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The Princess Complex

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Shawn Conner
A few years ago, princesses were all the rage.

Disney marketed a bunch of its characters -- Cinderella, Mulan, Pocahantas -- under the royal tag, The Princess Diaries movies were box-office catnip, and a suburban mall franchise called Club Libby Lu catered to the fairytale set.

You don't hear as much about princesses these days. Club Libby Lu has closed its stores and a third Princess Diaries flick isn't scheduled for release any time soon. But the princess phenomenon lives on.

Disney's Princess merchandising line still rakes in $4 billion annually and, this December, the company will unveil yet another misunderstood princess flick (albeit one with a black heroine), The Princess and the Frog. And the princess complex itself is still very much with us.

It might be at odds with feminism and the idea of equality between the sexes, but plenty of women still have expectations that might charitably be called "unrealistic." We're not talking just good manners and polite gestures, like holding doors open or leaving the room when inducing vomiting.

But if your girlfriend or date (and if you see the signs in a date, quick, run the other way) expects to be catered to, complains incessantly (i.e., the Princess-and-the-Pea complex) and demands to be treated as a precious China doll rather than a flesh-and-blood human, then she just might have a princess complex.

"Princess Complex [is] an attitude fed to females by the media and other females that bestows upon them illusions of superiority and selfishness (read: entitlement) in regards to men and the rest of society which they lap up because it's what they really wanted anyway," wrote a dude who calls himself Field Marshall Watkins back in the height of princess mania, 2006.

On his blog Another Day in the Jungle, Watkins writes (before launching into a rant) that the princess complex manifests itself in a belief that society should change to accommodate the person, and that she feels she should get attention and adoration based on her gender rather than personal merits.

But it's not just rightwing nutbars with faux military titles sounding the princess alarm. In "What's Wrong with Cinderella?," a New York Times Magazine article about the princess-as-role-model, columnist Peggy Orenstein writes that the infatuation with the feminine ideal perpetuated by the idea of the princess could be a reaction to the women's movement.

"If nothing else, pink and Princess have resuscitated the fantasy of romance that that era of feminism threatened, the privileges that traditional femininity conferred on women despite its costs -- doors magically opened, dinner checks picked up, Manolo Blahniks... Why should we give up the perks of our sex until we're sure of what we'll get in ex-change? Why should we give them up at all?"

The Princess expects special treatment -- jokes laughed at whether funny or not, tastes accommodated constantly -- because she might genuinely think she deserves it, but also because knows she can get it. She buys into Hollywood notions of romance, especially the Disney type; or she grows up as "Daddy's little girl," doted on hand and foot and expecting the same from a suitor.

Shawn Conner

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