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Friday, November 14, 2014

Hopelessly Romantic Part 3: Good Night Sweet Prince

Or: How Disney Princesses Ruined an Entire Generation of Boys

It’s probably safe to say that most of the people my age grew up watching the Disney classics. A lot has been written about the ways in which those movies brainwashed little girls to shy away from feminism and fall in line with our patriarchal society, but I’m not qualified to address that, so I’m going to address what those movies did to their male counterparts.

Aside from the strong chance that chivalry and feminism might be mutually exclusive, those movies completely scrambled the way my generation of boys perceived girls. In fact, almost all of the marketing blasted at us in unprecedented levels throughout the 80s and 90s focused on the ways in which boys and girls are different, and the often hostile ways in which they were encouraged to segregate themselves. From cooties, to Barbies and Hot Wheels, to pink and blue color-coding for unisex anything, everything (Literally. Fucking. Everything.) I was exposed to by visual media until age 12 was designed to remind me that girls were actually space aliens that would one day ensnare me with their evil magic, at which point all fun in the world would be brought to an end, and I’d be forced to play with Easy-Bake Ovens until I died.

But back to Disney.

The real damage caused by those movies is the way they prepared us (or abjectly failed to do so) for romantic relationships. From age 0, I and every other boy in America (and much of Europe) was taught that it was our job to sweep girls off their feet and rescue them from their problems.

And then we became teenagers and the internet happened. We stopped calling each other and started texting. We stopped hanging out and just posted things on one another’s Facebook walls. We gained so much information about the world through our computers, we forgot how to interact with each other without them.

The biggest obstacle to functional romantic relationships turned out to have nothing to do with evil step-parents, nefarious spell-casters, or dancing hippopotami. It's that we've forgotten how to communicate across gender-lines.

Girls my age don’t want to be swept off their feet. At least not any more than guys do, in the sense that any one of us would immediately swoon if we met a single one of our peers who wasn’t as self-obsessed and simultaneously self-sabotaging and awkward as we ourselves are. Many girls my age have spent the better part of their lives trying to navigate the tightrope between asserting the fundamental social equality more and more of us are admitting they deserve and trying to redefine their role in society, without completely alienating the important things that make them biologically different from guys. On top of that nightmare, the overgrown boys they have to choose from were all taught that we are supposed to be Knights in Shining Armor, saving damsels, slaying dragons, and dropping charming one-liners along the way.

As a result, most of us suck at that. Until I was 25 I couldn’t hang out with pretty girls without having a nervous breakdown from overthinking how I was supposed to be behaving to make them like me – a tendency that resulted in me behaving like exactly the kind of creep most girls rightly avoid; the kind of diluted shitbird that makes up most of the Men’s Rights "movement" (if you can call it that).

The worst part is that the only problems we could ever have a hope of “rescuing” our female counterparts from are based in the same generationally specific shortcomings we suffer from ourselves. The only way we can help each other is to realize that the things making us most miserable are universal and gender-neutral, and then first address those issues in ourselves. 

But that doesn’t make for a good Disney movie.

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