Thursday, August 24, 2023

Princess Carolyn and What She Says About Working Women

 Victoria Pedraza | 8/8/2023

“I’m too busy doing it all to pose for a photo of women who do it all”

-Princess Carolyn


Still from season 6 episode 2 "The New Client"

And Princess Carolyn does it all. If you’ve never seen BoJack Horseman, let me take the opportunity to tell you, you’re missing out. I could go on and on about this show. I once based my final essay project for a semiotics class purely on the opening sequence, but for now, we’ll focus on Princess Carolyn. 


She is the driven, talented, and hardworking agent, and later manager, of the titular character. Throughout the show’s seasons, we see her struggle to find a balance between her professional aspirations and her personal life. She is a prime example of the challenges faced by working women, highlighting the struggles, pressures, and gender biases that can shape their careers and personal lives.


There are many working-women characters in media, but Princess Carolyn offers a more nuanced perspective. The show doesn’t shy away from showing the highs and the lows. Her struggle isn’t new, not even in media, but we typically see career women that have no space, time, or desire for a personal life. Often, this becomes the source of tension in any romantic relationship, or the plot revolves around her learning to be less ambitious. This simplistic view can demonize female career-centered, ambition, painting these characters as selfish, ultimately lonely women. And if the character in question gets a happy personal life, then she has to make sacrifices at work.


The Pressure to Succeed

Princess Carolyn's role as a talent agent places her at the forefront of the entertainment industry's competitive landscape. It shows her as the capable woman she is. She’s great at her job, but it hasn’t been an easy road. She spent a decade as an assistant whose boss wouldn’t give her opportunities to climb the ladder, and even once she finally became an agent, her accomplishments were constantly overlooked in favor of her male colleagues.


The show underscores the high expectations placed on her shoulders, as she strives to secure lucrative deals for her clients and elevate her agency's reputation. This unrelenting pressure has a profound impact on her personal life and relationships. As she becomes increasingly consumed by work, her ability to connect with others and foster meaningful connections becomes strained. This pressure to succeed forces her to constantly balance her professional aspirations with her emotional well-being. And her needs often take a backseat to her clients’.


The Double Standard

Gender bias is a consistent theme in Princess Carolyn's narrative. Despite her undeniable talent and dedication, she faces challenges that her male counterparts do not. The show skillfully illustrates instances where she is held to a different standard, often needing to work harder to prove her competence. At one point, she organizes a movie version of Catcher in the Rye from scratch, only to have her boss ignore the accomplishment and congratulate a male colleague for absolutely nothing.


This double standard is evident in her interactions with both colleagues and clients, and it serves as a stark reminder of the systemic gender inequalities present in the workplace and in the entertainment industry. With her clients, she has an inordinate amount of emotional labor on her shoulders. It’s her job not just to get opportunities for her clients, but also to talk them up, encourage them, and offer advice. This is a thankless, unpaid role that often falls to women, also shown by The Office’s Pam Beesly.


Her Rivalry with Vanessa Gecko

Women who do it all don’t just have to do it all, they also have to make it look easy. We meet Vanessa Gecko early on in the show, and she seems to be everything Princess Carolyn wants to be. She has it all and doesn’t even have to try very hard. This facade comes easily to her, but it’s not until later that we learn it is a facade. So Princess Carolyn is left feeling like a failure because she struggles to juggle a million things at once.


It’s easy to understand why Princess Carolyn resents Vanessa. It’s hard to let go of the expectations still imposed by society, and as a woman ages, she receives the message over and over again that she should have reached certain milestones by now, which often makes her feel self-conscious if she’s not there yet, which results in her hiding those feelings. For Princess Carolyn, this means hiding her difficult journey towards motherhood, and later her struggle with motherhood. We learn that Princess Carolyn has gone through five miscarriages and was blamed for it by her mother. She finally decides to adopt on her own and struggles to take care of her new baby and her demanding career. But through all of it, she’s desperate to keep up the appearance that it’s easy, until she learns other women, including her rival Vanessa, are struggling too.


The Importance of Self-Care

Princess Carolyn spends most of her time trying to be self-sufficient. She’s a capable person and doesn’t want to need anybody. So she hides her feelings and pushes away the people in her life. This is ultimately what causes the breakup of her first healthy relationship with Ralph. He wants to support her after learning of her miscarriages, but she prefers to pretend it’s not important. So she cries alone in the car and fakes a cheerful voice when he calls.


It’s only when she accepts that she can’t do everything on her own and learns to ask for help that she finds happiness. Still, in her very last scene, she expresses her fear that if she lets somebody else take care of her, in this case, her new husband Judah, she won’t be herself anymore.


Princess Carolyn's story underscores the vital importance of self-care for working women. It highlights the necessity of finding a balance between professional ambitions and personal well-being. Leaning on people, learning to let go of unhealthy situations, and realizing that her professional ambition doesn’t make her less of a woman and mother and her desires don’t make her less of a successful career woman. 


The challenges she faces prompt an examination of the strategies that can help alleviate the pressures of a demanding career. From setting boundaries to seeking support from friends and mentors, the narrative demonstrates how actively prioritizing self-care can ultimately lead to greater resilience and success in the long run.


Takeaway

Here you have a clip from season 6, episode 2 "The New Client" that I feel illustrates my point.


Princess Carolyn’s story is refreshing, in that it doesn’t end in finding work-life balance in the traditional sense. She’s a talent manager first, and her version of balance reflects that. She adopts Ruthie and wants to be a good mother to her, but it simply doesn’t come to her as naturally as her job does. That’s ok.


Once she’s accepted that, the next step is building a support system. No man, or woman, is an island. Princess Carolyn can’t do everything always, and her life improves when she finds both, a full-time nanny for her daughter and a new chief of operations for her company. Plus, eventually, a romantic partner who is willing to be supportive of her ambition and who takes care of her when she’s used to taking care of everyone around her.


She also learns to have boundaries. For most of the show, her clients have no respect for her as a person with needs of her own, especially BoJack. But when she learns that she needs to put herself first, she stops allowing that to happen and stops working with BoJack, her most difficult, high-maintenance client.


By taking these steps and finding a solution that works for her, she rediscovers her passion for her job and enjoys her time with her daughter. Princess Carolyn's journey is a poignant reminder of the multifaceted challenges that working women encounter. There’s no perfect answer, but rather, a million paths to success.


Sources:

The Take. (2020). BoJack Horseman - Princess Carolyn, Working Woman [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PL3XX4NLJPI

Giorgis, H. (2019). BoJack Horseman's Unflinching Portrayal of Working Motherhood. The Atlantic. https://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2019/10/bojack-horseman-season-6-princess-carolyns-working-mother/600853/

Kennedy, B. (2023). Princess Carolyn: Unraveling the Complexities of BoJack Horseman's Endearing Character. Cartoon Vibe. https://cartoonvibe.com/princess-carolyn-bojack-horseman/

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