Little girls don't grow up to look like wasp-waisted, slim-hipped, bosomy Barbie or Monster High fright-sluts. Neither will they ever achieve the art-board flawless looks of the Disney Princesses. But little boys can't be princesses. Four-year-old Perfect Granddaughter loves the Disney Princesses. My son and his wife took her to Disney World where she dressed up like a princess, met a real pretend princess and floated back to Chicago on a beautiful cloud of possibility and a firm commitment to tea parties.
But I've had a problem with the whole princess thing.
Our country was founded by men who hated the idea of inherited privilege, who believed they could set up a government which was a meritocracy, rather than a monarchy. You could earn your place instead of being bequeathed it at birth. It didn't seem right to me for little girls to grow up believing that, if they could only marry a prince (or any rich guy, really), they could "live happily ever after."
Of course I focus on the monarchy I know best: Great Britain. Queen Elizabeth says by her very presence: "We Brits are a proud, intelligent, well-mannered people. Do as I do and you will be preternaturally correct." Many consider the Queen's standards to be artificial, but maybe they don't really understand the whole concept of "noblesse oblige" (a concept that incurred a bit of slippage in the sixties, it's true).
Nevertheless, I love "the Royals", Hilary Mantel's books about Cromwell, Churchill, palace intrigues, the Tudors, the Virgin Queen, Princess Margaret, Elizabeth, Fergie, Diana, hats. I love stories of the filthy rich folk with hundred-room homes and armies of servants, quaint cottages, groundskeepers, fabulous window treatments, and multiple spoons. I keep telling myself that behind every great fortune there's a great crime, even as I adore their drawing rooms and conservatories and gin.
I even talked myself into believing that blood-line history is a reasonable way to keep a government going, to hold back wars, to enhance civilization. Royalty kept track of history. Monarchs are the past, the present, and the future—wearing amazing hats.
Because Ms. Kate Middleton, born a beautiful commoner, became the Duchess of Cambridge by marrying British Prince William, and is now the proud mum of another prince—princess power is on the rise. Again. If it happened to Kate, maybe it could happen to my granddaughter, maybe your granddaughter.
It happened to beautiful actress Grace Kelly, right? She married Rainier III. Lisa Najeeb Halaby, a Princeton graduate with a degree in architecture and urban planning, snagged Jordan's King Hussein. Heiress Hope Cooke met Paldan Thondup Namgyal, Crown Prince of Sikkim, in a hotel bar when she was still a teenager. He married her. See? Not impossible. Then there were the billionaire Miller girls, Actress Rita Hayworth, and that wily divorceè Wallis Simpson, who upset the royal apple cart royally.
So my darling, Perfect Granddaughter could meet and marry a prince. I figure there are only three strategies that would make it possible for her to meet a prince (who would surely fall in love with her because she is so perfect) and become a princess. She could:
1) Get a scholarship and become a Rhodes Scholar and maybe she could meet him in graduate school in England.
2) Join the foreign service or the C.I.A. and get herself stationed in a monarchy somewhere (the smaller the better).
3) Become a famous movie star and hope he sees her films.
Actually there's another one:
4) Perfect Granddaughter could marry a princess. But since lots of states are having trouble passing laws that would honor this union, it's hard to imagine it happening on an international royal level. Still, I'd push to the front row for the coronation.
On the other hand, Perfect Granddaughter can embrace this meritocracy that so many died to create and preserve, work as hard as she can, find meaning in her work and life, and when she falls in love, treat that person with all the deference, manners, and etiquette that she might afford royalty.