As regular visitors to this site may know, fairy tales have been referenced in a number of the featured articles. One of the most commonly referred to is Cinderella. Much has been said about the recurring theme in many fairy tales, that a girl must find her prince to be truly happy and complete. Many have taken offense at this message, suggesting that it demeans women and sets up unrealistic expectations which will ultimately lead to unhappiness and disappointment.
But all is not wine and roses on the manly side of the fence dear readers. Sit back and relax as I regale you with an examination of the lesser heard side of these tales…The Princes’ Tale.
How many fairy tales can you name in which the prince is the central character of the tale? When this question was posed to the charming Ms Brooks (no relation to the prince of the same name, but certainly charming none the less) she immediately named “The Frog Prince.” While this tale may feature the prince in the title, the prince gets what amounts to roughly equal billing with the little girl in the story. Upon reviewing the tale, we have the story of a little girl who makes a bargain with a frog to get his help retrieving a lost ball. Upon the completion of his task, the little girl welshes on the deal, ditching the poor little frog. The frog tracks the little girl down, apparently violating several anti-stalking laws in the process, and forces the girl to honor her promise with the help of her parents. Ultimately the little girl becomes so disgusted with the frog that she grabs him and “hurls him with all her might” against the wall, whereupon the now possibly brain-damaged little frog becomes a prince and she invites him into her bed. This fairy tale has enough disturbing messages to go around for both guys and gals.
The purpose of my posing this question was to point out the fact that the prince is often little more than a plot device to move the story of the princess along. There is, however, one fact that is almost certain in every tale featuring a prince. The prince is almost always seeking his true love, or his princess. How about that! It seems that for all these generations we men have been being taught the very same lessons as our fairer counterparts! As the fair maiden is seemingly made complete by finding her prince, so too has the prince finally completed his quest by finding his fair maiden. More important is the way in which the prince is called upon to prove his love…by risking life and limb to rescue the damsel in distress.
One fact that is often overlooked in the examinations of fairy tales is that these tales teach men that you can’t be considered truly worthy without being ready to sacrifice yourself for true love. During the mid to late eighties there was a brief men’s movement in which men would head into the forests, get naked, beat on drums and cry about their feelings. Kind of sounds the opposite of manly to me. During this movement a number of books were written examining the “male condition.” One of the central points made in some of these books was that, as men, we are taught to be expendable. Don’t believe me? What is the first rule on a sinking ship? Save the women and children first. So deeply is this ingrained in men that merely drawing attention to it seems somehow wrong. For generations men were almost exclusively the firefighters, police officers, warriors, and explorers…putting our lives at risk without question. What could possibly motivate men to ignore the most basic of all animal instincts, that of self-preservation? The answer is simply that we do it all to catch the eye of a fair maiden. Many of the most important discoveries and inventions were most likely the result of men trying to stand out among their peers as a more suitable mate or, as I like to call it, the Peacock Principal. Of course there will always be exceptions to the rule, the men who just can’t seem to get with the program. Surely the rewards of such a noble existence must be great!
Eh…not so much.
Today men are often portrayed in an unflattering light. In sitcoms men are almost universally portrayed as knuckle-dragging simpletons who constantly have to be rescued from trouble by their significant others. In commercials men are incapable of understanding the nutritional information on the back of a box of cereal without the help of a strong female. In the recent Disney film “Enchanted” it is the hero who is ultimately rescued by the princess. One wonders what the result of these modern messages and examples will be, considering they are in contradiction to the lessons and expectations men have received through fairy tales for generations.
I hope I’ve at least given you a little something to consider the next time you’re venting a little frustration with your significant other. Although it may not always seem like it, it has always been all about you. If nothing else, remember that those same generalizations about men are being applied to your fathers, brothers, and sons. If you think finding a prince is difficult, you should try being one some time!