Luxurious white bridal gowns, horse-drawn carriages, princes and princesses preparing to live “Happily ever after” – does the royal wedding prove that fairytales can come true? Human Behavior & Relationship Expert, Patrick Wanis PhD, reveals the link between the fairytales presented in the arts and literature, the roles society has created for men and women and, the evolving gender roles as women become more powerful and less financially dependent on men.
The Royal Wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton will draw an audience expected to be over 2.5 billion people, but as Patrick Wanis PhD also reveals (in response to questions posed by a journalist) the world has changed since Prince Charles and Princess Diana’s nuptials on July 29, 1981 – with a greater emphasis today on cynicism and a much more independent modern-day woman who has her own castle and expects the man to rescue her from a different kind of dragon from yesteryear.
Why are we obsessed with the fairytale wedding?
Society encourages women to be romantic, to place great emphasis on love, and its idealism. In fact, much of the literature that children grow up reading promotes the ultimate fantasy as the rescue of the beautiful woman by the knight in shining armor or the handsome prince. In other words, literature and the arts generally create roles for the genders: the damsel in distress for the female, and the heroic prince for the male:
- The prince awakes Sleeping Beauty with a kiss
- The prince revives and awakes Snow White with love
- The charming and handsome prince rescues Cinderella from her tragic life and evil family
- Rapunzel is imprisoned for her parents’ sins by the witch but Rapunzel grows the longest, most beautiful hair in the world. A prince falls in love with her and when trying to rescue her he falls and is blinded but later when he and Rapunzel are reunited, he is rewarded with his sight so he can gaze upon her beauty; they marry and live happily ever after.
Of course, these fairy tales have many themes and messages but nonetheless, there is one common strong message:
The heroine is the woman that is beautiful, kind and gracious but she is helpless, suffering at the hands of other women jealous of her beauty. Her only hope for happiness and freedom is the love of the handsome, rich and powerful man (the prince) who will rescue her, provide for her and bring her eternal happiness with his unwavering, undying love and worship of her.
Even much of the adult literature and arts continues this theme of the man rescuing, saving or fighting to protect the woman and offering her emotional and financial security. The modern day twist is that the woman is powerful and intelligent but still needs and depends on the man to rescue her (think of Leeloo in the movie, The Fifth Element: she is here to rescue the world because she is The Fifth Element (love) but she is still vulnerable and must be saved by the man who has had so many failures in his life Korben Dallas, and he will redeem himself by rescuing her and by releasing his cynisicm and believing in love once more. And yes, they also seemingly live happily ever after.)
In the romance novel (written by women for women), which represents the woman’s idealized version of love and relationships, the ultimate goal of the heroine is to win the hero and for them to become one; and in real life, the wedding represents a rite of passage for the woman as well as the grandiose means to announce, formalize and celebrate the woman and this union in a way that is hopeful of blessings and happiness.
Here now is the strong and clear idealism of love, namely romantic love, as the ultimate goal and objective for every woman.
And, of course, there can be no greater wedding and fairytale than the prince who marries his princess, and they both await to soon become king and queen, living happily ever after.
Do we still believe in fairytales?
Fairytales and fairytale weddings offer us hope. Hope is a learned emotion or response that affects our behavior and even our results; studies reveal that we perform better when we are more hopeful that we will succeed. Many religions are built on hope.
When we talk about fairytale endings, we are focusing on hope of something blessed with unusual happiness. But the struggles we all face today (economy, natural disasters, wars, terrorism and general uncertainty along with the high rate of failed marriages and divorces) have made us more cynical. And with regards to a royal wedding, the tragic ending of Princess Diana may have made us even more cynical. Plus, there was a greater sense of innocence, naivety and pureness to Princess Diana which, in turn, gave the wedding a heightened feeling of love and romance.
But even in Britain where the people are still suffering from a weak economy and financial cutbacks, 45 percent of Britons are not planning to watch the celebrations, with 32 percent of people saying they would tune in, according to a survey by pollsters YouGov for online travel agent Lastminute.com.
Weddings, though, continue to be popular, in Las Vegas alone, each year, more than 150,000 couples say “I do.” And as long as people decide to get married a second, third and fourth time, weddings will remain popular.
Interestingly, sales of the romance novel continue to grow. The latest statistics reveal that romance fiction was the largest share of the US consumer market in 2009 at 13.2 percent, generating $1.36 billion in sales (almost double its next competitor Religion/inspirational which generated $770 million.)
Is it women who still wish for the fairytale romance?
There are no conclusive studies that reveal that more women than men still wish for fairytale weddings, but women still crave romance above men.
Women are more emotional than men and place greater emphasis on love and relationships than men do. The limbic system, or emotional brain, tends to be larger in women. The limbic system is the emotional bonding center of the brain. The larger limbic size makes bonding easier for women and they tend to have more friends in life and have a larger nesting instinct than men. Oxytocin –hormone of love and cuddle chemical is present in both genders but is more prevalent in women. Oxytocin is associated with bonding, a sense of partnership and urge to care for a child. It is often released during times of stress and labor and delivery (and creates the bond between mother and child.)
And yes, women still seek romance as evidenced by the sales of the romance novel which continues to grow. As noted above: The latest statistics reveal that romance fiction was the largest share of the US consumer market in 2009 at 13.2 percent, generating $1.36 billion in sales (almost double its next competitor Religion/inspirational which generated $770 million.)
Do fairytales still exist? Can fairytales come true today?
While fairytales create and drive the concepts of hope and idealism, they can also be harmful because the ending in all of the romantic fairytales is “And they lived happily ever after” thus creating the false expectation that the romantic love and infatuation alone will guarantee happiness, free of all possible trials, tribulations or hard work. The fairytales always end before the children are born and before either partner has to work or take on life’s every day responsibilities and challenges.
Fairytales cannot exist in real life because they teach that the only challenges that one will face are the ones leading up to the union of the man and woman, and that once that conquest has been made, they will live happily ever after!
While modern women claim to be over fairytale marriages and instead claim to be fulfilled by other things, is there still a need to be fulfilled by this fairytale marriage?
Although gender roles are changing and transforming in the 21st century (leaving both men and women confused about what their roles should be) women still seek the ideal romance and may still seek the fairytale marriage but for the primary reason that they seek security and ultimately are afraid of being alone. In my therapy practice, most women complain that they can look after themselves financially and are seeking a man who can offer them emotional security and meaningful companionship as well as love and romance.
The fairytale marriage and romance has to transform and evolve because of the transforming role and power of women: Women are taking over and men will have to be able to offer women much more than financial security; they will have to be able to offer love, emotional security and the union:
- The workforce
For the first time in US history, there are more women than men in the workforce;
In Australia, The US and the UK, Women are becoming more educated than men as women surpass men in attendance and graduation rates – for every two men who get a college degree, three women will also. In fact, women are even outperforming men in academic results.
- Buying power
Women account for 85% of all consumer purchases in the US, including everything from autos to health care (91% of new homes and 92% of vacations.)
- Politics and religion
Women are also becoming more powerful in politics and religion; Iceland and Australia both have a female leader!
In the traditional fairytale, the princess needed to be rescued from the dragon thus symbolizing that she needed physical protection (i.e. also financial protection leading to physical and financial security – the castle, food, water and shelter) but today, the princess seeks a man who rescues her from a new dragon – a man that offers her emotional protection and security; she has her own castle.
What essentially really makes us feel fulfilled and is fulfillment different for men and women?
Fulfillment is often an individual experience not directly connected to gender. The old imposed ideal for women (fulfillment being attained by becoming a successful housewife and mother) has now changed and women can seek their own fulfillment as a mother, wife, single woman, career woman, entrepreneur or any combination of these. The one element that seems to remain constant is that women seek emotional security above all else, particularly now that women can and are often financially independent.
For men, the old imposed ideal (fulfillment being attained by becoming a financially successful father and provider) seems to not have changed so much – men are still expected to be financially successful, though, with the emphasis more on providing emotional security than financial security.
Ultimately, for all humans, regardless of gender, true fulfillment only comes from serving others and making a difference. Although, today we have moved away from the idea of helping others and have become the ‘me, me, me generation’, obsessed by narcissism and the idea of ‘winning’ – we have lost what truly makes us happy and fulfilled – love in all of its forms and expressions – affection, friendship, romance and unconditional love.
Patrick Wanis Ph.D.
Celebrity Life Coach, Human Behavior & Relationship Expert & SRTT Therapist
Anointed “The Woman Expert” by WGN Chicago, Patrick Wanis PhD is a renowned Celebrity Life Coach, Human Behavior & Relationship Expert who developed SRTT therapy (Subconscious Rapid Transformation Technique) and is teaching it to other practitioners. Wanis’ clientele ranges from celebrities and CEOs to housewives and teenagers. CNN, BBC, FOX News, MSNBC & major news outlets worldwide consult Wanis for his expert insights and analysis on sexuality, human behavior and women’s issues. Wanis is the first person ever to do hypnotherapy on national TV – on the Montel Williams show.