Warrior Princesses

This picture is making the rounds on Facebook the last couple days. I could definitely see my own four year-old daughter asking this question; one of her favorite books is Brave Margaret, in which the heroine, faced with a sea serpent, pulls an axe from the folds of her dress. This would be my daughter’s preference — to have the tiara and fancy dress and also to kick ass.

This morning she had a fever of almost 102 degrees. We were snuggling on the couch and she was pretty whiny. To distract her, I read to her about Black Agnes, Grace O’Malley, and Chiyome.

Agnes Randolph, called Black Agnes because of her dark hair, was left in charge of the castle of Dunbar with only a few servants and retainers, when it was besieged by the Earl of Salisbury, considered one of the finest military commanders of the day. Agnes refused to surrender the castle –

Salisbury began the siege with a bombardment by catapults, sending huge rocks and lead shot against the ramparts of Dunbar. Lady Agnes responded by having her maids dress in their Sunday best; she then led them to the outer walls, where with their handkerchiefs they nonchalantly and slightingly dusted away the damage from the bombardment. She would also taunt the English from her walls and berate her garrison to make them fight harder.

After five months, Salisbury was forced to withdraw, leaving Agnes victorious.

Grace O’Malley (or Gráinne Ní Mháille in Irish) was a sixteenth-century Irish pirate, sometimes called the Queen of the Pirates or the Sea Queen. There are many tales and legends of her exploits, but our favorite is when she met the Queen of England, Elizabeth I, to ask for release of her relatives who had been taken prisoner. Queen Elizabeth agreed to meet her after receiving her letter, which asked her to grant Grace,

free liberty during her life to invade with sword and fire all your highness enemies, wheresoever they are or shall be, without any interruption of any person or persons whatsoever.

There is something satisfying about the meeting of the Queen of England and the Queen of the Pirates, both formidable women in their day. It gives a very different feel to the idea of a “princess in her tiara!”

Mochizuki Chiyome created the first school of female ninja (kunoichi) in sixteenth-century Japan. Her students were drawn primarily from unwanted girls — orphans and girls on the street. They were taught traditional combat skills and weapons, but were also taught all the skills of Shinto shrine attendants, so they could move freely and without suspicion. They had all kinds of cool hidden weapons that put James West and James Bond to shame.

Perhaps the greatest disservice the Disney princess phenomenon has done is to equate princesses with nothing more than appearance-fixated fashion plates. We have lost touch with the variety of stories of real princesses and heroines of our history, who were varyingly brave, feisty, defiant, clever, diplomatic, or shrewd. They often struggled in a world hostile to women – facing rape, murder, and charges of witchcraft for daring to claim strong womanhood. They were often also fiercely devoted mothers as well as strategists and fighters. I’d love to see a series of dolls that included a place in the folds of the fancy dress for a battle ax, and a tiara that could be turned into a throwing star!

This entry was posted in Clothing, Femininity, Gender complexity, Princesses, Social construction and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Warrior Princesses

  1. Pingback: Links for Monday, April 30 (what I’ve read since my last links post) – Loudoun Progress

  2. Pingback: Aisle . . . sigh, every aisle | Pink Is for Boys

  3. Annette says:

    When your daughter gets a little older, she’ll love the books by Tamora Pierce. http://www.amightygirl.com/catalogsearch/result/index/?age_range_filter=6&q=+Tamora+pierce

    She’s got all kinds of different girl heroes that are very brave but also have all the fun and problems that girls have. Some of them also struggle with what society expects them to be compared to what they want to be. And they’re just really good fantasy adventure stories! Knights and magic and princesses and dragons and gods… What’s not to love? I Loved these books as a little girl, actually still love them at 32.

    It starts with the Alanna-Series. Alanna: the first Adventure.

    And just one last thing: I think, you’re doing a great job with your kids.

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