17 year old Lorde’s album “Pure Heroine” is full of references to queendom. In her most well-known track, Royals, she sings “Let me be your Ruler…you can call me Queen Bee” and “I’m in love with being queen”. In other tracks, she sings of empresses in robes, ladies in finery, and beauty queens. But Lorde’s evocation of the identity of Queen is not necessarily based in a desire for the money and commodity immersion associated with that status – indeed, she indicts economic inequality and unequal distribution of privilege in the world. The Teen Queen identity is about something else, I think.
I’ve recently become obsessed with the CW’s new teen girl series called Reign. It’s a costume drama about Mary Queen of Scots (played by Aussie actress Adelaide Kane) and her time in France. Naturally a love triangle between Mary, the future King of France and his half-brother, the King’s bastard son Sebastian, ensues (very CW: see for example, The Vampire Diaries).
I describe the show as kinda Gossip Girl but in period costumes. Gossip Girl was similarly interested in Queen bee identities, especially through the character of Blair. Blair was consistently and explicitly aligned with a Queen identity as she ruled the world of Manhattan’s elite teens, donning diamond-encrusted velvet headbands and even having a portrait of Marie Antoinette painted on her bedroom wall. Gossip Girl was really about power, and how girls could exercise that power in narrative.
On Reign, this Queen identity is even more literally rendered. I find it fascinating that we have this teen drama with a girl ruler, a girl governing countries and making important political decisions that effect entire nations. This is why I’m ok with the love triangle aspect of Reign, which could have easily taken over the whole story and suppressed opportunities for other representations of girlhood that fall outside of the domain of “fulfillment through heterosexual romance”. But it doesn’t make that mistake. While I love me a love triangle, and have fangirled over many on this very site, I am also excited to see something a bit different in regards to the representation of girls. And yes, Reign has a schlock factor and a lot of people have been quick to shout OH THE HISTORICAL INACCURACIES! but I feel like those sorts of critiques actively obscure more important questions of cultural ideas about girls, power, agency, and the possibility of a non romantic quest for girl heroines to take form in contemporary media.
Why is this kind of representation so important? From my perspective, there are (at least) a couple of fundamental reasons. I think the appeal partly lies in the idea that as a girl, you could access great power that is not in the grip of patriarchal governance. That you could have a say in the public discourse. That you could, essentially do or say what you want and that the world would fall into step with your desires and needs. Our culture tends to see girlhood and treat girls as somehow inherently vulnerable, powerless, and duped. This kind of imaginative appeal of Reign is important in this way, precisely because in our contemporary patriarchal culture, girls are frequently not included in the public discourse, or allowed to have their say, or allowed to exercise agency and power without being labelled troublesome or difficult or bad. Girls are so often talked about as a “problem” group, as vulnerable, as out of control, filtered through medical, pedagogical and psychological discourses, and in being so categorised and spoken for, restrictions are actively placed on girls, their access to power, and public space. This is not to say that girls don’t do amazing things in the world, because power is never simply top-down, it’s everywhere; and girls are accessing it all the time and making things happen. What Reign and other Teen Queen texts do, I think, is carve out an imaginative space where this emergent girl identity is powerfully asserting itself, allowing this power to gain traction and momentum, becoming more visible and therefore even more powerful. When Queen Mary is handing down decrees and, I’m paraphrasing here, telling men to stop whining that a girl is giving them orders and do as they’re told, I get a little gleeful. I like seeing teen queens rule.