly the same trope and played out for exactly that reason.

If, for the sake of example, Ivanka Trump was kidnapped by ISIS or North Korea, it would reflect poorly on the authority and power of the United States of America that the child of their head of state was captured and held hostage by terrorists or a foreign power.

Editorial: The daughter of President Nectarine.

This would be exactly as true if it was Malia and/or Sasha Obama, Barbara and/or Jenna Bush, Chelsea Clinton, or Robin, Jeb, Neil, Marvin, Dorothy, and/or future president George W Bush.

It would be a disaster domestically for the president if his children were successfully kidnapped, and it would render the United States of America a joke internationally.

We can all agree with that being true, right?

And it’s not suddenly not true because the time and setting are different?


With royalty, the impacts of a kidnapped child are even more dire.

It varies from nation to nation, but when the head of state’s power passes from parent to child, kidnapping a prince or princess also creates the possibility of a future head of state being in the clutches of a foreign power or political rival.

There is also the possibility that the kidnapped child might bear or sire children with their kidnappers, creating heirs who are allied to an enemy.

Try to remember that anyone else with a claim to the throne presents a potential threat to a monarch by presenting a candidate that enemies of the crown can rally around.

This is why Elizabeth I controlled who her courtiers married and Richard III killed his nephews. These potential rivals don’t just present a threat to power, they present a threat to life.

Editorial: Zelda, daughter of King Robin.

These destabilizing factors make kidnapping a prince or princess a very valuable option to a foreign power or political rival.

So, why does fiction pick princesses instead of princes?

Because protagonists tend to be male, heterosexuality is common and most people like romance subplots.

Also, in terms of older fiction, marrying a princess and being granted half the kingdom is basically the sole form of upward social mobility fantasy for boys and young men.

Noble fathers are far less likely to allow their daughters to marry members of the rabble than their sons, even though that is also a rare occassion.

Noble and royal children are valuable commodities, allowing the alliance of houses to be established in a more meaningful, and more permanent, fashion than merely alliances through words.

Which ties into the point earlier, that kidnapped children present the possibility of heirs allied to an enemy.

Of course, it does bear mentioning that the princesses that are kidnapped in modern fiction are almost exclusively only children, which means that, for the sake of example, Princesses Zelda and Peach are either heirs apparent, or actual heads of state.

This makes them even more valuable to villains, and I shouldn’t have to explain why.

With all this in mind, I’m inclined to state (with confidence too!) that the bare bones of the princess being kidnapped trope aren’t sexist at all. It resides on the plains of neutrality, between the dark chasm of misogyny and the ever warring mountainous city state of feminism.

No, it’s not the trope itself that is the problem, it’s everything surrounding it.

Earlier I touched on why the trope is princesses and not princes, and this represents the fundamentals of the problem.

The near exclusivity of male protagonists, the creepy over representation of heterosexuality, and the shocking over reliance on romance subplots all create a climate where this fairly innocuous, and logical, trope has been tainted by association.

Also, romance is a strong word to use sometimes.

This is one of the reasons I respect Speed so much. Bullock and Reeves’ characters fall in love by the end, but the film is completely aware of the fact that this is because they’re been in this stressful situation together.

Being rescued from a life threatening situation is going to make you fall in love, temporarily at the very least, but what the problem is in standard boy rescues girl fiction isn’t why she’s in love with him, it’s why he’s in love with her.

This is what creates the narrative of ‘woman as prize’, that as long as she’s pretty, she is an acceptable love interest.

It also fails to understand why ‘the hand of the princess and half the kingdom’ exists in the first place. The princess herself is not the prize, it’s everything she represents that is the prize. The power, the prestige and the alliance with the king.

(A trope, by the way, that is easy to genderswap.)

Marriage for love is a recent phenomenon, especially amongst the wealthy. (Which is why the princess who wants to marry for love is itself a sexist trope.)

In the modern day, can a woman who is rescued from a life threatening situation not just… you know, remunerate her rescuer? Form a lifelong friendship? Promote him? Anything but repay him with romance?

We can even apply this to more medieval settings, by knighting a hero, or even raising him to the nobility.

Hell, there’s nothing wrong with the princess’ hand approach, as long as it’s acknowledged why it's happening. This would also allow us to see marriage as a lifelong partnership, and not marriage as an end goal.

Because if there is one thing I know about young men, it’s that marriage is end game to them.

(Not to single them out, the disturbing Americanised attitude towards princesses has the same exact problem.)

There are other things that I could touch upon in the problem filled tropes surrounding the basic idea of a princess being kidnapped, but I’m pretty sure I’ve got the basics covered, so I’ll leave it there.

My final note will be, gosh, American presidents seem to have a lot of daughters.

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