Guest post by latsot on the Princess and pursuit

Originally a comment on We are protagonists.

Prince Charming pursues The Princess(*). It is assumed that she wants this – regardless of her words or actions – and will eventually submit. Cinderella runs off at midnight but the prince decides to hunt her down like an animal declaring – without ever asking her – that he’ll marry the woman the slipper fits. If the prince wakes the princess with a kiss, it’s perfectly clear that she should be grateful to the point of *ahem* ‘marriage’. Then there’s the princess who only qualifies for marriage to the prince if she can pee through a dozen mattresses or something (**). He’s always the one setting the conditions and at the same time always assuming that the princess has no say in the matter. The reader is supposed to share that assumption.

Counter-examples? Well, the princess kisses the frog…. but the assumption is still that the princess automatically requires a prince. To the extent of going around kissing frogs. Which she presumably wouldn’t otherwise do.

I’m not convinced the counter-examples you’re thinking of are really counter, but by all means prove me wrong. Maybe it’s Beauty and the Beast? After all, The Beast is characterised and even *named* after his appearance and a person would have to be shallow not to see his inner beauty, right? Except that he *kidnaps* Beauty – who is also named after the one attribute that’s apparently important – until Stockholm Syndrome sets in, after which yet another ‘marriage’ occurs. I haven’t seen the movie but from what I understand, even the fucking candlesticks are complicit in this grooming and eventual rape.

But it’s just possible that fairy tales aren’t representative of literature and culture in general. Are there works of wider literature in which men have been objectified?


Is this relevant to the discussion?


We’re talking about the default. We’re talking about the bias we don’t notice but should. We’re talking about the biases people try to defend by citing (or in your case not even citing) exceptions as pertinent counter-examples.

Objectification in literature isn’t automatically bad. But I think it’s pretty much automatically bad when the bias in fucking fairy tales is indistinguishable from the bias we see in real life, don’t you?

(*) Interesting that the prince gets a name and the princess doesn’t. The prince’s name is about the attributes that are supposedly desirable to the princess. She wants a ‘charming’ prince, does she? She never said so. He told HER she did and his name exemplifies the attributes HE thinks SHE should value.

(**) H/T Terry Pratchett.


  1. Al Dente says

    In other stories it gets worse. The knight (not even a prince or even a member of the peerage) slays the dragon menacing the kingdom and the king gives his daughter to the knight for *ahem* “marriage.” It’s doubtful the princess had any input into this arrangement. Then there’s the stories where the three suitors for marriage to the princess are tasked with doing some difficult task and the first to succeed (or possibly the first survivor) automatically gets marriaged to the princess. That the princess might prefer another suitor over the survivor is ignored.

  2. says

    Then there’s the stories where the three suitors for marriage to the princess are tasked with doing some difficult task and the first to succeed (or possibly the first survivor) automatically gets marriaged to the princess. That the princess might prefer another suitor over the survivor is ignored.

    In at least a few versions of that one she deliberately sabotages some ‘suitors’ and/or assists her preferred choice, but that doesn’t make the basic premise a whole lot better.

  3. carlie says

    This is why I loved Free To Be You And Me so much, and the story of Princess Atalanta. And I’ve always been at such a loss to understand why those kinds of stories never gain any traction. I mean, it’s a Greek myth just like all the others! Just not popular. Probably because patriarchy. 🙁

  4. anat says

    There is a Hebrew lullaby where a girl is told to go to sleep because although three suitors had been on their way to her, one of them was eaten by a beast, one was killed in battle and the sole survivor forgot all about her. As a child I thought it was a sad song, but now the message sounds much better – forget about those armed riders, go to sleep, tomorrow you are free to do whatever you want.

  5. anat says

    Hmm, just checked, the lyrics of the song I mentioned were by Nathan Alterman, who was one of the worst entitled men. Am I misinterpreting it? Who knows.

  6. imback says

    I saw the movie Maleficent today with my wife and daughter. It is a retelling of Sleeping Beauty with a few twists that turn the biases back on themselves. For instance, it should not too much of a spoiler to say the princess is awake most of the movie while the prince spends half his screen time asleep. I recommend the movie.

  7. geekgirlsrule says

    Regarding the myth of Atalanta: She didn’t want to get married to anyone, and the dude who wanted to marry her asked the goddesses for three golden apples that no one could resist, so he could roll them off the route and make her lose the race.

    There are several fairy tales where the princess does not want to marry ANYONE, and in some the suitor sabotages HER sabotage in order to have her expressly against her wishes.

  8. latsot says

    I have a fantasy that fairy tales were invented by concerned parents as cautionary lessons and that their purpose was completely misunderstood by everyone else and distributed as a how-to manual for morality. We’ve seen a few of those. That’s why we get Jack:

    * Blithely and credulously selling the family cow for a promise of magic beans of entirely unspecified powers.
    * Stealing the giant’s shit, when he wasn’t hurting anyone. He was just chilling out listening to his magic harp.
    * Murdering the giant when he just wants his stuff back.
    * Not caring who or what the giant and the beanstalk fell on when he cut it down.
    * Being lauded by everyone because he stole stuff off a giant due to serendipity despite clearly being an idiot and possibly despite flattening half the planet with the fallen beanstalk.

    And where did these magic beans come from anyway? We’re never told. That’s serendipity of a sort itself, isn’t it? I always assumed that some magician had it in for the giant and manipulated Jack into doing his dirty work. Otherwise, why didn’t the beanstalk just happen to grow all by itself or some other random magic? Why is the second-hand cow salesman there in the first place?

    I always wanted to know why the people and things in fairy tales said and did what they did and said. This might explain why nobody liked the four-year-old latsot.

    Unfortunately, the forty-year old (and the rest) latsot has the same questions (and lack of friends).

    These fairy tales are so fucked up but – as I’ve said here before – depressingly similar to lots of real-world attitudes. So can we try this the other way around?

    * Princes of skepticism revive princesses by groping their tits. And by ‘revive’ I mean ‘try to fuck them’
    * Princes are required to complete tasks to acquire the princess as a prize. It’s a huge burden for the prince. Tasks include his introducing himself to the princess, getting to know her, making some kind of connection, then understanding that the princess is not a prize but an equal and starting again with renewed understanding – THE GREATEST TRIAL OF ALL. Hercules couldn’t have pulled that one off.

    And so on. As I write this, I instantly know that everyone else will come up with far better examples. I’d love to see them.

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