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.
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.
This post is republished on Medium.
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