Gender roles: The pressure of Prince Charming

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Mira
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Gender roles: The pressure of Prince Charming

Post by Mira » September 26th, 2010, 1:05 pm

So, I thought for equal time, I'd talk about something in literature around male gender issues that concerns me. The Prince Charming mythology.

I understand that this is a female fantasy - and one that I relate to. Personally, I think it is much more about father figures riding to the rescue, finally protecting and loving their daughters, than anything about real romance. I also think this is an archtype that is very profound, and here to stay - probably forever.

What concerns me is the effect that this mythology has on males, especially younger males. I'm not one, so I can't be sure, but I wonder how much pressure this puts on boys to live up to that fantasy. They must always be the strong (preferably rich and handsome) ones, who save the day. It completely ignores the fact that they have needs, and weaknesses, and vulnerability, and might like to be rescued once in awhile themselves. How does it affect boys that their only part in the story is at the end - a side character, really, practically a plot device - with only one role - the rescuer?

I know there are other books out there for boys, but I also believe they are very aware of their role in books for girls - Cinderella, Snow White, Sleeping Beauty..etc.

Are there enough conversations saying to boys: You know, you really don't have to do this.

Just like women have conversations that they are more than just male fantasies, I wonder if boys and men do the same - that they are more than female fantasies. Sometimes, I think this mythology is accepted as a goal - boys and men should strive to be Prince Charming.

I'd love to see books that challenge that, but I can't think of any exactly. If people know of any, I'd love to hear about them...

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Re: Gender roles: The pressure of Prince Charming

Post by Sommer Leigh » September 26th, 2010, 4:51 pm

I've been talking about this recently with my husband who has trouble getting some of his male students to read for fun and we've been discussing the failings of male characters as a whole. This is specifically in references to young adult books.

Even really good books tend to have pretty flat male characters who are really little more than plot devices. The Romance Save-the-Day Subplot Device. The boys are rarely very interesting, having been given a broad stroke background, interests, and friends that don't really come up except to get in the way of The Romance Subplot. Their characterizations always seem to rely heavily on the degree by which they love or hate the main character and what they are willing to give up to save her. It doesn't seem very fair to the boys.

And I'm being pretty general here, they aren't all like this, but I have to admit my list of great male characters who are not the main character is pretty short. Do we just not know boys well enough to write about them? There are more boys than girls in my current WIP, so this subject worries me, and there really aren't a lot of boy characters I can turn to for role models. (This is a little embarrassing, but I admit I sometimes pull out the movie "Newsies" when I need some boy-character inspiration.)

Boys seem to either be Prince Charming or a Rake and when you think about it, they can only be one of those two things in relation to some girl. Who are these boys when the girls aren't around?

I have this memory of being nine years old at my grandparent's cabin. I'd wanted to follow the boys on the bike trails in the woods but a couple of them didn't want me tagging along and shoved me off my bike (into a mud puddle, no less.) They told me I couldn't keep up and that I should go home. I ran home crying and my grandma told me that "Boys will be boys, Sommer. That's just how they are. Why don't you find something else to do around here?" (Also, they didn't get in trouble for this because boys will be boys, which doesn't seem fair at all.)

But what does that even mean? What does it mean to be a boy? I've not been randomly dropped into mud puddles all my life, so this can't be an inherent quality all boys grow up with, right? I remember a few years later making out with this same boy in my treehouse, so I don't know. What little I can remember of him seems to narrow him down to a really great kissing bully. But surely he was more than that?

I would love to know if boys fantasize about saving girls and being someone's Prince Charming. I kind of doubt it though. Time to poll my Facebook guy friends!

I asked my husband if he ever fantasizes about swooping in and saving me, and I could tell by the look on his face he knew this was some ridiculous writer question, but he humored me.

"Who am I saving you from?"

"I don't know. Serial killers? Rabid dogs? Zombies?"

"Um, no. But I promise to miss you."

Who says romance is dead?
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Re: Gender roles: The pressure of Prince Charming

Post by One of the Mad Ones » September 26th, 2010, 9:29 pm

Interesting topic! I can't say that I have much to offer, but I was thinking of a book I read recently (GHOST DANCE by Carole Maso) wherein the main character (girl) goes through some pretty heavy emotional turmoil, and an older man, who sees her in the train station looking sad all the time, swoops in and takes her to a hotel room where they begin a relationship. (Clearly, this is not YA. The girl is in college.)

It turns out that he's married, has a family, etc., but he feels the need, at least in the beginning, to save her in some way. Then, as she just gets more depressed, he becomes violent, urging her to stick up for herself and to shake off the depression. It's a strange turn where, I think, the man who wants to be Prince Charming (in some warped way), fails with all the tools he knows and ends up physically hurting her in his desperation to help.

I don't know what exactly this says in relation to the question, but it's definitely a weird, interesting example of a minor male character acting out the Prince Charming mythology. It rang as being true to me just because he can't actually do the thing boys are told to do, but he still tries in a misguided way.

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Re: Gender roles: The pressure of Prince Charming

Post by sierramcconnell » September 27th, 2010, 11:59 am

When I was younger, I used to play with the boys all the time. I remember being six or seven, going off on wild adventures with them in pretend-land, and being the 'damsel in distress' or knowing that they always needed an April O'Neill or Princess Peach to be on their side. It was fun to be tossed into a hay patch, roll down a hill, or get muddy with the boys because "we were trying to hide from the injuns".

No harm intended, obviously. (I have some "injun" blood in here somewhere, according to the geneology. ;3) But shooting cap guns and running down alleyways toward town until your big sister shouts, "Where the Hell have you been?!" is always fun when your four. XD

So I didn't have quite the same experience. As I grew up, I had more adventures, never backed down from the boys, got into arguements with the High Schoolers, and just always saw guys as something to roughhouse with.

As such, my male characters have been friendly, tough, and affectionate. I got a comment on my fiction from a beta, "I thought the guys were touching an awful lot, but as I read I saw it was completely normal."

I think people forget that guys aren't all stiff and hard and butch. That there is a complexity to them where they do act like brothers and jump and pick at each other. They roll and tumble. They love and laugh and punch each other for fun.

I grew up playing around guys, so I got attention that way. It's the girls I'm confused about! XD

So yeah, I think there is a stigma that they're expected to rescue girls, given to them through books and video games and television\movies. Hopefully it's not too pressuring...
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Re: Gender roles: The pressure of Prince Charming

Post by One of the Mad Ones » September 27th, 2010, 2:28 pm

My husband doesn't think all boys internalize this mythos, but in the 6 years I've known him, he's also saved a woman from a burning car, come to my rescue on multiple small occasions, and had consistent nightmares about me being in trouble or having to save his loved ones. Not all of these things necessarily point to a Prince Charming mentality, but I would say there's a more general Hero mythos at play. Maybe it's not that male characters always have to save the girl, but they feel they're responsible for saving people in general?

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Re: Gender roles: The pressure of Prince Charming

Post by cheekychook » September 27th, 2010, 11:48 pm

Most of my closest friends have been guys throughout my entire lifetime.

I'm married. I'm raising two sons. Our house is the house to hang out at, and I know all of their friends really well.

I don't think the Prince Charming principle is what dictates their behavior/ideals/goals much at all. The need to rescue/fix/take care of things is, I believe, far more an internal character trait than something learned through books/movies.

Everyone knows the fairy tales. At least everyone who I'm basing my opinion on. My two sons grew up watching Disney movies (because I like them)....they've read the same books, watched the same movies, heard the same stories, played the same video games....yet my 11 year old is totally a rescuer and my 14 year old is not. It's a personality issue.

My 11 year old is empathic, he has a natural ability to put himself in other's shoes, he's insanely fair-minded, wants to right wrongs, sticks up for those being picked on, absorbs other people's stress (he takes after his mom, I'm proud to say). My 14 year old is (and always has been) very logical, fact-based rather than emotion-based, prefers science and math to any of the creative arts, has no ear for gossip, isn't swayed by peer pressure or emotional reasoning, rarely worries about anything that doesn't impact him personally (he takes after his dad---and I'm proud of him too, just for totally different reasons). These traits/characteristics were things that have been apparent in them since they were infants.

If anything I notice far more desire in guys (of all ages) to be superheros (as in having some special power or saving the world on that sort of scale ) than to be Prince Charming---and why not? Prince Charming gets the gal, but so do a lot of superheros, and face it, they have cooler powers.

This thread and the weak female character thread both remind me why I'm so fond of the Harry Potter series, both as a read and as something I'm glad my kids have been exposed to---Harry is an every-kid---he doesn't realize how special he is )even when it's proven to him), he's a good friend, tries to be a good person, struggles mightily through all sorts of problems big and small....kids relate to him and it gives them hope that one day their Hagrid will come...or their wand will find them. And Hermione is not only super-smart, she often rescues the boys in her life, which is a great lesson for members of both genders.
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Re: Gender roles: The pressure of Prince Charming

Post by maybegenius » September 28th, 2010, 2:05 am

Interesting topic :)

Personally, I feel like strict gender roles are potentially hurtful for everyone. Not only does it dictate how males and females are "supposed" to act and interact, but it completely disregards those who are struggling with their gender identity. Because gender is not always tied to biological sex, which is something a lot of people don't really think about. Gender is a socially constructed norm, which we are constantly reshaping and breaking down. And that all leads to one truth: gender's really pretty fluid. Yeah, we can argue that certain traits are "stereotypes for a reason" and women/men are naturally inclined toward *insert trait here*, but overall, they're just norms. They're not laws.

Hannah Moskowitz wrote a blog I enjoyed called The Boy Problem that deals with how boys in YA have kind of been stripped down and sanitized into these two-dimensional foils for the female characters. I don't entirely agree with some of her points, but it's all definitely food for thought. I don't think it's a secret that YA is written and consumed predominantly by women, so MCs in YA tend to be overwhelmingly female. Most of those books include some sort of romantic element, which means there's going to be a male love interest (lesbian love interests are, of course, few and far between).

It can be easy for an author to fall into a trap that so often plagues male-centric storylines - the love interest is flat. They only exist to BE the love interest. They're a prop, not a person. Where male MCs have their Bond Bombshells and Manic Pixie Dream Girls, female MCs have their Prince Charmings and their Bad Boys. These aren't characters; they're plot devices. They exist to Help The Main Character Learn Something About Themselves.

Do I think the Prince Charming trope sets up unreasonable expectations for boys? Sure, to an extent. Really, I think the trouble is that we're portraying this idea that love isn't about an equal joining of two imperfect people who happen to work together, but of a fleshed-out MC and a cardboard-cutout significant other to "complete" them. It happens in stories directed at either gender, and it's equally unrealistic for both.

And I'm not going to pretend it's easy to write a love interest that isn't like, "Hey, how's it going, I'm just here to look hot and kiss the main character." It's hard to do. It involves infusing them with their own story and personality. But I think it's really, really worth it to examine our love interests and try to make them as strong and individualized as possible. Maybe let them have a subplot that DOESN'T involve the MC. Or something.
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Re: Gender roles: The pressure of Prince Charming

Post by Mira » September 28th, 2010, 1:13 pm

Sommer Leigh wrote:I asked my husband if he ever fantasizes about swooping in and saving me, and I could tell by the look on his face he knew this was some ridiculous writer question, but he humored me.

"Who am I saving you from?"

"I don't know. Serial killers? Rabid dogs? Zombies?"

"Um, no. But I promise to miss you."

Who says romance is dead?
Too funny, Summer.

I appreciate folks weighing in on this one. Everyone's comments gave me something to think about.

I noticed, though, that none of the guys have weighed in on this (not that I don't appreciate everyone's comments)!

But any guy on this forum interested in letting us know about this from your perspective?

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Re: Gender roles: The pressure of Prince Charming

Post by His Lobster » October 1st, 2010, 2:56 pm

Hi Mira,
Just for the record, I loved partying with you during Nathan's 1000th Blogosphere Celebration...your boss clearly undervalues your dedication to being a slacker in the workplace.
Anyway, I agree with what you're saying. Sort of. I've always loved boys. Boys are awesome and, I'll be patently honest here, the yummy looking ones will always get my attention first. Now, that's not to say I believe boys need to be beautiful and rich to be successful, but they do need to have self confidence. And where can they get that self confidence? Well, mostly, from girls. So, what I think could be looked at is how girls look at boys. My WIP is the third book in a series, however, unlike the first two it is being told from the multiple POV of the guys. And let me tell you, they're not perfect. It's all about what the guys go through and although it might outwardly appear that they have it all together, when you get a glimpse into what's going through their minds, you find that they've got problems and issues...they're just like everyone else. They have needs, wants, desires, and yes, fears and insecurities, too.
I felt that it was important in writing these stories that I portrayed as much reality as possible, and the reality is, the gorgeous, rich guys don't always have it easy like you might think and I want to make that fact clear to girls. In the second & third books, you hear from the female protagonist's father, trying to give both his daughter and her boyfriend some "food for thought" on this type of question, respectively.
Personally, I'm raising three girls and my husband and my father, who is currently living with us, are trying to instill some understanding and compassion towards the weaker (;-p) sex. "Really, they're just the same as you are, girls, except where you have estrogen, they have testosterone, or, to put it simply, they have an out-y instead of an in-y."

Just my .02 but, I still don't know how to advise my real life daughter on how to break-up with her real life boyfriend. If this were fiction, she'd be golden.

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Re: Gender roles: The pressure of Prince Charming

Post by craig » October 1st, 2010, 7:40 pm

maybegenius wrote: Personally, I feel like strict gender roles are potentially hurtful for everyone. Not only does it dictate how males and females are "supposed" to act and interact, but it completely disregards those who are struggling with their gender identity. Because gender is not always tied to biological sex, which is something a lot of people don't really think about. Gender is a socially constructed norm, which we are constantly reshaping and breaking down. And that all leads to one truth: gender's really pretty fluid. Yeah, we can argue that certain traits are "stereotypes for a reason" and women/men are naturally inclined toward *insert trait here*, but overall, they're just norms. They're not laws.
You have said this far more eloquently than I ever could have. I've been popping in and out of this thread since it started up, reading and re-reading all the posts, and this has been the thing I've been drawn to over and over again -- and it's a very well written post on what my thoughts were all along.

I think with the tragic news from your country over the past few weeks, with the five boys/teens/young men having committed suicide due to bullying over sexual orientation -- I feel it is imperative that we shatter society's strict gender roles. One of the ways that we, as writers, can do that is by writing children's and YA fiction that takes a healthier approach to gender roles.

Bullying over sexuality, gender roles, and anything else that defines a youth or child is often reaffirmed in media -- for the most part, movies, TV shows, books, and magazines show that it is okay to bully someone who does not comfortably fit within what society defines as "normal" or "acceptable." The bullies, whether it be a simple joke or something much more damaging, are often shown as getting away with it with little consequence -- telling children and youth that it is okay to bully someone or make fun of them as you will probably get away with it. Perhaps even much much much worse is that in the media the victims of bullying are usually shown as mostly managing fine while being bullied, coming through the experience okay -- children and youth are being shown that the bullied kids really do okay and the bullying doesn't really have a lasting impact -- which is totally false. Bullying is immensely destructive, harmful, and sometimes, deadly. There have been five suicides in your country due to bullying in recent weeks -- but how many are there in reality? (I'm not picking on your country -- this happens just as much up here in Canada.) How many suicides go unmentioned in the news? How many youth and children become immensely depressed, withdrawn, or ashamed of who they are? How many youth engage in self-destructive behaviours like cutting? How many children and youth have no self-confidence and maybe even hate themselves because they don't fit into society's rigid gender "norms"?

The pressure of Prince Charming goes far beyond the pressure to appear as a hero -- it is pressure to fit into a "norm" in every way possible. It's a "norm," in my opinion, that not one person in the entire world suitably fits into. Labels and norms are harmful. They are inaccurate and incomplete -- almost no one fully fits under a label or a norm.

Sorry if this turned into a rant. I am somewhat passionate about this topic. I work with children, youth, and young adults and I have always seen the pressure kids are under to fit in and the harm that brings. It has become a key interest of mine to work for equality and understanding among humanity -- it's a lofty goal, I know, but it's something I am passionate about. To effect change, you don't have to help everyone -- you will never be able to. If you can touch one life, if you can change one life, you will have done immense good and possibly saved a life. One way to help do that is to get rid of gender norms.

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Re: Gender roles: The pressure of Prince Charming

Post by maybegenius » October 2nd, 2010, 1:51 am

Thank you, craig. I'm really flattered you enjoyed my post so much. And I absolutely agree with you.

Really, it isn't even about sexual orientation, because members of any sexual orientation are all over the map. Even straight kids are bullied for not fitting into these strict gender identities. How often have we seen a "nerd" being bullied for not being enough of a man? Or a girl being called names because she dressed or behaved a certain way? We force each other into these unattainable ideals and constantly belittle and badger each other when we can't live up to them.
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Re: Gender roles: The pressure of Prince Charming

Post by knight_tour » October 2nd, 2010, 3:22 am

I partly wrote my epic fantasy novel to deal with an aspect of boys that I don't see nearly enough of in fantasy fiction. I have an extremely close, loving, affectionate relationship with my sons, yet I don't see enough examples of such caring fathers in the fantasies I read. My book deals heavily with the main character father and his three sons. I honestly don't recall ever thinking much, if at all, about the prince charming thing during my life. I disagree with the above posters who suggest that gender roles are entirely societal constructs (Though I do agree that society plays a large role in gender differences).

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Re: Gender roles: The pressure of Prince Charming

Post by Mira » October 4th, 2010, 12:56 pm

Craig - thanks for weighing in! I appreciate your thoughts, your passion and your advocacy.

My response - I know that gender in general is being explored and I find that interesting. I'm alittle reluctant to say that gender itself is a social construct - although I may be proven wrong - but for now, I do tend to think there is a biological basis. However, I believe gender is much more of a continuum than is widely recognized. Hormone mixtures, for example, may differ.

But I do think gender roles are, for the most part, a social construct. I base this on the fact that many cultures have assigned very different roles to each gender than our current one. A patriarchial society that is very much men, men, men - as in men have all the power and women are essentially irrelevant except as child bearers - is very much a construct of European civilization in the last several centuries. Of course, one that is shared by many Eastern cultures as well, unfortunately.

But I think what is often overlooked is the pressure patriarchy places on straight men. Obviously it's extremely hard on women and men who are not straight, and that's important to talk about. But I also wonder if there is a burden that is placed on straight men as well.

I believe that strict gender roles are hurtful to everyone - even those who benefit most from them. And that can be overlooked by everyone involved.

Just to add some thoughts....

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Re: Gender roles: The pressure of Prince Charming

Post by craig » October 4th, 2010, 6:41 pm

Hi Mira!

I'm in a bit of a rush cuz I'm on a quick break at a conference, but I wanted to add that I really agree with you! I don't have the time to read over my previous post carefully, but I agree that "gender" is not so much a social construct as "gender norms" are... which is what you've explained -- so yeah, I'm up on that! (So if I said "gender" is a construct, I probably meant "gender norms." I'll carefully look over my previous post in a few days when I'm home from this conference. I might have dropped the "norms" part by accident...)

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Re: Gender roles: The pressure of Prince Charming

Post by maybegenius » October 4th, 2010, 10:32 pm

Mira - I totally agree that patriarchal gender typing harms everyone, including straight men. Sorry if I didn't make that clear ;)
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