[Magical Leah’s Note: Everyone please give a warm welcome to my very first guest poster, Ms. Katharine McCain!]
[WARNING: mild spoilers for Supernatural, Sherlock, and Doctor Who]
All princesses are girls, right?
Well, not necessarily.
Wait, wait, wait. Back up.
What exactly is a princess?
Is that a stupid question? Bear with me. Let’s throw some definitions out.
For example, a princess isn’t necessarily a princess, yeah? Not literally. Sure, you’ve got a few like Rapunzel, Aurora, and Merida who are born into it. Some won’t stop until they gain the title through marriage (looking at you, Cinderella). Others only have the status equivalent, such as Jasmine as a Sultan’s daughter. Then there’s Mulan: a woman not of noble birth, she bears no titles, and she gains none through her marriage. Yet Mulan is, unquestionably, a Disney “princess.”
So what else?
Well, princesses have certain similarities, don’t they? Let’s see…
1. They’re all beautiful. It’s the kind of archetypal, unattainable beauty that includes a tiny waist, flawless skin, really fantastic hair… even if Merida’s is a little on the wild side. Anna’s also has a life of its own in the mornings, so kudos there. (Aurora? Take a page out of Anna’s book. That’s how you wake from a deep sleep).
2. Princesses have iconic outfits and items—where would Belle be without her books or her rose?
3. They’re a friend to the animals and often include them as sidekicks. Who doesn’t love Rajah? Sebastian? Mushu?
4. Princesses are kind, caring, and they’ve got gorgeous voices. Their songs have a tendency to be iTunes worthy.
5. It used to be that “princess” automatically accompanied “prince,” until Merida came along with her need-no-man-attitude. Not a requirement then.
6. Of course, not everything is picture perfect for the princess. They have a tendency to have lost as least one parental figure at a young age, and sometimes daddy isn’t very accommodating of what they want in life.
7. There’s also that pesky little “damsel in distress” trope (but we’ve been working on that).
[Magical Leah’s Note: Yeah we have.
So yeah, there are a few similarities. Anything else? Any other comparisons we’d like to add?
They’re all… they are all women…
… aren’t they?
Well maybe not. Again, bear with me.
[Magical Leah’s Note: I’m bearing, I’m bearing!]
I’m sure at least some of you have come across the (not so recent) tumblr phenomenon of identifying “actual Disney princesses.” It began, I believe, in the Supernatural fandom when a wonderfully observant fan pointed out how ridiculously good looking this man is:
Meet Dean Winchester, everyone (and yes, the crown is canon.) I mean, look at him.
The perfect skin, full lips, huge green eyes — that more than one person has compared to Rapunzel’s — Dean Winchester’s definitely got the looks of an “actual Disney princess.”
The phrase took off from there. Benedict Cumberbatch in that tailored suit? Actual Disney princess. Tom Hiddleston with his unfailing courtesy and general perfection? Actual Disney princess. Osric Chau dressing as Rapunzel at a recent Supernatural convention…? I mean really, c’mon.
[Magical Leah’s Note: I don’t know who that man is, but I love him.]
It seems, then, that men can be princesses! Actual Disney princesses! Of course, it’s all a joke. There’s irony there. They’re not really anything like a princess…right?
Third time’s the charm: bear with me.
Let’s go back through that princess checklist we made, okay? See how well some of 2014’s most popular, fictional men stack up.
The Test Subjects
1. Dean Winchester (The CW’s Supernatural. Played by Jensen Ackles)
Beginning with the man who started it all, Dean Winchester is a rough and tumble guy who likes drinking beer, tinkering with his car, and bedding a lot of women. He’s spent the last nine seasons with his younger brother, Sam Winchester, driving across the country and killing monsters in a variety of gruesome ways. About as far from a princess as can be, huh? Except—
Specifically his mom, Mary. Five minutes into the pilot poor Mary is hanging from the ceiling, being burned alive by a malicious demon. That won’t leave
any lasting scars on young Dean, right?
I mean it’s not like Bambi had any lasting damage.
None at all.
[Magical Leah’s Note: But I do!]
Dean then goes on to lose his father, his father-figure, his brother (more than once), and basically every person that’s ever meant something to him.
There are happy parts to the show. I swear.
We’ve already covered this, but it bears repeating. Dean Winchester is a fine piece of ass.
But it’s not just any beauty he’s got: short, spiky hair, chiseled body, a bit of scruff… Dean Winchester represents what most heterosexual, westernized men wished they looked like (minus the bowlegs, but really, that’s just cute.) Wishing you looked like a man who modeled on and off for the first twenty years of his life is nearly as problematic as wishing you looked like an animated girl sporting a physically impossible body.
He’s got his well-worn outfit.
Layers. Jacket. Dark colors.
There you go. Same kind of outfit, day in, day out. Sorta like a bunch of girls I know…
Oh, wait. My mistake. The Supernatural boys do have some variety: layers. Jacket. Dark colors…. and flannel!
The Winchesters looooove them some flannel.
He’s got his iconic items.
Your food related obsession? Check.
Your signature ride? Double check.
That one, beloved thing that you would never, under any circumstances get rid o—
Oh… okay then.
He’s got his song.
Dean is notorious for singing on the show. Sometimes it’s an appropriately masculine “Eye of the Tiger,” but more often it’s a heartfelt “I’m All Out of Love” or even a romantic “Can’t Fight This Feeling.” He and Snow White should have a duet together.
But his real hits? Just ask the fandom how important “Heat of the Moment” or “Carry on My Wayward Son” is. Belt it out, Dean.
He’s a friend to the animals.
Dean may have originally hated the idea of having a dog in his precious 67’ Chevy Impala, but as you can see, he quickly got over that. And yes, in the episode this picture is from he can actually speak to the animals. Sound familiar? Though I don’t believe any princess has ever cursed out a pigeon for shitting on her car…
And last, but certainly not least, he’s got the non-human sidekicks.
Sebastian and Flounder, Rajah and Cinderella’s mice. They’re animals, yes, but the most resent addition, Olaf, proves that “non-human” doesn’t necessarily mean you’re an animal. Dean has his own share of non-human helpers, including a demon (the cute one with the flower) and an angel (the cuter one in the trench).
So you’re beginning to get the point now, yeah? Catching on to the parallels? Great. Let’s see if we can’t move things along a bit…
2. Sherlock Holmes (BBC’s Sherlock. Played by Benedict Cumberbatch.)
Sherlock Holmes has enjoyed an astounding number of adaptations, one of the most recent being BBC’s updated Sherlock. The modernization, as well as having a character obsessed with logic, nixes magic or any talking animals, but there are still a few similarities to be found…
Fathers often have a hard time understanding their princesses. Pocahontas and Ariel certainly met resistance in their life choices (at least at first).
Princess dads also have a tendency to be… well, awkward. They’re bumbling. Embarrassing. Not always the brightest gem in the crown.
Sherlock understands. After all, his parents just don’t get him. Why would you want to sit through a performance of Les Miserables when you could hunt down a murderer? Not to mention the fact that Sherlock’s dad would fit right in with Jasmine’s. The husband of a brilliant mathematician and father to a pair of geniuses, he’s admittedly the ‘stupid’ one of the lot. He doesn’t seem to mind though and, like any good princess, Sherlock obviously loves him anyway.
While strikingly different from Dean Winchester’s beauty, there is no doubt that Sherlock meets society’s requirement for ‘drool-worthy sex symbol.’ Once again, you’re about as likely to gain Sherlock’s looks as you are Rapunzel’s magical hair.
Sherlock loves rocking the suit, scarf, and long black coat look. Emphasis on the coat. Really. He wouldn’t return from being “dead” until he got it back and he literally never seems to wear anything else. Kinda like…
Make sure to pop that collar though!
Belle likes books, roses, and mirrors. Sherlock’s into magnifying glasses, deerstalkers, and… heads in the fridge.
Eh. To each their own.
Sherlock isn’t exactly one for singing, but songs aren’t the only forms of verbal plot devices in stories. Why do the princesses sing? Well, they do sound pretty, but mainly it’s to convey information: both about themselves and about others. The messages are generally pretty clear.
Sherlock’s verbal string of non-stop deductions works in a similar manner. They develop him as a character, express what it is he wants (generally to solve the crime and show people just how stupid they are), and the deductions—literally—tell us about the people around him. Bluntly. Painfully.
[Magical Leah’s Note: They seem to have a percussive, almost musical beat to them as well.]
It can be hard to watch.
Friend to the Animals
Princesses are known for their furry friends, the ones who manage to trip up the villain at just the right moment. Sherlock may not keep an animal tucked away at Baker Street, but the season three finale showed that he’s always got one nestled in his heart.
Every princess needs her second in command, and John’s definitely good Disney sidekick material. He’s humorous, the voice of reason, always a bit stupider than Sherlock, short and dumpy, bit like Snow’s dwarves…
Alright, alright. So John isn’t non-human. In fact, he’ll always be more human than Princess Sherlock.
Except when he’s a hedgehog.
Okay! Bringing it home! (Or keeping it in England, rather). Doctor? You’re up. Anything left to add?
3. The Doctor (BBC’s Doctor Who. Played by Christopher Eccleston, David Tennant, Matt Smith, Peter Capaldi, and eight others previously.)
He’s hundreds of years old, owns a police box that functions as both spaceship and time machine, and he wants to take you on an adventure. For an alien though, he’s got a few things in common with our Earth bound princesses…
If there’s one thing that princesses want more than their prince, it’s to do right by their family. Tiana is determined to finally fulfill the dream she shared with her father, Merida’s entire story revolves around reconnecting with her mother. Ariel, when finally given the chance to have her man, initially responds with, “I’ll never be with my father or sisters again.” The Doctor is equally protective of his kin, whether they’re literally his blood or not. And, like many princesses, he’s lost one or two…
[Magical Leah’s Note: YOU said. YOU told me it’d be fun. I cried over a disembodied robot head at Christmas BECAUSE OF YOU.]
Girls, you think you’re striving for unattainable beauty? Try being told that real men have two hearts. Uh huh. It’s worth it, though. According to Donna Noble, the Doctor is very much “the pretty one.”
Each Doctor has his own outfit that he wears continuously, much like the princesses and their gowns.
No, girls, wearing each others’ gowns isn’t any better.
[Magical Leah’s Note: Well, that just looks wrong.]
So the Ninth Doctor was all about the leather, Ten enjoyed his brown coat and converse, and adorable Eleven will forever insist that, “bow ties are cool!” We’re still waiting to see what Twelve’s outfit will be. Waiting eagerly, I might add.
A sonic screwdriver that opens any (non-wooden) door. A TARDIS that can take you anywhere in time and space. Those are a whole lot cooler than most princesses’ trinkets.
C’mon, it’s bigger on the inside!
Like Sherlock, Doctor Who isn’t exactly a musical, but that doesn’t mean the music of the show doesn’t have as much impact as a princess’s song. Like any good solo it’s not only catchy, but also immediately recognized by most everyone throughout the U.S. and England. Just try to tell a fan that they “can’t sing” the instrumental opening. I dare you.
[Magical Leah’s Note: Wee doh doooo]
Friends to the Animals.
Is the Doctor a friend to the animals? To quote Severus Snape: always.
Reversing the Disney princess trope, it’s the Doctor who is non-human and his companions who are (generally) human. However, the message of “we-can-still-be-best-buddies-even-though-we’re-different-species” remains, and the Doctor is as loving towards his companions as any princess could be to her animal, fairy, or clockwork friends.
Bringing it Home (For Real This Time)
So did I stretch some of these? Yeeeeah. A bit. But is there still a point to be made? Absolutely. Sure, some of these similarities aren’t gender specific and many of these themes apply to literature and media more broadly, but isn’t it interesting that so many tropes we apply to princesses can also apply to guys? Why is that?
I’ll give you a hint: it’s because, by and large, diversity among fictional males is considered more acceptable than among females (fictional or otherwise). Dean Winchester can belt out love songs as well as any pretty little mermaid, without losing any of his “masculinity.” Sherlock can wear the same outfit day in and day out, even add a ridiculous looking hat to the mix, but for him that’s never metaphorically restrictive. The Doctor chats with cute animals, uses his TARDIS to cook a Thanksgiving turkey, and is constantly getting into trouble… a bit like a damsel in distress, but he’s still viewed as both wise and powerful, forever the benevolent leader. Male princesses can embrace the “effeminate” without being “weak;” they can represent conventional beauty without it being prized over their intellect or skill sets. It should also tell you something that the three examples I chose make up SuperWhoLock, the trifecta of fandom popularity. Male princesses are being noticed, and that’s a good thing. They’ve still got their own problems of course, but they’re at least working towards a good balance.
Now let’s see if we can’t do the same for the girls. We’ve taken baby steps, what with Merida’s man-less story plot and the latest Frozen that drove home how “true love” isn’t always of the romantic sort, but there’s still a whole lot of work to be done.
Having trouble getting started? Just look to the male princesses. They’re excellent role models.
About the Guest Poster:
Katie is a current graduate student of Georgetown University, getting her MA in English Literature. Her interests lie in popular culture, multimedia, and fan culture. She hasn’t been to Disney World since she was four and she certainly can’t compete with Leah’s Disney knowledge… but you should listen to her anyway.