An intelligently written -- and roundly criticized -- column by Hannah Weinberger caught my attention the other day. Posted on CNN.com, "Where are all the millennial feminists?" delved into the question of why so many women -- even ones outside the author's stated age range of 18-29 -- cringe at the mention of feminism and its polar-opposite connotations of militancy and over-sexualization.
I'm going to go out on a limb here to state the obvious: Women who would be feminists are probably too busy buying into -- or trying to fend off -- our society's singular obsession with what is becoming a "princess" culture to give much thought to what "women's liberation" might mean to them in today's generally degrading-to-women environment.
The preponderance of princesses goes far beyond the seemingly never-ending, movie-promoted (think "Snow White and the Huntsman") feminist consumerism that princess-culture observer Peggy Orenstein so often spotlights on her blog and mainstream publications.
Orenstein rightly notes that the notion of "girl power" has devolved in a few short years. Once, Nike was helping promote women's sports and Title IX. Now, she wonders in a recent post ("If You Let Me Be a Princess ...") if Disney can rebrand its pink-hued franchise into "being about strength of character and self-efficacy ... while also peddling tens of thousands of products to our daughters that emphasize beauty and consumerism.
And it's not just Disney, everyone seems to be in on the act -- there's a princess for every taste: There are multicultural ones, goth ones and tomboy princesses. The bordering-on-sick fascination shows itself in nearly every aspect of life from the pink and royal purple princessification of Lego brick sets to the way we exalt or condemn people in the news.
Lest you miss it, the princess narrative is all about glamour -- whether it's about rich pomp and circumstance or the magnetism of a tough-talking, unruly red-headed spitfire who wields a mean bow and arrow like Disney's Princess Merida in the movie "Brave."
Focusing on what our society's princesses do -- and either glorifying or tearing them down -- is a national pastime that clearly leaves scant time for women to take stock of who our gender role models are these days and whether they serve or degrade us.
Or maybe there are too many conflicting visions of female empowerment to support a singular definition of feminism. For every woman whose stomach turned while watching TV star Lena "Voice of Her Generation" Dunham equate casting a vote for Barack Obama with losing one's virginity, there are plenty of others for whom she's a new feminist icon.
It's been less than a month since the Hispanic community was riven by the controversy over "Sofia," Disney's "first Latina princess." Not only were some upset because Sofia was light-skinned, light-eyed and light-haired, but others were upset because they didn't see this to be a problem. Then Disney went and upset nearly everyone by backtracking on the cartoon's ethnicity and clarifying that "Princess Sofia is a mixed-heritage princess in a fairy-tale world."
Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, the closest Hispanics have to royalty, participated in a segment on Sesame Street last week and passed definitive judgment on the matter. She told a princess-aspiring Muppet, "Abby, pretending to be a princess is fun, but it is definitely not a career."
Amen to that.