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Chivalrous Men and the Victim-Princess Complex
August 24, 2005
by Carey Roberts

I recently came across an article sporting the irresistible title, "A Nation of Little Princesses." Author Christopher Healy explores the archetype of the princess, which he asserts "is one of the longest-lived in all of literary history."

My first reaction was to think, "Here's some Neanderthal guy trying to peddle outdated gender stereotypes." But Healy points to the fact that the Disney Corporation has assembled a Princess brand consisting of eight animated film heroines including Cinderella, Snow White, Pocahontas, Belle of Beauty of the Beast, and others. In 2003 the Princess line racked up an astonishing $2.5 billion in sales, up from a mere $300 million in 2001.

And that's just for starters. "We've gone beyond the dress-up and toys, and begun to look at the brand as a lifestyle, filling out all the other things girls need in life," according to Mary Beech, Disney's director of franchise management. Things girls need in life?

Healy, proud dad of a three-year-old girl, notes with an equal mix of astonishment and horror, "The ease and rapidity with which a princess obsession can take hold of a young girl's psyche is mind-blowing."

Eventually those little Jennifers and Bethanies grow up, go to college, and enroll in their first Women's Studies course. There they learn that the kiss by their Prince Charming really represents non-consensual sexual assault, that Belle's Beast is a closet bodice-ripper, and that the fable of the Princess talking to the Green Frog at the side of the well is an allegory of serial rape.

But the Women's Studies gurus explain they can still make their dreams of tiaras and sequin-studded dresses come true: "Join the Sisterhood, and we'll turn you into a real princess!"

According to the feminist fable, women were kept under heel for so many millennia that members of the fairer sex need to play "catch-up." So now women should be the beneficiaries of an ever-expanding array of legal protections, government programs, commercial products, and lifestyle options. That's the Victim-Princess Complex.

What princess who has just been betrayed by her Handsome Green Frog could resist that offer?

Before long these Wicked Witches of the North have cast a spell on their Little Pretties. These young women soon graduate from college believing that women are paid less for the same work, that women were routinely excluded from medical research, and a multitude of other tragedies that have befallen womankind. Victimization has become a mainstay of their self-identity.

It's not just the feminist propaganda mill that endlessly replays the woman-as-victim mantra. Chivalrous men, acting out their fantasies of the White Knight in Shining Armor, are guilty as well.

Pick up a copy of your local newspaper and you will see articles - usually written by male reporters and columnists - that reinforce the notion of the downtrodden female. Accounts of women who are stressed-out, undervalued, and abused form the staple of daily news reporting.

Recently I attended a conference where a speaker blandly made the claim that 60 million women around the world had "disappeared." He didn't bother to offer any details or proof. And he certainly didn't say anything about men who were never heard from again.

I imagine that catering to women's insecurities makes these men feel gallant and proud. But chivalry is defined as being "considerate and courteous to women." Slanting and distorting the truth - that's chicanery, not chivalry.

Yet there's a downside to the Princess-Victim Complex.

Myrna Blyth, former editor of Ladies Home Journal, reveals how women's magazines turn female victimization into a hard sell for the latest beauty products or weight control program. Blyth decries how these magazines promote "narcissism as an advanced evolutionary stage of female liberation. Me, me, me, means you're finally free, free, free."

But the problem goes beyond self-absorbed narcissism.

In his Nation of Little Princesses article, Christopher Healy quotes a father who observes, "Well, that's the magic of Disney: It's addictive. It's like crack for 5-year-olds."

So the Victim-Princess Complex begins to resemble a dysfunctional habit in which the negative feelings of being a victim require ever-larger "fixes" for women to feel good about themselves. And those fixes come with a hefty price tag. Princesses "only find true happiness once they're married off with royal expense accounts," Healy laments.

These women are undoubtedly the most prosperous, pampered, and protected group in the history of the world. But they would still have you believe that women aren't getting a fair shake.

What is the truth of feminism? A fairytale come true, or a royal deception that appeals to the most primitive instincts of men and women alike?

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