Choose Your Own Prison: An Interactive Princess Adventure

Barbara Bourland’s quiz will tell you exactly who you’re allowed to be

Photo by Brian McGowan on Unsplash

My third novel, The Force of Such Beauty, follows a retired athlete who marries a prince—a Common Princess, in the parlance of the quiz. Over the almost five years that I spent drafting it, I read dozens of princess stories for research, from sensationalist unauthorized biographies of real-life women like Tina Brown’s The Diana Chronicles to the classic short tales analyzed in the seminal The Fairytale as Art Form and Portrait of Man by Swiss literary theorist Max Lüthi. When I was asked to share what I’d gleaned about the harm these stories might do to women, the answer was simple—one long series of trick questions. What princess stories ultimately offer is the lie that princesses have choices, when really, they have none. Castles might look like luxury hotels, but in truth, they are impenetrable prisons designed to protect the State above all else. Princesses, bound to lives that prioritize only their reproductive labor, are their most glorious prisoners.


Princess Quiz
1. You’re standing next to your husband at a bar. Another woman—a friend, or your boss, or your mother, maybe—makes a beeline for the stool on your left. Two steps away, your husband spots her, smiles gamely, leans in, and tells her she’s about to sit on the “largest penis in the world.” She freezes, completely unsure of how to respond. After thirty long seconds of her mortification, your husband chuckles and informs her that the stool has been upholstered in the foreskin of a whale penis.
She freezes, completely unsure of how to respond.
After thirty long seconds of her mortification, your husband chuckles and informs her that the stool has been upholstered in the foreskin of a whale penis.
Do you:
You’re a Political Princess: a technically non-royal woman whose name will nonetheless forever be associated with phrases like dynasty, legacy, and icon.

2. After a painful, terrifying pregnancy, all three trimesters rife with vomiting so severe you are repeatedly hospitalized, you give birth to your first child. Seven hours later, do you:
You’re a Common Princess: a professional mother and nurturer, working in hereditary government via marriage, as you were born to a family that lacks equivalent political power. Although you’re formally educated, you’ll never be allowed to apply yourself to anything except small talk and educating your children. You’ll be mocked by the media for the rest of your life.

3. As all the women in your family have done for generations, you’ve been educated in Switzerland at a finishing school, and officially know your way around a crevette fork. After graduation, you land a job working in a kindergarten as an aide, because finishing school doesn’t issue teaching certificates. You’re nineteen years old. Do you:
Whether you choose A or B, you’ll arrive at C: Aristocrat Princess. Your prettiness, sexual availability, and potential fertility have been the focus of hundreds of years of selective breeding on the part of your ancestors, to keep your line of succession within the ruling class. As they say, class has its responsibilities; yours are to have children, support your husband and his attached military-industrial complex, and never, ever complain.
If, like Diana Spencer, you eventually tire of being an Aristocrat Princess, you’ll be forcefully ejected into a life that notably lacks trained security guards and sober drivers, ending in your tragic death. However, tragic death is not an option on this quiz.

4. You were raised in a palace to believe that you were chosen by God, a “birthright” that makes you an exemplary specimen of the human race, literally superior to others on the planet. Waited on by servants for your every need, you want for nothing, except perhaps love and affection. You rarely see your parents; when you do, they reinforce rules about presentation and comportment. You wear diamonds dug out of the ground by your great grandmother’s slaves, and you shake the hands of dictators with a smile. You love to party in SoHo. Are you:
If you chose any of the above, that’s your little secret, because you’re a Natural-Born Princess, and no one will ever know. No matter what you do, that time you took your lover to Mustique will still be used to undermine your credibility, at every turn, forever. 

While most of us likely won’t marry into hereditary governments, the princess story nonetheless finds its way into our lives, snaking under our skin, asking us to sing its catchy songs and repeat its lessons. To that end, I leave you with a final bonus question—one more multiple-choice setup, with only bad answers.

5. Bonus: Your job is sweeping coals from the fireplace. Your dad’s an inventor. You have no legs; chronic fatigue syndrome; and a boyfriend who is an OG settler colonialist. Millions of little girls wear an ugly nylon version of your favorite dress, made for pennies on the dollar in a country far, far, away, by different little girls. On the day you get your first period, do you:
Cartoon Princesses have the smallest waists, the biggest eyes—and the greatest reach, coming soon to a home near you.

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