What do little girls watch for entertainment? Animated movies are perennial favorites. The problem is that some of them are conveying the wrong messages. They usually feature princesses, or those who end up marrying into royalty. What’s the deal with that?
It’s obviously about wish fulfillment. First of all, princesses are at the apex of society. Not only are they rich and can afford anything they want, they’re part of the ruling dynasty. Also, princesses can avoid any real work. Their many servants are paid for by the royal treasury (and ultimately the taxpayers). If they were peasant women instead, they’d have to help maintain the farm: milk the cows, churn the butter, and all that. Even if they were bourgeois housewives, that involves cooking, cleaning, and tending children. If they want maids or nannies, the expense comes out of the household budget.
List of Disney princess movies
The following is a list of the movies where the official Disney princesses appear:
- Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937): Princess raised by an evil stepmother who makes her do chores. Revived from everlasting sleep by handsome prince.
- Cinderella (1950): Orphan oppressed by evil stepmother who makes her do chores. Her fairy godmother helps her win the heart of the handsome prince.
- Sleeping Beauty (1959): Princess raised without knowledge of her royal status. Revived from everlasting sleep by handsome prince.
- The Little Mermaid (1989): Undersea princess overcomes plot of scheming aunt and wins the heart of handsome prince.
- Beauty and the Beast (1991): Bourgeois feminist from medieval France removes curse by the power of true love, beast becomes handsome prince cured of psychological problems.
- Aladdin (1992): Arab princess shares enchanted adventure with handsome rogue.
- Pocahontas (1995): Indian princess meets handsome British officer and takes much artistic license with history.
- Mulan (1998): Medieval Chinese feminist enlists in drag and saves her country from Huns. In the sequel, she marries former commanding officer.
- The Princess and the Frog (2009): Waitress undergoes amphibian adventure, marries handsome prince.
- Tangled (2010): Princess raised without knowledge of her royal status by oppressive witch, meets handsome rogue.
- Brave (2012): Feminist princess defies tradition and refuses betrothal. Princess uses magic to manipulate mother, with unexpected results. Princess gets her way, and will get to pick which prince she wants to marry, and when.
- Moana (2016): South Seas princess recovers magical artifact.
So we have some common themes here. Excepting the last two, all end up with a highly desirable guy in the end. Most of the heroines are princesses, or the daughters of tribal chiefs in societies that don’t have a national monarchy. Some others ascend to royalty through marriage. Mulan is the only exception, merely getting an officer of high standing. The princesses who end up with handsome rogues, instead of princes, still retain their royal status. Common labor is equated with oppression, especially domestic chores.
In the feminist-influenced films, the heroines get to challenge long-standing customs. In the end, they overcome resistance and have everything their way. The anachronistic feminists (butch in a couple of cases) don’t incur lasting consequences to their social standing. Neither are there any other long-term ill effects on their lives for defying tradition.
It gets worse
Beauty and the Beast is the most insidious of the princess movies. Sure, “love conquers all” is a nice-sounding message. Still, what happens if you try to run the script in real life? If, for example, someone tries to use true love to turn an unemployed alcoholic into a handsome prince, the usual result is not a magical adventure. Instead, that means escaping to the women’s shelter after one too many black eyes. It’s the same problem as Wuthering Heights, another notorious item of Stockholm Syndrome fiction.
Brave is another notable offender, though for different and more complex reasons. It’s the first princess movie to question the institution of marriage; whereas the others merely suffered from instilling unrealistic expectations. All of the heroine’s suitors looked like dorks, which surely was meant to reinforce the message the screenwriters were intending to make. That’s the difference between adolescent boys and girls. The girls quickly will blossom into their peak maidenly beauty. At the time, boys look pretty dorky for the next few years, before they slowly start to look manly.
Sure, the plot will strike a chord: “Poor Merida – pressured into getting married early, and she doesn’t even get to pick the guy!” Indeed, that much is understandable. Still, strange results are to be expected if one applies modern sensibilities to medieval settings. (It’s sort of like the “Oh shit!” moment when you realize that your favorite ancient philosopher or theologian didn’t object to slavery.) In the real world, dynastic marriages for royal families were an essential means to hold alliances together. This carried on up until monarchy became obsolete, but throwing tradition out the window would’ve been impossible before then. Dynastic marriage was the one duty expected of princesses, a tradeoff for having the most pampered and carefree existence of anyone in the realm.
The notion of arranged marriages seems very out of step in modern times, unless you’re from India where this is the norm. (Americans have a divorce rate ten times higher than they do. Maybe they know something we don’t?) Still, that’s how things rolled in Europe too back in the day, and it worked pretty well for them. It wasn’t until the Renaissance that people started getting married for love. Moreover, it wasn’t until the Sexual Revolution that young women were able to ride the Cock Carousel without social penalty. Does all that screwing around help to test for long-term compatibility – maximal choices, lots of data points, “try before you buy”? Once again, our divorce rate speaks volumes.
Anyway, the butch princess gets everything her way in the end, but things could’ve gone a lot worse. Merida’s refusal to follow customs threatened to disrupt the fragile peace with the neighboring tribes. At no point did she seem to care that a lot of people might get killed because of that. Everything was all about her! (This is one of the things that’s wrong with feminism, of course.) Here’s how I would’ve handled the plot if I’d been the screenwriter.
“Okay, so you don’t want to do the one thing that’s expected of you as a princess. That’s totally cool; you can be a peasant instead. I’ll give you a churn, spinning wheel, loom, washtub, broom, and a stove to help you get started. If that’s too girly for your tastes, I can get you an anvil, hammer, and furnace.”
What messages do princess movies convey to girls?
Those films seem like pretty wholesome fare. Actually, they certainly are, if compared to former Mouseketeers turned pop divas getting lewd on stage. Even so, the princess movies do contain some rather faulty underlying messages. Little girls are the main target audience. One needn’t be Sigmund Freud – or his nephew, the advertising pioneer and propagandist Edward Bernays – to understand the imprinting effect of messages like this delivered at an early age.
When adult women read a romance novel, or trash like 50 Shades of Grey, they should be able to realize that the book is escapist wish fulfillment. Not every potential boyfriend will be a billionaire who looks like an underwear model and has a case of narcissistic personality disorder that the ladies find so appealing. They should understand that. However, “should” and five bucks will get you a cheeseburger. Chick porn like that, along with chick flicks – what they watch after they’re too old for princess movies – can contribute to unrealistic expectations. It’s much like what visual porn does to guys.
It’s worse when messages that might lead to unrealistic expectations are aimed at little girls. The target audience is at the age where they still believe in the Easter Bunny, or not far beyond that. Little kids don’t have much of a bullshit filter. Obviously the girls are meant to identify with the protagonists as role models, imagining that things will be like that when they too are teenagers. At a young age, they might internalize messages like this:
- You’re a princess by birthright. If your parents aren’t royalty, maybe they’re not your real parents and are oppressing you.
- Even if you’re definitely a commoner, social climbing via marriage is a great way to fix that problem and attain princess status.
- All girls deserve a rich guy so they can be spoiled perpetually, whether or not they bring much to the table themselves. Of course, he must be good looking too.
- If you choose a handsome rogue instead, that’s empowerment. No bad consequences will come to you for running with criminals.
- True love can do anything, including fixing someone else’s personality defects.
- Labor is definitely beneath you, especially chores like washing dishes. That’s for servants.
- It’s always right to defy any social standards you don’t like. Gender roles especially have no reason to exist. Do whatever you consider personally rewarding; that will never negatively affect your personal outcome.
- In short, you deserve nothing in life other than the very best. Since you’re not a peasant, hardships are always temporary and can be overcome with a cool adventure.
- You always can count on the assistance of talking animals, supernatural beings like fairy godmothers, noble family members you didn’t realize you had, and handsome princes willing to fight to the death for you.
What are the effects on boys who watch this stuff?
Boys will get some different messages:
- Girls will like you, as long as you’re a handsome prince, or a handsome rogue. (There is some truth in this.)
- You must do anything for the spoiled princess, including risking your life.
- Opting out of gender roles – like the one above – isn’t in the script for you.
- The more that you do for girls, the more they’ll appreciate you in the end. (And I have a bridge for sale in Brooklyn.)
It’s no wonder why boys prefer action and adventure movies over princess movies, now isn’t it? Fortunately, the former usually have better character development.
What’s the matter with this?
Simply put, the world does not work this way. Here are some facts contrary to what little girls learn from these movies. These are harsh, but the truth hurts.
- Most people are ordinary commoners, fairly average. (Even those who are exceptional need to do more than have an adventure and rest on their laurels.)
- Average men indeed are good enough for average women. Shocking, isn’t it?
- Someone who refuses to settle for anyone other than a millionaire or a celebrity is a lazy gold digger. Instead of getting a handsome prince, those with impossible standards probably will get pumped and dumped a lot, and later in life end up all alone and very disappointed.
- Rich guys sometimes have bald spots or pot bellies or might be less than six feet tall. (Who knew, right?) Some have short tempers or big egos, especially the trust fund kids. Those who’ve made their own money usually have to work very long hours.
- Women who chase criminals are gun molls. They certainly don’t live happily ever after.
- True love is great, but it doesn’t do everything, and it certainly can’t cure someone else’s mental problems, addictions, atrocious behavior, etc.
- Being lazy is not a virtue. Unless you can afford a maid, you’d better learn how to clean up your own place, or you’ll be the next star on Hoarders.
- Social standards usually exist for a reason. Traditions become traditions because they work. Ignore this at your peril.
- Fairy godmothers don’t exist. (Bruce Jenner doesn’t count.)
What is Princess Complex?
If the fantasy / wish fulfillment concept of how the world works isn’t mitigated by realism by the time they’re adults, a condition known as Princess Complex will develop. Urban Dictionary defines this term as:
An attitude fed to women by the media and other females that bestows upon them illusions of superiority and selfishness. Also brought on to many attractive females over time by means of many males who have ventured into the friend zone by catering to the respective female’s every beck and call.
Another defines this as:
As children girls are told stories about knights who save princesses and exist to serve them. They internalize these stories and imagine themselves as princesses. As they grow older they expect every single man they are involved with to play the part of the prince, and many men enable this delusion. This is a culturally enforced narcissistic delusion, that causes women to expect praise and special favors. This will only end when men raise up and hand women a dose of reality. Stop paying for her dates, and stop telling her she’s special.
A related complex is Feminist Entitlement:
Feminist Entitlement is the conviction that women are owed something by the virtue of their gender. It is the belief structure that tells women they deserve to have their whims catered to both culturally and interpersonally. One of the most harmful aspects of Feminist Entitlement is the belief that feminists have a right to use and view women both as tools and victims.
Wrapping things up, you need to keep track of what your kids are watching. Too many of the wrong messages might encourage your little ones to be spoiled brats who think the universe rotates around their egos. Again, these movies aren’t as poisonous as some of the stuff on the idiot box lately. Still, if they do watch these films – or others like them – it’s a good idea to have a discussion with them to explain that not everyone gets to be a princess.