Rewriting the princess story

I confess: I was a little tearful while watching highlights from the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle over the weekend.

I might be British but I’ve never been much of a Royalist and I generally don’t take any interest in news and gossip about the British Royal Family.

But this wedding was more than just pomp, pageantry, and spot-the-celeb. It was symbolic and meaningful. A mixed-race woman marrying into the Royal Family represents an extraordinary and uplifting moment in the history of the House of Windsor. It’s a new chapter and one that offers hope at a time when we really need it.

Despite my inner cynic, I can’t help being inspired by Prince Harry and Meghan — by the stereotypes that they shatter and by the positive role models that they provide. Last year, Prince Harry challenged the stigma surrounding mental health issues and spoke candidly about his own decades-long struggles with mental health. In doing so, he presented a new model of masculinity to the world. He expanded our notions of what it means to be a man in the twenty-first century. He showed that you can be a man, a soldier, and a prince, and grapple with depression, vulnerability, and anxiety, without being emasculated. Meghan Markle also challenges prevailing stereotypes and prejudices and presents us with a new kind of princess. An outspoken feminist and a humanitarian activist committed to empowering women and girls throughout the world, Meghan has been advocating for gender equality ever since she was a child. At just 11 years old, she stood up for her beliefs and successfully campaigned against a sexist TV advert for a washing-up liquid.

Harry and Meghan inspire me because they are both positive role models who use their positions and influence to challenge gender (and other) stereotypes. And while great strides in gender equality have been made in recent decades, there’s still a long way to go and gender stereotypes sadly still prevail.

This is why, six months ago, I joined an exciting new children’s theatre production, “The Princess and the Secret of the Dragon,” as an impact producer. This original production in Hebrew, directed by Yael Slor and produced by BLACKBOX, features an empowered princess who does not wait around to be rescued.

When I was approached by my friend and colleague, Rachel Canar, to join the project, I was on maternity leave with my third child who was five months old. I was in a sleep-deprived haze and reluctant to start a new position. But as I sat listening to the director Yael describe the play, her vision, and her princess, I was spellbound. I thought about the messages that our children receive from our culture and society, and about how I had already seen their effects on my children and on how they see themselves. I remembered walking in the street with my five-year-old son Adam who was crying about something, and about how a random man scolded him, saying, “Why are you crying? Are you a girl? Be a man!” I thought about my three-year old daughter Amalia complaining that she is not beautiful enough because she doesn’t have long hair as girls should. As a mother of three young children, I am a first-hand witness to how confidence-damaging gender stereotypes are reinforced in Israeli culture, and I know that they need to be confronted from an early age.

Needless to say, I joined the project.

It’s been six months since my meeting with Yael, and, if we raise the remaining funds that we need for production, “The Princess and the Secret of the Dragon” will premiere at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art this July. Our hope is that the play will provide girls and boys across Israel with a strong and inspiring female role model whom they can look up to and learn from. It’s the kind of play that we all want our children to see, but that is sadly missing from the landscape of children’s theatre in Israel.

Our princess, Princess Thea, is nothing like the passive princesses whom we usually meet in children’s theatre and literature in Israel. She does not wait around to be saved by a prince. She takes charge of her own life, overcoming her fears, and using her courage, intelligence, and leadership skills to save her whole town (and her prince). Our prince is also not your typical prince. He is strong and charming, but has fears and vulnerabilities that he does not hide and that do not undermine his masculinity.

Over the weekend, we witnessed the Royal family being reinvented, and we were presented with a new kind of prince and a new kind of princess. This summer, we hope to introduce children throughout Israel to a new kind of fairy tale. This time, the princess saves the prince.

We are currently running a crowdfunding campaign to raise the remaining funds that we need to bring our empowered princess to the stage this summer. To support our production and to book your tickets (at a special discount for our campaign supporters), visit our Headstart campaign. The campaign is running until the end of May.

About the Author
Gila Orkin is an impact producer, supporting Israeli artists with a social change agenda to have a real impact through strategy, fundraising and marketing, partnerships management, and community building. She is passionate about the power of art to create meaningful social change. Gila lives with her partner and three young children in Jaffa. In her very little spare time, she loves to illustrate.
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