When my kids were small they, like other small kids, loved Disney movies. One we watched over and over of course was Snow White, but it always made me a bit uncomfortable when it got to the so called ‘happy ending’ where the handsome Prince plonks SW on to his big white horse and they ride off into the sunset to live happily ever after.
“But no”, I wanted to tell them, “In the real world this would just be the beginning of her problems”. Let’s face it, an alpha-male like that who’s both gorgeous and minted will have plenty of pretty princesses fawning at his feet and so Snow White will have her work cut out for her.
I guess I’ve got to concede though that the film does kind of reflect the aspirations of many women at the time (1937) and thankfully Disney is beginning to catch up with modern gender roles a bit, as well as being more realistic about how people actually behave in romantic relationships. There’s Frozen of course, which shows how sexy men can turn out to be cads, how someone you had discounted turns out to be pretty desirable after all, and that women have strong emotional relationships with people other than handsome princes. And can punch bad guys.
But the best Disney depictions of human nature lately, I think, are the ones that show what makes women really really angry. And what do you think that is? It’s not being bumped into second place in the ‘who is the fairest of them all’ stakes. It’s being deceived into thinking that the man of your dreams is in love with you for ever and ever, when actually he just wanted to get into your knickers, and now he has. The End.
Why women in particular get so crazy about this sort of stuff is, I’m sure you’ll have guessed, because of antagonistic coevolution between the sexes, and the high cost to women of this kind of betrayal. The thing is, sex often leads to babies, and although a man and a woman have a common genetic interest in any child they produce together, they bear very different costs, and the bloke may well try and wriggle out of his. Women have the burden of nine months’ gestation to produce a baby that can be fathered through a single act of sex by a man, and the said baby needs a lot of looking after. As a result, women, more than men, are likely to seek a partner who has status and resources that they are willing to invest in this baby once he or she is born, and often demand signals of commitment before getting down to it.
Men, on the other hand, can gain reproductively by finding more women to have sex with – an activity clearly made more tricky when committed to the first one. So the caddish kind of guys will be tempted to be less than honest about their level of commitment and make up things like, “I love you madly, let’s get married,” or “my wife doesn’t’ understand me and we don’t have sex anymore so I’m leaving her for you”, or whatever, to get women into bed. If her bloke isn’t true to his word after the event, a woman is going to feel totally let down and hopping mad, especially if she might get left holding the baby
So we can kind of sympathize with the behaviour of Theodora, AKA the Wicked Witch of the West in Oz the Great and Powerful. She wasn’t always wicked, oh no. In the movie Theodora falls in love with magician Oscar, but he’s a bit of a womanizer and in spite of having her believe that she’s his true love, he’s making eyes at her big sister, AND the good witch Glinda.
Heartbroken Theodora bites into a magic apple she’s been told will rid her of her anguish, but it turns her green and nasty, and when Oscar is hanging out with the other women she goes mental and whizzes round the place screaming manically and belching out tonnes of green smoke before firing a gigantic fireball at Oscar because she wants to KILL him because she’s really really mad. Yeah, we’ve all been there love.
In a study of around 900 American and German men and women, Martie Haselton of UCLA and her colleagues figured that since the behaviour of the two sexes is likely to have evolved to deceive the other about different things then men and women should have evolved to become distressed or angry in contexts where such feelings could help them avoid subsequent dishonesty. So they carried out surveys of the level of distress men and women said they would feel about being on the receiving end of deception in different contexts within relationships. They found that men, more than women, got upset about being given the prospect of sex which failed to materialize, and sexual infidelity within a long term relationship, the former stymying their chances of reproductive success while the latter means that they would risk investing in another man’s baby, so it’s not really surprising they get angry about that.
Women got more upset than men about most deception really, but in particular they reported that they’d get mad if they had sex with a bloke but he didn’t call or if he failed to come clean about other relationships he was having. But the number one thing women said would make them very very cross was being spun a line about how committed a guy was to her, only to watch him disappearing into the sunset after he’d bedded her.
One of my favourite depictions of such post-betrayal wrath comes from Angelina Jolie in Maleficent. <SPOILER ALERT> Maleficent and Stefan fall in love as youngsters but soon Stefan’s ambition overtakes his affection for her, and when the king decrees that whomsoever kills Maleficent shall inherit the crown, Stefan seduces her and then cuts off her wings. She’s really not happy then, but in the most gratifying and impressive displays of anger she takes her revenge. Y’know, hell hath no fury like a woman scorned, and all that.
I like to think that watching these, my daughters are getting more realistic messages about what can happen in relationships and to look out for betrayal. Of course, there are some great guys out there who are gorgeous, sexy AND are nice blokes who stick around. I’ll be telling my girls though, until they’ve proved themselves, beware the charming men who try to sweep you off your feet, and take everything they say with a pinch of salt. And in the sensible words of Frozen’s Kristoff, “you can’t get married to a guy you’ve just met!”