I wasn’t surprised when Disney announced plans to stop making “princess movies.” Princess movies are hated by many these days. Our culture seems to regard them as disempowering to women and confusing to young girls — the princess’s reliance on the prince implies that she is worthless without him.
But I think little girls (and boys) are smarter than that.
If you ask a four-year-old girl why she likes Cinderella, she won’t say it’s simply because of love’s first kiss or because of the handsome prince. She likes Cinderella because Cinderella is beautiful and good. The romance is secondary. The romance is a reward for that beauty and goodness. The falling in love is a reward for the willingness to love.
In these fairy tales, both the prince and the princess must understand and patiently live out their own worth first; once recognized by the other, their worth is exalted and shines more brightly.
The prince and princess are by no means worthless on their own, but their worth comes to full fruition in each other. They complete each other, and there’s nothing wrong with that.
But the modernist woman finds the princess movie offensive because the modernist woman doesn’t like to derive her worth from beauty and goodness. She derives her worth from her own power and independence. Classical virtues are not important to her because they require subservience, whether to God or to other people.
The modernist woman isn’t supposed to answer to anyone or to need anyone but herself. I would go so far as to say she isn’t really supposed to truly love anyone but herself. At the least, her self love is supposed to come first. And when the self comes first, there is no room for real romance.
But people need romance. Little girls and little boys need romance.
I’m not saying that every story should be a romance or that the traditional princess movies are without fault, but the traditional princess movie and the traditional romance are an essential archetype and myth for the relational human person. The complementary nature of man and woman is one of our oldest and deepest realities.
The traditional romance story and the subsequent commitment made by marriage is the foundation of society. Sure, not everyone gets married. Not everyone has a romance. But the truth is, most people are meant to get married and have a family. Most people will fully live out their earthly happiness through that path.
When we fail to teach the princess story, we fail to offer children (boys and girls) an incentive for their virtue and for becoming the people they are meant to be.
And what happens? Well, because men and women still do long for each other, boys and girls fall for makeshift, selfish-based relationships with each other that are fleeting and primal. Girls learn to attract boys with sexuality rather than beauty and goodness, and boys learn to attract girls with superficial displays of testosterone rather than true strength and selflessness.
Indeed, in robbing girls of the princess archetype, we have also robbed boys of the hero archetype.
Where once boys played with swords in defense of an imaginary princess, now boys play video games in which the sole purpose is to senselessly kill as many people as possible, in defense of no one.
Arguably, there still remains the problem of princess movies being over idealistic; that they depict romance as too rosy, too simple, too perfect. But that’s the thing about romance. It is rosy, simple, and seemingly perfect. Committing to it long term is often difficult, yes, but that’s a life lesson that everyone has to learn. The ups and downs, the disappointments that come with commitment to romance are an essential point of growth for every couple and do not negate the initial rosiness.
When our culture better understood the importance of personal virtue, we better understood the fact that “happily ever after” wasn’t necessarily going to be easy. Theoretically, Disney could make a followup to “Beauty and the Beast” with an insider perspective on Belle and the Beast’s worst fights and greatest struggles. But is that what we really want? We watch and read romances to give us hope.
We watch and read romances to remind us of what and who we live for. The given implication is that when they ride off in the carriage they’ll learn to work things out for themselves, but you have to have the rosiness first. You have to have a reason to commit your life and your heart to someone before you do it.
In the end, getting rid of the princess story does more than damage the relationship between women and men. It damages the relationship between humans and God. The Christian tradition embodies a romance. Time after time, we read of the Church as a bride and of Christ as the bridegroom.
Faith lures us in, charms us, romances us. Sticking to the faith can be difficult, but the romance reminds us that ultimately our goodness and beauty is exalted by our union with God.
Romance and the traditional princess stories remind us that we make each other better. Husbands and wives make each other better, and God makes us better. Romance reminds us that we are not meant to be alone.