But was Prince Charming himself ever really bad? There’s a counter-argument to be made that he merely provided a safe object of desire for young girls, many of whom have amorous desires but are immature and unready to deal with sexual relationships. In this way, he’s a harmless romantic idol who can help usher girls into adulthood as they aspire to healthy relationships. Providing girls with this fantasy is arguably important to their psycho-sexual development. Last year, The Huffington Post made a similar argument for boy bands, and Prince Charming belongs in that category right alongside teen idol actors like Robert Pattinson and Taylor Lautner. A few years back, popular fashion bloggers Tom and Lorenzo argued that giving Kurt on Glee a Prince Charming in Blaine was necessary for gay boys to see, because few or no images of romantic love in film, television, or music videos specifically relate to their desires. (Indeed, Disney has often appealed to gay boys as much as girls: Pinocchio thinks traditionally masculine activities like drinking, smoking, and swearing will make him a real boy and help him earn his father’s love; in The Little Mermaid, Ariel’s father doesn’t understand her and she wants to be part of another world; and now even Frozen is being credited with a queer subtext with Queen Elsa’s song as a drag anthem.)
Furthermore, it's insulting to assume that girls can't separate fantasy from reality. Most people don’t assume boys will try to leap tall buildings in a single bound by watching Superman, so why don’t parents or other adults think girls can maintain the same cognitive dissonance? What the Prince Charming fantasy does is encourage girls to aim for good guys. It is aspirational, the way superhero films encourage boys to emulate honor and honesty.
Unfortunately, though, it has become all too common in our culture to shame girls for their fantasies. Much of the vitriol aimed at boy bands, romantic comedies, and Twilight is precisely because girls enjoy them. If it is assumed to be a “girl” priority, popular wisdom seems to imply, then it must be silly.
But why do “boy” priorities get a pass when they are equally silly? The world of superheroes is replete with ridiculous dialogue, magical powers, and over-the-top plots, yet comic books and films based on comic books are annually treated with more seriousness and reverence by scholars and critics alike. This is despite the fact that the world of superheroes is often heavy on violence and scant on romance. Which is more likely to be a relatable experience: falling in love, or killing a supervillain to save the planet? “Boy” fantasies frequently have little application to the real world, while “girl” fantasies are at least grounded in real-world desires.
In 1960, literary critic Leslie Fielder published the provocative Love and Death in the American Novel, in which he argued that the American novel is incapable of dealing with sex, and instead focuses on violence and death in a prolonged state of boyish immaturity. Yet he could have been writing about the state of American films today where violence gets more audience-friendly ratings than sex from the MPAA in a culture dominated by superhero franchises that are primarily aimed at boys. The aforementioned Huffington Post article states it plainly: “We champion the culture of teenage boys every day—giving them all the comic book heroes, sports stars and porn any human could conceivably consume. Can’t we give teenage girls one thing without demonizing them?”