The Feminist Lessons 'The Princess Diaries' Taught Us

Growing up, 'The Princess Diaries' was always a favourite film of ours. The idea of a 'regular' girl just like us discovering that she was a princess was incredibly exciting to us as children. The sparkly tiaras, endless wardrobes and beautiful palaces were so enviable and we wished more than anything to be princesses like Mia Thermopolis. When we realised we had a mutual love for this cult classic, we re-watched it together, only to find a different meaning in it to the one we discovered as children and began to admire the female characters for their worth. In a society which continues to lack strong headed, female leadership, we must not undermine the lessons we can take from these women.

Princess Mia

As the protagonist, Mia already breaks down certain barriers by securing female representation. As an autonomous young woman with controversial opinions and an unorthodox family unit, she could be viewed as a reasonably good role model without the tiara.

But it is her handling of her crown which proves her worth as a true icon. Rather than accepting the patriarchal laws that often govern our societies, she stands up and fights against them. Instead of entering into a loveless marriage to ensure her ascendancy to the throne, she rallies against this and forces through a change in legislation. This is a lesson to all of us that we should not simply accept our constraints but should find the inner strength to overcome our personal obstacles so that we can make a change for those around us.

Not only does she give due attention to her royal duties, but Mia demonstrates a real care for the Genovian people. She stops an entire parade in order to help a young orphan who is being tormented by her peers and allows her to walk in the parade, telling her that “Anyone can be a princess”, a line which follows all young girls to this day and tells us not to be limited by our circumstances.

Rather than presenting a polished and perfect version of a princess, Mia shows us the relatable reality of royal life. With a blend of clumsiness and a desperate desire to please, we follow her through all her embarrassing moments in the public eye. Though this could indicate an unsuitable monarch to some, to me it rather demonstrates a more human figure with whom I can identify and genuinely admire because I can see her flaws. Too often, royals are presented as remote and almost robotic figures who rarely slip up and expose their humanity. What Mia demonstrates is that exposing some flaws can actually make you a warmer and more likeable person in the public eye.

Despite the not-so feminist aspects such as the makeover or gratuitous love stories, Mia demonstrates an equal amount of emotive care and dutiful responsibility in her reign and shows that women can be both badass leaders and care for others at the same time, making her a truly incredible role model.

Queen Clarisse

In our modern-day world, we have seen the connotations which come with being a Queen evolve drastically. No longer does this simply remain the label for a female monarch. The term features heavily in young people’s sociolects and no longer simply indicates a female monarch. Referring to one another as a ‘Queen’ is a symbol of empowerment, a refusal to be pushed over or undermined. Whether it be Queen Victoria, Elizabeth II or of course, Clarisse (Queen of Genovia) these women have helped us root this term into our everyday, to root the idea of women being powerful and respected for that.

To simply focus on the poise and elegance of Julie Andrews is to ignorantly bypass the importance of Queen Clarisse as a character. When it is taken into consideration that it has only been eight years since The British Parliament altered the succession laws to ensure that males would not be given precedent over their older female siblings, we can recognise the barriers that these (real or fictional) women have had to overcome.

Ostensibly, it may seem that Clarisse merely aims to mould Mia to be capable of upholding strict rules of etiquette and politeness, what some may consider anti-feminist in its narrow and arguably patronising focus. While the arts of posture and poise may at first seem redundant to the modern audience, when we delve into ulterior meanings, we find ourselves dealing with a true feminist icon.

An instruction which may seem as literal as ‘We Think Tall’ presents us with the notion that women not only have to physically make their presence but must also expand their minds to think outwardly and outrageously in order to thrive. The films often present Clarisse or Mia in situations where they must take their stand and not be bullied in arrangements which are dominated by male politicians.

She does what the Princesses and Queens we grow up with ought to do, she has a presence which strikes the balance between being typically girly and being powerful. There is no reason why a woman cannot be encouraged to do both. Clarisse leads alone. She does not rely on a man to help her in her duty, yet simply loves Joe (or if you prefer “Joey”) simply for her own pleasure as a companion. She’s the perfect role model and one we should not shy away from openly admiring as a feminist icon for young girls and teenagers.

Hopefully from this you can see why it is that we admire the royals of Genovia and the lessons we can take from them into our everyday lives. Not only is ‘The Princess Diaries’ an absolutely iconic film, but the feminist connotations it has makes it something truly worth celebrating.