28 November 2012

Prince Charming Is Dangerous for Little Boys

We all know the criticisms about fairy tales and the messages they send little girls about their happiness depending on men. What's much less frequently discussed is how harmful Prince Charming is for little boys. Since I have this blog and since this topic has been on my mind, we're about to discuss it.

In the entire canon of fairy tales, Cinderella looms largest. Certainly, we root for the titular young woman to escape the misery and oppression she endures at the hands of her stepmother and stepsisters. But why did it have to be Prince Charming? Couldn't Cinderella have met a working class guy? A farmer's son or a blacksmith's apprentice? Couldn't that kind of guy have been sufficient?

We like to see Cinderella's patience rewarded, of course, which is why her getting to rub it in everyone's faces at the end is so gratifying and obviously the story loses that grand payoff if she falls in love with a "lesser" man than the king-to-be. We do believe that Prince Charming really is smitten with Cinderella, and that it's not entirely a marriage of convenience (though taking a wife is a requirement of ascending to the throne, so it's not like he was really looking to end his bachelorhood).

What we never see is whether anyone else may have been equally in love with her. Yes, she's a shut-in but there are bound to be neighbors. Also, remember that she was treated well when her father was alive and she almost certainly would have been known to others as a child. Those are the guys that most of us boys grow up to be: mere subjects in someone else's kingdom.

The message sent to us, though, is that we're not the guys that Cinderella wants. We're inadequate. We learn early on that the ideal for girls is Prince Charming. We can never offer a kingdom, so we're left with Charming's other key traits. He's very attractive, and most of us aren't. He's also filthy rich, and again, most of us aren't.

One might even cynically interpret Cinderella as something of a gold-digger. Where was her Fairy Godmother before there was a ball to meet the prince? Why didn't she help Cinderella meet a nice neighbor boy? Other guys may not have been as handsome or rich, but couldn't someone else have offered her respect, trust, affection and love? Neither the character or story even entertain such a notion.
Don't act like you couldn't have set up Cinderella with the town blogger, you magical matchmaker!
And so it goes that impressionable little boys learn at an early age that the greatest barrier between them and the beautiful Cinderella is that they cannot offer upward mobility. This is a theme I previously touched on when I had an epiphany about castes while writing the novel I began last November for NaNoWriMo. I'm sure you remember that, Dear Reader, but out of convenience, here's the relevant passage:
I wrote tonight about an incident from my youth that scarred me emotionally regarding girls and I have shared it in this blog before for those who are interested in reading my account of the actual incident. The fictionalized account is fairly close to what really took place, but tonight I married it with an entirely separate incident that took place elsewhere in my development. It was not about girls at all, but rather my studies of India, in which I was first introduced to the caste society system. I had only intended to include the rose incident, but as I wrote, a sort of catharsis took over and I was suddenly struck by the epiphany that I have lived these last twenty-two years believing I belonged to a caste inferior to any girl or woman who ever interested me. I nearly cried while writing this, and the only thing that stopped me was that I was already tapped out emotionally.
I never gave it much thought until now, but maybe this is one of the reasons I so love The Wizard of Oz: the male characters there are flawed. Scarecrow lacks a brain, Tin Man lacks a heart and the Cowardly Lion is, um, cowardly. But Dorothy recognizes in each of them their admirable traits and helps to build them up, just as they aid her in her quest to return home. Even the Great and Powerful Wizard of Oz turns out to be far less than the ideal everyone imagines him to be. Those flaws, however, make him identifiable and while there's no obvious reason why anyone would actually want to emulate him, it's doable as long as you're shrewd enough to exploit opportunities when they arise.
I know that I'm not alone in being harangued by feelings of inadequacy, and that's the most important reason why I explore the subject here in this blog. I'm hopeful that you, Dear Reader, may find something helpful in some way. Maybe you'll see something that I've overlooked and you'll be kind enough to share your insights?

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