5 Ways Disney Films Are Bad For Married Men

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The fairy tales’ flawed messages of romance swing both ways.

The vast majority of us grew up watching Disney movies like Cinderella, Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, Little Mermaid, and the like. And most of us probably have fond memories of them. There was something dazzling about the enchantment and magic of these movies. The story lines were also great for us children. We loved to see the damsel in distress get rescued by the prince—all it took to bring her back to life was the magic of true love’s kiss. But that’s when we were kids.

 Now that we’re older we recognize these weren’t exactly exemplary messages. Most people recognize that the Princesses aren’t exactly great examples of strong, confident, independent women. But what people don’t recognize are the many bad messages they gives to boys about being men and husbands. Little boys watch these movies too, and just as the girls are getting messages about love and marriage so are the boys.

Men aren’t simply for marrying and making their wife’s dreams comes true. Wives who think this are selfish.

As a marriage counselor in Westminster, CO I see problems all the time that come from incorrect assumptions about marriage such as the ones in the Princess movies. It’s helpful for men and for women to identify all the many ideas they harbor about men in marriage that are doing more harm than good.

Why The Disney Princesses are Bad for Men 

Perhaps the worst part for men about the Princess movies are how the men are objectified. Everyone knows that women are objectified by men through their physical appearance, but men are just as objectified by women—they just do it differently. Instead of physical appearance, women objectify men by the way men make them feel. They want a man who sweeps them off their feet, gives them love, passion, and rescues them from any danger. It doesn’t matter who the man is or what his hobbies are—as long as the man treats them like a princess.

Prince Charming is a great example of objectification. The movie doesn’t tell anything about him. In fact, all he ever says is “Wait!” and “I don’t even know your name.” He’s just a charming, brave and wealthy prince.

Unfortunately, a lot of women think that’s what a man is supposed to be. And they get disappointed when they find out that their man doesn’t fit that mold. He actually is a person with hobbies like woodwork or classic cars, and does not spend his spare time trying to impress/woo his princess.

One of the things that is perhaps the most objectifying about men is the way that the princesses have their happily ever after after they get married—as if it’s the man’s responsibility somehow to give women happily ever after. Yes, spouses should try to help each other achieve happiness, but the movies would lead you think that it’s the man’s responsibility to do this. After all, the damsel didn’t find happiness until after she found a husband.

How The Princesses Give Wrong Messages about Marriage

As a marriage counselor, I see the ways that some of these bad messages have permeated marriages and expectations spouses have. So here are some take home points for men and women that are a stark contrast to what you see in the movies.

1) It’s not a man’s responsibility to make his wife live happily ever after. Happily ever after is when both spouses work together towards love and respect and help each other fulfill each other’s dreams. If one spouse isn’t happy, it’s not automatically the other one’s fault.

2) Men aren’t always charming. Men have bad days. They have average days, too. Marriages where the man is expected to always be charming and dashing, and sweep his wife off her feet etc. are doomed for failure.

3) Men aren’t always courageous and brave. Some men would rather sit at home and read a good book, or play XBox instead of wrestling dragons or playing sports. Marriages where the husband is expected to meet all the stereotypes of manliness seldom work out because the wife is not seeing or appreciating her husband for who he is. She judges him based on stereotypes (aka objectifies him).

4) Men don’t fix every little problem. In the movies the prince would search every house in the kingdom just so the damsel could get her shoe back. Well, marriages where the man is expected to solve every little problem aren’t good marriages. Good marriages are based on equality where the husband and the wife both use their capacities to solve problems together. Both can do it on their own and often do. They collaborate when necessary but both have equal decision making power – and they both use them.

5) Men aren’t simply for marrying and making their wife’s dreams comes true. Wives who think this are selfish. As a spouse, their husband is supposed to help, but ultimately our individual dreams are ours to accomplish.

♦◊♦

Now that I’m older, I look back and realize how so many people’s expectations of love and marriage have been tainted by these messages we learned when we were little. Little girls look for their Prince Charming’s to fall madly in love with at first sight and live happily ever after. But when they grow older they find out that marriage takes teamwork. It’s not just magically provided by Prince Charming.

 

Photo by starrynight12

 

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About Aaron Anderson

Aaron Anderson is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and owner of The Marriage and Family Clinic in Denver, CO. He also writes for several publications online and in print all on the topic of marriages, families and men. In his spare time (whatever that is) he is secretly preparing to be the next great chef. You can find him on Twitter @MarriageDr and on Facebook giving great info without the psychobabble.

Comments

  1. OirishM says:

    Awesome article ;)

  2. AnthonyZarat says:

    Insightful post. I don’t think that marriage has a future, but if it does, this kind of thinking will lead the way.

    • Hi Anthony,

      I sure hope marriage has a future. But I think, as you said, this kind of thinking will need to go away in order for it to really be successful. Instead of having silly hopes and dreams that you hope your partner will fulfill for you the hopes and dreams will be much more real and much more fulfilling.

  3. If you take a look at online dating sites you’ll see a huge number of women’s profiles that present one or more of these wrong messages.

  4. Great article, Aaron! The 5 take home points are spot on. I’d like to see your 5 corresponding points for the wives.

    About this line, ” women objectify men by the way men make them feel” – I have a comment and questions below.

    First, it didn’t make sense to me when I read it. Both men and women have the ability to cause either bad or good feelings in each other. Especially in a failing marriage, they become pretty adept at *choosing* to make the other feel bad with words and actions.

    I don’t see how desiring your partner to *choose* to say and do things that result in good feelings is objectifying. Perhaps I interpreted your intention incorrectly.

    You and I both deal with men who are in the middle of a failing relationship or marriage full of horrible words and actions. My question below is about the case where the wife is entirely shut down from communication and teamwork. At this point, simultaneous teamwork and problem solving is not in the cards.

    Therefore, I coach men to see more clearly the ways in which THEY have caused bad (critical and divisive) feelings instead of good (loving and compassionate) feelings within their wives. They must own where they are and how they helped to get there. They must also own their part in creating good feelings once again…as does she, of course.

    Your #1 point is true…happily ever after is not HIS job. But how do define his role in recovering a relationship that is tattered with a history of disrespect, distrust, and disapproval?

    How do you suggest these two people begin reversing their downward spiral?

    In the absence of teamwork (when she has shut down entirely) I tell my male clients they must initiate it and accept responsibility for beginning the process of creating good feelings again. They can’t control her decisions or change her – they can only treat her in ways they would want to treat ANY person in their life.

    With authentic actions and respectful communication, she just may choose to join him in recovering the relationship…or not.

    What’s your take?

    Thanks again for the thought provoking article!

    • Rich Johnson says:

      I am a single father and of coarse i watch these movies all the time with my daughter. These movies are fairy tales and that is what they are. I believe they’re are alot of good points to the article, but i feel it is important to let your children know the difference between make believe and imagination. Walt Disney was a man whom truly cared about children and family. Fairy tells have been a part of lifethroughout civilization and it is up to parents to home train , and teach they’re children the difference from truth or fiction, etc. The movie Cinderella is called that for a reason, it is about a girl whom was mistreated by a step mother but was able to be freed from her chains if you will. The prince is a very short part of the story and to me its more of a happy ending to her rough begginings.

      • If “it takes a (global) village to raise a child, the storytellers are the villagers that play one of the crucial roles in that upbringing. Perhaps the idea is make sure children receive a broad diet of stories. There are plenty of stories, especially in which men and women are romantically linked and also teammates – even in Disney’s canon – Bedknobs and Broomsticks is the first example that springs to mind. Chitty Chitty Bang Bang is another example of romantically linked protagonists that are team mates rather than “sweepers off of the feet”; Rory and Amy in Doctor Who. Egalitarian depictions of romance do exist in children’s media – and if you keep the diet broad then you’re providing children the opportunity to comprehend that there isn’t a set “way that things must be” and you offer them choices as a result.

        One thing that bothers me more is the way demographics are becoming increasingly divisive. Cinderella, Snow White and the Seven Dwarves or even Beauty and the Beast were never marketed as “films for girls” – they purely were films based on fairy tales, but since the end of the nineties the notion of a “Disney Princess Franchise” was developed, and all merchandise associated with these movies became pinkified in a way that implied these were “girl’s films” and by inference all other movies, in which bolder primary colours were used in the merchandising, were “boy’s films”. By segregating the genders at an early age, even at the expense of a shared culture, reinforces a sense of “otherness” that makes children more susceptible to gender-based prejudices as they grow up – not prejudices that either of those cultures are responsible for, but it’s an easily supported notion that empathy between the genders is improved with mixed social networks, and people are more likely to believe myths and stereotypes about the opposite sex if they are not exposed to notable counter-examples through cross-gender socializing. Pluis a sense of shared culture makes for stronger partnerships in adulthood.

      • Right.. the fairy tale is a story. It contains archetypes (king, queen, witch, horse, knight, etc). Every person has all of these archetypes in their psyche. The fairy tale is a story about how these things play against each other.

    • GoodGuytoGreatMen,

      There was a lot in there that just can’t be addressed in one reply. I’ll say what I can briefly.

      First of all, I will very rarely see an individual for couples counseling. Because it’s always both people that need to work on something. If she’s so hardened/angry that she will not accept his gestures to reconcile then she needs to see a therapist, too. And it’s unfair for the other spouse (in this case the husband) to bend over backwards to try to save the marriage. It’s unsustainable and insincere for one spouse to bend over backwards and before long the relationship will crumble again.

      It’s a great idea to begin by asking your male clients to take an inventory of themselves and what they could have done to take part in the anguish in the relationship. They need to do this whether the relationship stays or goes anyway. It’ll be useful for him in the current relationship or in a future one.

  5. Interesting article. Thank you for writing it. As a woman, it’s always good to hear a thoughtful male perspective on things.

    I noticed you focused on what Disney movies tell girls to believe about boys/men. What about what they tell boys to believe about themselves? Or about girls/women?

    • OirishM says:

      What about what they tell boys to believe about themselves?

      Be handsome and rich if you want to get the girl?

    • Great question, Janet! Maybe I’ll do another article on it!

      I think Disney movies tell men that they are the backbone of a relationship and that they need to be charming, brave, etc. in order to be that backbone. I think they also tell men that, unfortunately, women only need to be able to talk to animals and be pretty and that men are supposed to do the rest in a relationship. Honestly, I think they give men a lot of anxiety about relationships.

      I think it also tells men to believe that women shouldn’t be self-thinkers or independent and that women are reliant on men. I’d love to hear a woman’s perspective. What do you see that it teaches men about themselves and about women?

      • Aaron,

        Thanks so much for writing this article. As a married woman, I personally believe that men are the backbone of the relationship and while men are certainly not perfect, there is a certain amount of effort that goes into a successful marriage.

        To be fair, I will add that almost every Disney movie with a prince and princess shows hard work and effort by both parties to earn the happily ever after. I completely disagree that Disney princesses are not required to be self thinkers or be independent. Belle is “Beauty and the Beast” is my favorite example, but there are several more (with the exception of Snow White, ugh).

        From watching so many Disney movies as a kid and an adult, I would argue that men learn the importance of valor and valuing the women they pursue. As a wife, I have a desire to please my husband, and I hope he has a desire to fight for me. Women need to know that men are willing to fight dragon on their behalf just as men need to know women will fight alongside and be there when the battle is over. This is what I hope Disney movies and other stories like it will teach my sons: that being a pirate or a cowboy or a prince isn’t just good fun, it’s part of who they were meant to be.

        Kate

  6. Tom Brechlin says:

    I understand what you’re saying here and why you wrote this but I have to tell you that I struggle with it. These Disney movies are entertainment. No more, no less. I’m older then a lot of people who read these articles and I grew up in a time where TV and movies often times depicted gender roles and most movies ended in a fairy tale ending. Those movies didn’t define who I was or who I was going to be. The men/people in my life did that. The number one influence was my dad and the marriage he had with my mom.

    Of course guys don’t have as much of that now-a-days so I guess some have to rely on the unrealistic situations depicted in stories shown in these movies.

    Maybe I’m in a crabby mood but good gosh, with all the real world problems men have these days, looking at childrens movies and how they aren’t realistic much less accurate as to real world vs fairy tale world, just seems a little much.

    • Stories we tell each other inform the way we view the world; the stories we tell children are even more potent because their belief systems are still formative. There’s nothing insignificant about entertainment. Culture is founded on story-telling.

      • These stories have been around for centuries and men could handle it. But when you add the destruction upon men’s lives that feminism has wrought in the past few decades while doing nothing to dispel the idea that if you want to make radical changes to the order of things you CAN’T simultaneously hang on to these quaint old traditional ways (e.g. man must be the one to ask for a date, man must pay, man must open doors, all the way to marriage and these 5 things that you list). It gets all too much to bear sometimes. I agree with the comment that marriage is not going to exist in future and it is because of this.

    • Mark A. says:

      In the words of Stephen Sondheim and the voice of Bernadette Peters: “Careful the things you say, Children will listen …”

    • Unfortunately, Tom, I can’t tell you how many times I see such unrealistic expectations in a relationship as what are portrayed in Disney movies. As a therapist, I see couples with problems like these way too often. It really is prevalent. Whether it’s Disney movies or not, who knows, but I thought it was a great example of a relationship dynamic that is prevalent in our society.

      Also, you’re spot on when you say that most relationship lessons are learned from your own parents. Sounds like you had a good dad.

      • Aaron, you know what? I’m eating crow right now. Although my views of the Disney movies still stand, I will most definitely concur that media (movies and TV shows) did and do influence relationships. It wasn’t until a moment ago that I reflected on my own marriage and the light bulb went off in my head. I wrote an article for GMP about my first year of marriage and how my wife saw herself as a Doris Day character and had unrealistic expectations. Whereas I had a much more realistic view of marriage, she saw things as though it was a TV show.

        So I guess for some, these fairy tale life expectation could have started at an early age. Of course back in my day, we were far more limited … Disney movies were seen in theaters, not in homes. Of course we had “The wonderful World of Disney” which was amazing on the latest invention … color TV. But we watched TV as a “family” back then.

        Fast forward to when my daughter was small and her favorite movie was Mary Poppins. Yeah, she remembers the movie but what stuck was my watching it with her. By the time the movie got to “feed the birds” She’d be asleep next to me on the sofa. Not sure if she ever saw the entire movie. At her wedding, the song she chose for her father/daughter dance was “Feed the birds” … When the music started, she laid her head on my shoulder and said, “Daddy, I remember … I love you.”

        Wish people would cherish the times in their lives with the people in their lives and not the crap they see on TV.

        You’re right, my dad was a good man and a great example. I wrote about him in my Things I regret article.

        Anyway, sorry I rambled…..

  7. Ummmm….. OK. But, I still give ‘it’* a shot, although I often get feedback that I’m not making it completely.

    * It meaning… making my lady happy, providing the means for food for the pantry, a happy home, holidays, helping to raise children who are well-adjusted and making a positive contribution to society, … I could go on.

    • Good on ya brindafella! Keep “it” up. None of us are ever making “it” completely. Keep trying and know your limits. Don’t expect to be able to do it all. Ask your lady for help as often as you need. That’s what a partnership is for.

      • Sorry, I have to jump in here. If I’ve heard the term “help raise the kids” once, I’ve heard it a hundred times. What’s with the “help” raise the kids? I raised my kids with my wife. Take ownership of your role as a dad! I’m not angry about this but it’s as though society truly is looking at dads as an aside, as though they compliment the mother …NO NO NO, dad’s are dad’s and they have their own unique role and responsibility.

        Sorry, didn’t mean to sound rude.

  8. Great article.

  9. “They want a man who sweeps them off their feet, gives them love, passion, and rescues them from any danger….”

    Excellent article…! I have been watching a few marriages blow up around me….and, yes, the above observations do apply….very close friends of ours have been lying to us about the “charmed life” that they live in their “castle”….the truth is so ugly….the “charming, brave, and wealthy prince” actually is a depressed guy from an abusive childhood with very rigid attitudes about how his family members should behave…and very controlling with regard to his “wealth”….to our faces, the “prince” lies about the family being in therapy, while his son tells me that his dad really thinks he’s “perfect” and doesn’t need any help….

  10. Emily P says:

    I saw something like this happen to a good friend of my fiance’s. This friend, I’ll call him ‘Joe’, spent 10 years of his life with ‘Hilary.’ Hilary was definitely in a princess mind-set. She grew up watching her father spend lavish amounts of time and money on her mother, constantly buying her expensive jewelry and trinkets. The few times I spent with her, it seemed clear to me that for her, a husband was a thing you wanted so that you could be constantly doted on. Joe is an extremely hard-working guy. He has a master’s degree in education, and has tried (and failed) for years to find a full-time teaching job. In the mean-time, he’s spent that time working a low-paying job in a restaurant, where he’s slowly moved up due to his hard work and persistence. He hates this job, but he sticks with it because times are tough and it’s not easy to find another.

    Anyway, the first time I met Hilary, I commented on her beautiful engagement ring. She flat-out stated, right in front of Joe, that it wasn’t the one she had WANTED to get, which was much more expensive. I was floored that someone could be that callous and dismissive. She was never interested in his friends, his hobbies, or his job. I’m pretty sure that to Hilary, a man is something to have around to meet your needs, make you happy, and buy you pretty things. And Joe just couldn’t do that for her, as hard as he tried. Needless to say, she started fooling around with a friend of hers (who apparently DID treat her like a princess), and called off the wedding just a month before it was to take place.

    Now I’m a straight-up feminist, but I can admit that sometimes it DOES become ingrained in young women that we can happy, if ONLY we can find that husband to settle down with, who can give us some children and bring home the bacon (that’s not to say that young men aren’t ingrained in similar ways, if for different reasons). When I’m having a particularly bad week, my fiance goes out of his way to make me feel special. Sometimes, though, when HE’S having a particularly bad week, I have to remind myself, “What can I do to make HIM feel better?” Sometimes we women forget that men sometimes like to be held and told that everything’s going to be okay, too. They like to sometimes be coddled and doted on, too. As long as it’s a reciprocal thing, and is shared equally between the partners. That’s one of the things that makes for a great relationship.

    I apologize if I ended up rambling somewhat!

    • No need to apologize, Emily. Stories like this illustrate my point in the article very well! And you’re absolutely right that sometimes men like to be held and told that everything’s going to be okay, too. In healthy relationships, women fulfill their husband’s emotional needs as much as their husband fulfills theirs.

    • Great comment Emily. My wife is similar to you and I feel blessed.

  11. Great post, really interesting analysis and absolutely agree with what you say about how men are represented in these sorts of films.

  12. On the surface I agree with your post… Disney does provide highly unrealistic expectations of love, marriage and romance. However, Disney movies are for entertainment and never meant to be a how-to guide or exemplar for dating and relationships. Same with most media creations. If a grown woman expects her husband to complete her world and fulfill all of her dreams…she is naive and frankly immature. I would tell her to grow up! These are the same women who sit around the campfire {or online forums} b*tching about the unrealistic expectations that men have of women due to porn. Of course you are not a porn star…nor is he Prince Charming!
    Newsflash: You are both ordinary people with something wonderful to offer to each other; genuine love, respect, and companionship on life’s journey. It may not be Happily Ever After…but with the right person and realistic expectations the real thing will be much more rewarding. There’s nothing like the real thing, baby!
    Great post, Aaron! I loved your insight!

    • Thanks Marrie, You’re absolutely right that with sincerity and genuineness in a relationship, your relationship will actually be better than ‘Happily Ever After’. The biggest problem I have as a therapist is getting couples to let down their guard of high expectations of themselves and their spouse and just let themselves shine through for their partner to accept and love.

  13. wellokaythen says:

    Very good points that have to be said.

    I would just add that there is no reason to put this in the “married men” section. This has a lot to do with gender relationships even beyond a husband/wife scenario. These myths create unrealistic expectations all over society, not just within a marriage.

  14. Google the term “emotional pornography” and learn how unrealistic relationship expectations are being spread through outlets like Disney.

    • Froztwolf says:

      Dang. I thought I had coined that phrase.
      I think the worst modern offender in this has to be the Bachelor. My wife is hooked on that stuff, and I keep reminding her to regard it the same way I regard pornography: Entertaining, but shouldn’t inform the relationship. It helps that nearly all the marriages from the Bachelor end within a year.

  15. Excellent article and I say spot on. However I do not think it is just Disney who is perpetuating this myth. The running joke with me is the storyline for most “action films” where we seem to always kill hundreds if not thousands of innocent people – mostly bystanders – in the name of “saving the girl”. If you tale a serious (albeit cynical) look, the girl doesn’t really have anything to offer other than the fact she is pretty or sexy. And in the end the “hero”, after expending an unbelievable amount of energy / strength / stamina / resources or whatever, does indeed rescued her and it is implied (if not assured) that he has made her dreams come true…and they will live happily ever after.
    I think it is also important to note that we really should not hold the entertainment industry accountable as the ones who are perpetuating this myth. We are the ones paying for (and we continue to pay for) this form of entertainment because apparently we like this theme. No doubt this it is a bit skewed but I would also pose that this is just entertainment and nothing more. We should all be aware that all mainstream entertainment is skewed and we should most definitely not derive our values from any of it. Roles and values still come from family and good role models and all the folks who understand and can point out that although there is nothing wrong with fantasy there is certainly a big and significant difference between fantasy and reality.

  16. Don't get attached says:

    Or maybe you just need to put the right values, and proper way of thinking to your child/children. And stop letting the tv babysit your offspring.
    If every caretakers would be giving all the right values, teaching how to think critical and realistically and actually be the rolemodel, articles like this wouldn’t be around no more. It’s getting old, btw. Wonder what will be next, picking boogers is making your child dumber?

  17. Early on in my childhood, I was told that the Disney stories were loosely based on old fables or actual books. The point of these stories was entirely different from the ones Disney made and I was either read the other version(s) or hinted them down myself. The impact of the books was significantly richer than the movies. Including the understanding they imparted to me that not all stories have a happy ending and relationships aren’t like the movies. I’ve passed that knowledge on to my kids. It’s a lesson that needs to be taught early and often.

  18. This article resonates big time–thank you.

  19. I’ve felt like the only sane woman in the room when I push back on these poisonous stereotypes. Thanks for the breath of fresh air! It’s so nice to read that so many others see the problem with rigid and unrealistic gender roles. :)

Trackbacks

  1. […] I first reviewed Aaron Anderson’s piece, 5 Ways Disney Films Are Bad For Married Men, I was certainly struck by it, but not for obvious reasons. Long before reading it, I had known […]

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