Yesterday I went to Carnaval in Breda and I am happy to report that the Princess is gaining power at the Dutch Carnaval. I don’t mean sexual power. Women have had that always. So also at Carnaval. No, I am referring to that bastion of power: the function of Princedom. In this, someone chosen by the Carnaval’s Council of Eleven receives the town’s key from the Mayor to rule over town for five days in a different way.
For centuries this position was reserved for men only, just like the position of the Council of Eleven itself. Strange in fact. Because Carnaval is about the reversal of roles. The king becomes a jester. A reserved woman becomes a witch. The rich man is dressed up as a beggar. An old lady is suddenly Little Red Riding Hood. And so on. This includes the dress-ups as members of the other sex. Women have for centuries dressed-up during Carnaval as Robin Hood, knights, firemen and sailors. In some places like in the Belgium Aalst, men have also done this for centuries.
In Aalst, this figure is called Dirty Jeanet and it arose out of poverty. Workers did not have money to buy a Carnaval costume, so they used their wives’ or mothers’ clothes and underwear. Yesterday in Breda I have seen an enormous number of men dressed up as Queens, Countesses, actresses and maids. Good for you: men! So sex reversals have existed at Carnaval for a long time. Except for the position of the Prince!
Yet, recently even at that bastion of power the Princess is coming up. To my knowledge, the first Carnaval Princess appeared in the Netherlands in 1969: Princess Bep I in Someren-Heide and ruled there for six years. In 1998 Betke I was chosen in Valkenswaard. She called herself Prince Betke I, because as she argued: it is a position, just like the Mayor. And in Ossenisse, Princess Margaretha has already ruled for 25 years, with an all-female Council of Eleven.
Lately, we see in many villages and town a Youth Princess and her female Adjudant. And even the adult position of the Princedom is now and then given to women. Yet, in the biggest Dutch Carnaval cities, the opposition against this is severe. The people in power say that we have to respect the century-old Carnaval traditions or that the Statutes of the Carnaval clubs do not allow this.
But now something interesting is happening. In the Carnaval cities Weert and Tilburg, female members of the official city councils have raised questions in council meetings about that male monopoly and have asked a change in the Statutes at this point. In Weert they have lost, but in Tilburg they have won! Already a female member of the Council of Eleven has been admitted. So members of city councils and of Carnaval clubs elsewhere: please follow this example and pave the road for the Carnaval Princess in this way.
After all: Carnaval is about the reversal of roles!