I'm not really sure why I've been subscribed to Net-a-Porter emails since high school if I obviously can't afford to add studded leather Valentino shoulder bags or even Totême wool-blend felt coats to my online shopping cart, but I think it has something to do with the carefully selected items in the editor's pick section and the modest yet lovely editorials constantly featured on the website that keep me coming back from time to time. I'll admit while I usually spend about three seconds (if I'm being generous) to look over the daily promotional emails I get from the websites I normally shop at, I was more than a little intrigued when Net-a-Porter sent me an email about November's cover story with "A Modern Heroine: Keira Knightley on fighting for feminism in film" as the leading headline.
"I left [fairy tales] behind. Why should you be told to wait for some f*cking dude to rescue you?" the almost 30-year-old actress challenges, and it's a question that resonated with me for the rest of the day, and one that I feel like I've been thinking about a lot in the last month or so especially. Now that I'm older, I find myself being even more critical of the damsel in distress dilemma. What was a happy ending after all? One where the princess gets saved from an evil fate by the dashing prince in exchange for a hand in marriage?
Even as a kid I remember that was something that always upset me: the clever, hardworking, graceful princess you spent the entire story getting to know always required a prince to come in at the very end to truly escape. She was always adept but not capable enough to truly save herself, and her virtuousness is only important because it was what makes her worthy of the prince's love and affection; by the end of the story, she is reduced to be nothing more than the ultimate prize for the prince, the true hero who is redeemed simply by showing up at the right place at the right time: at the end of the day, it's his story all along. Veni, vidi, vici; after happily ever after, he gets to rule two kingdoms—his, and hers—and she to give him beautiful sons as heirs.
There's something so achingly sad in Daisy Buchanan's reply when she's told she gave birth to a baby girl: "I hope she'll be a fool—that's the best thing a girl can be in this world, a beautiful little fool." Because Daisy isn't a fool at all, despite what the men in her life want to believe; she knows that there's no space in this world for girls who don't need boys to save them, and the only thing girls can do is play the game by the rules.
“It’s a political thing, having a baby girl, in a way that it isn’t for a boy. You think, ‘Oh, isn’t this fairy-tale lovely?’ Then suddenly you worry, ‘What [expectation] am I planting with that? I don’t want her to be waiting around for a man to fix her problems.’”
Keira Knightley, The EDIT interview
That girls grow up learning they need to be pretty and smart and kind in order to be desirable to men rather than heroines of their own narrative is something we're so used to acknowledging that most of us won't even immediately register the inherent inequality in expectations.
“I am not dangerous. Only the stories are dangerous. Only the fictions we create, especially when they become expectations.”
David Levithan, Dash and Lily's Book of Dares
I still remember being fifteen and looking for a hero in everybody but myself: are you going to be the one who saves me? I asked, not because I needed saving but because I wanted it.
What happens to the princess whose prince doesn't rescue her in the end? I was sixteen when I spent a year and a half answering that question writing the only piece of fiction I've ever published, about a schizophrenic violin prodigy and her search for salvation. I'll come back to write a much more in-depth post on "Facing the Music" some time in the coming months; even though it's been over three years since I finished the complete first draft, this story has felt like a work in progress of my own growth too.
Four years later and in spite of everything, I still haven't completely let go. Here I am, critiquing what's wrong with the idea of waiting for prince charming to come, and yet I still like being told by others that they'll be there to save me from myself; I still want to believe that I don't have to fight by myself all the time. The other night when I was up at 3:30am doing Greek drills, I had both The Weeknd's "Rescue You" (Let me rescue you / I can see the truth / I can see right through the pain) and Lana Del Rey's "Off to the Races" (Because I'm crazy, baby / I need you to come here and save me) playing on repeat.
I wish 15-year-old me had someone to tell me that I should leave those fairy tales behind; I wish 19-year-old me had someone to tell me that I'm not a bad feminist for liking the idea of them anyways.
Images from this post were taken from: "The Heroine" by David Bellemere for The EDIT November 2014