The Princess Syndrome
A big majority of heroic and popular plots follow the same structure - the story of the hero: his background, his mission and his final victory. All the other characters appear only in relation to the hero; whether helping him, hurting him or becoming a reward for his victory.
The princess syndrome is a stereotype of a passive female who's sole purpose is belonging to someone. She is normally white, young, attractive and kind but prone to find herself in life threatening danger, especially when following her own instincts and ideas. If she posses knowledge and knows how to use it, she's usually an evil witch who aims to destroy the hero. Both, the princess and the witch, are yet another subtle reminder that women shouldn't think too much or they will get themselves into some serious trouble.
In Deconstructing the Hero Margery Hourihan analyses children's and popular literature and exposes some of the most typical female representations: mothers,goddesses, fairies, godmothers and others, evil witches, brides.
What all of these women have in common is their purpose - they either serve as the hero's background, or they become a thankful reward for his endeavors. Relationships between different female characters in hero tales are usually hostile rather than supportive or friendly, implying brutal competition and the wickedness of “female nature”.
The role of a princess in heroic tales is merely a decorative one, and according to Hourihan significantly contributes to the way men and women perceive the role of women within the society. She concludes that such stories imply that women/girls are neither interesting nor significant and therefore reaffirm the stereotypes of passive female nature:
“One of the subliminal meanings young readers are likely to derive from such tales is that women and girls are neither interesting nor significant, and just as stories in which the hero rescues beleaguered maiden and makes her his sexual partner naturalize adolescent male fantasies, so there fictions naturalize the preadolescent male disdain and fear of females, and inflate this attitude so that it appears a quintessenial quality of masculinity.” (Margery Hourihan, Deconstructing the Hero, 2005, Routledge, page 158)Continued on the next page