When you think of Disney you think of... Princesses! Tulle, tea, singing like a bird, gullible loving, poised purity and perfection. Beautifully glowing, hopeful and dreaming, generations of girls lay in wait to an idea that one day their prince may rescue them from the cruel reality of their existence. And even the more cynical and realistic among us, reserved a small inkling of hope in the back of our minds that this could or should be a reality somewhere. It's so hopeful that it's alarming.
If I were to ask 10 people on the street to give me three attributes that they associate with princesses, they would be able to label various adjectives and buzzwords that can replace many of the words I've used in the paragraph above. But what about princes? What if I asked for qualities they associate with being a prince- Brave, strong, handsome... maybe smart? What are his other qualities? What are his passions? Why is he looking for love? Is he looking for love? Does he too believe that a woman will be the answer to all of his woes and longings? In most stories, he is forced to go rescue a lover and return with her as the prized proof of his charming ability to save and protect and be... a man. A lesser version of the caveman hit her over the head and drag her home; the assignment remains "go bring back some woman", a woman he doesn't even know. Is he bummed out? Is he scared? What does he think?
Who are the princes? Well guess what, we don't care. We don't give a shit. They are faceless symbols of what girls should seek. A set of qualities, a list manifested in perfect physical form complete with all the right red check marks next to it. Only until recently have we seen the development of the male counterparts to the leading lady in the fairytale. Cinderella attempted to show us some character depth but somehow our attention was diverted to the domestic partnership the king and his adviser shared. We were so enthralled with how much the king wanted grandchildren that we could not even see who the prince was. If I'm lying take a look in your brain and describe him from memory in the comments below. I'm certain you'll mix him with the prince from Sleeping Beauty and Snow White. I don't even know his name. Who was the prince? Other than a young man off experiencing the wonders of the world and playing around as a young man does, we see him immaturely through the eyes of his father who is using him to continue the family line. Poor thing.
I would fairly note that as Disney progressed, so too did the depth of character and storyline behind the princes. No longer were we fed the idea that the invisible man was every princess's dream "because Disney said so without some sort of back story" we got some words and an actual face with features. However, this further exploration of character development still falls short. Even fairy tales where the male character is a predominant feature- like Beauty and the Beast, The Little Mermaid, Mulan, The Princess and the Frog (which I will analyze another time); the male characters are still flawed in their perfect " boringness". It is one thing to scrutinize female perfection, true, but we should look harder at her counterparts and demand more of a woman's vision of her "ideal" man.
Gone are the days where we believe in the knight in shining armor, but gone too should be the days of a prince who so perfectly smiles, sings, lifts, whisks and dazzles us away to an ever after ending. Where's the pushback? Where's the tension? We can't reserve these complexities for villains alone. We send the message that layers for a man are unreasonable, when in reality, most men, most people have more than a few layers to peel back when you get to know them. I charge Disney to create a flawed prince. A man who I can believe is a man and not an ice sculpture or stoically chiseled god. For girls, mysticism of masculinity is continuously and pedagogically reiterated through the stories of our childhood. Show us something other than a hero and a villain. Show us a real man.
I'm a former teacher and former college athlete, currently working to make life more equitable for all people. My mission is to get parents to partner with their child's teacher.