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May 09, 2011



"Conformity might equip you well to do a mid-level job. But it deprives you of the aggressive competitive edge that will drive you to the top of the greasy pole."

Two points here. First, most people (by definition) do not reach the top of the greasy pole. There are ways of being successful, even highly successful, that do not involve being No 1, though. Like being No 2. "Conformity" - and I used the scare quotes deliberately - is about more than obedience; more important is complaisance, having social skills that make you nice to be around, being able to flatter, achieving desired outcomes by indirection or even manipulation. These are all quintessential princess talents. They will get you a long way, if not all the way to the top.

The world has more vacancies for princesses than it has for kings. And there are far more failed kings than there are successful ones. Pursuing a princess strategy may therefore be more rational, even for the ambitious.

Second point. Princessdom is not just about conformity; it is also about self-esteem and having high expectations. You say that princesses are deferential and do not rock the boat. From the point of view of the boss, yes; if you're not the boss you're more likely to experience the princess as self-possessed and rather demanding. Even if, at the same time, rather charming.

Torquil Macneil

"But it deprives you of the aggressive competitive edge "

And THAT could only have been written by someone who has never worked with a 'princess'. Blimey!

Luis Enrique

what does the "spectrum of feminine aspiration" refer to? If it refers to the distribution of aspirations held by females, is Laurie's "colour run" metaphor really an accurate description of it? What, exactly, is she saying?

I have, say, a dozen female friends. I cannot say that I know their aspirations terribly well, but my impression is that they occupy positions across the "rainbow of experience", other than pink.

But come to think of it, most people I know - male and female alike - simply aspire to having a decent job they enjoy and a happy family life and a nice house. And fair play to them; that covers 90% of what I aspire to, too.

this kind of "radical lefty" shit make me come out in reactionary hives. I say: three cheers for the bourgois virtues. I like trustworthy hardworking considerate people, virtues which are not the preserve of "conformists" but also (potentially) intinerant spoon carvers.

Honestly, what would we aspire to in a society not "warped by capitalism" - what personal attributes would we value? How are non-capitalist economy going to get on if regulators, worker comittees and whatever else your non-capitalist altnerative would involve are not populated by trustworthy and reliable individuals?

CS Clark

If there's one thing my daughters have taught me it's that you can be interested in playing pink princesses one minute and launch a vinegar and baking soda rocket the next and not notice any dichotomy.

If there is a second thing, it's that even young children know that fantasies are just that, that you can take them or leave them in bits. A good thing, as otherwise a semi-obsession with Napoleonic sea battles would brand me as someone who wants to see all offenders flogged.

Luis Enrique

to see how "fitting in", "conforming" and all the other things which self-style radicals love to disparage (courageous and sexy rebels that they are) could be even more extreme in a non-capitalist soceity, I recommend reading Ursula Le Guin's "The Disposessed" and the depiction of the anarcho-syndicalist society therein.


The polar opposite of 'conforming' isn't 'feminism' or 'socialism', it is simply oppositionalism. The Left tends to get these things mixed up as, patently, the Left thinks an awful lot of 'how things currently are' needs to be opposed.

The point of politics - actually, the art of achieving a happiy-ish career - is the search for living and working arrangements to which one might freely give one's consent (more or less, most of the time anyway).

I can't imagine what it must like to be the sort of person who automatically consents to anything. I find the idea bewildering: it seems like a description of being an automaton rather than fully human. It's why I find those Apple stores fully of smiley 'Californian' positive types so creepy.

But I also know that simply getting trapped in constant oppositionalism is a recipe for becoming dispirited and just negative.

In the end, you have to *commit* to believing and working for something, even if you don't 'conform'.& I say this as a Leftist.



"my impression is that they occupy positions across the "rainbow of experience", other than pink."

Quite. It is, I think, key to understanding the limitations of radical feminism as written up by Penny et al that there are whole cohorts of women who do not recognise the problems they describe as more or less universal among womanhood. If I wasn't constantly skulking on the internet, I wouldn't recognise them myself. To the best of my knowledge (and obviously I can't speak for my subconscious) it has never occurred to me for one moment, as a girl or a woman, that there was anything other than a whole spectrum of behaviour open to me. And I don't think I'm particularly ironsided.

But then I suppose many of the objections to pink princess culture are *really* objections on behalf of the vulnerable - the very young, and the not very educated, both of whom in their different ways are susceptible to princess culture amongst many other ills.

These objections are very worthy, I think, if a bit patronising. However, you wouldn't necessarily know about this limitation of scope from posts on the subject. The language seems fundamentally to assume that such social and cultural dead-ends are a problem for all women. Perhaps this springs ultimately from the whole "personal is political" idea. If it happens to one, it must happen to all. The more traditional left-wing critique, that working class women face problems and threats that middle class women do not, is eschewed in favour of a false sisterly univeralism.

(Having said thatk Laurie may be particularly susceptible to this error for stylistic reasons. I may be being unfair on the genre as a whole.)


No, Laurie Penny is not right. She is, as ever, writing complete clap-trap carried away by her purple prose and a stubborn refusal to take stock of the world around her. It is absolutely mind-boggling that sensible people on the left can’t see her for the shallow, little attention-seeking charlatan that she is.


I'm not sure that some of the commentators have actually read the Penny article...


"The world has more vacancies for princesses than it has for kings. And there are far more failed kings than there are successful ones. Pursuing a princess strategy may therefore be more rational, even for the ambitious."

But the world has almost no vacancies for princesses, not when you understand those vacancies as being for the actual 'job' of princess. You're relying, I think, on metaphor.

However, your argument doesn't make clear the difference between metaphorical and actual princesses. I take your argument to be as follows. There are qualities that are highly desired by the management of private companies and public organisations; these qualities will be selected for in recruitment and internal promotion. These same qualities are found in actual - and not just metaphorical - princesses (i.e. the Duchess of Cambridge). Therefore actual princesses are to be understood as role models; their positive example - behaviour, demeanour - is visibly rewarded in our society to a very high degree. And that reward is no accident: those with the power to reward have a good understanding of the example that needs to be set, and they allocate reward accordingly.

Some problems. One: to a first approximation, actual princesses don't hold down jobs, so they don't in fact set an example for the workplace. Two: the sample size is very, very small. Kate Middleton might at least set a good example as a spouse, even if she doesn't work. But did Diana Spencer set a good example with respect to marriage and family life? Did Sarah Ferguson? Three: the reward mechanism is unclear. Is it: if you're gracious and courteous to all around you, you'll get promoted? Or is it: if you're gracious and courteous, you'll marry well?

Straus: you'll be lucky if Chris doesn't delete that. So you don't like Laurie Penny. Let it go, why don't you?


They're both right because (and sorry for the media studies bit) a signifier can have more than one meaning. In other words, they are both watching Star Wars, but Penny sees a femininity that 'must be destroyed' in order for feminism to flourish; Heresiarch sees Princess Leia toting a ray-gun and facing down Darth Vader. And down near the front, an 11 year-old kid imagines herself as a female Jedi.


it is true that the society wants little girls to identify with princesses and its just to give them a good image of life so they can dream and developp their immagination and this will help them in their lives

Luis Enrique

(I should have added to above comment - "which means I am in agreement with your last paragraph"

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