Pretty Girls, Phallic Symbols and the Mysterious Human Brain

I don’t know why, but I wrote my first poem when I was six.  It was an ode to female beauty that started, “Her face was the color of peaches and cream, with strawberry juice in between.”  Not exactly subtle, huh.  Born already of stories about blushing princesses and sleeping beauties that so shape the young lives of women.  I say women and not girls because I think that the images and parables of such stories, though created in youth, last for a lifetime – even when we decide that we don’t want them to…

What’s wrong with that?  First, the princess is chosen and rewarded for her beauty alone.  Where is her intelligence?  Her creativity?  Her ambition?  Her kindness?  Her wisdom?  Her quirky sense of humor after one martini?  And then secondly, the reward is … the prince.  What about her aspirations?  Is she ever going to win an award?  Go to college?  Play soccer?  Does she have a career?  Or at least do some volunteer work with those pretty, idle hands?  Finally, there’s the prince himself.  After all, he’s human … sort of.  Does he cheat on her?  Holler at her?  Withdraw into video games and internet porn?  Does he refuse to go to counseling?  Struggle with rapid ejaculation?

Of course, the girl reading the storybook fantasy knows nothing of such things.  And so we end up, adult women who still want to meet our ‘Prince Charming,’ be ‘swept off our feet,’ and ‘live happily ever after.’  The prince is going to be a great guy, have lots of money, take care of us forever, and of course, sublimate his every desire so that we can be happy!

Good luck with that.

(In Licking the Spoon, my book about food, sex and relationships, Chapter 6, “Viva la Difference,” turns some of the myths about what women and men want on their ear, so to speak.)

Well, at age six, I had not studied women’s history or feminism.  I had not yet heard of men with  antisocial personality disorder or hypertrophic prostate.  I believed that a woman’s beautiful skin was the start of a great life.  Clearly I was in for lessons in the school of hard knocks.

But why was I compelled to commit my reverie to paper?  What motivates a six-year-old, whose ABCs still look like pick-up-sticks, to write a poem?  I can’t explain it, any more than I can explain why a 13-year-old boy plays guitar until his fingers hurt.  Or a child who does water-colors in elementary school goes on to paint in oils and spend a year in Paris to hone her skills.  I don’t know why a dancer pirouettes until his toes become hard knobs.  Or a horticulturist breeds new flowers, or a chef creates a culinary masterpiece.

Apparently we’re in good company, though.  Anthropologists trace the arts to the Venus figurines of roughly 30,000 years ago.  And just like my rather immature poem, those rough-hewn images of fertile women may have been an awe-struck prayer to the role of feminine beauty in carrying on our species.

In the meantime, I’m happy to say that my writing has improved a bit with time.  Here’s a line  from a poem I published some years back in an out-of-print women’s anthology called Herself: Portrait.

“When I love to watch those low-down rock stars rolling slender hips on rocking guitars…”

I look back on some of my earlier writings with embarrassment, but I still like that image.  It took our hunter-gatherer ancestors about 20,000 years to understand the male role in fertility and pay artistic homage in the form of phallic symbols.  I’m kind of happy that it only took me about 15.


24 thoughts on “Pretty Girls, Phallic Symbols and the Mysterious Human Brain

  1. Hahaha… it is so true… when I mention in class about the “Cinderella Syndrome” that most of us (women) were raised on… my students laugh (as if they agree with my statement).. Well.. here is a proof of my feminism and anthropological concept written by my loving friend without previous discussion about it… My conclusion is simple: Go ahead Fiona (Shrek’s partner)!!! She Rocks!! She kicks a*&^%!!! She is a go-getter and a fighter!!! No wonder most of us still live in this old theoretical model of sexual pleasuring and we still have hard time to internalize our full potential as humans so we can act upon it!!! Excellent article my friend!!! Excellent!!!


    • That Cinderella Syndrome has bitten me in the a** more than once myself, Naluce! But part of maturing is learning that people are human and more than two-dimensional Barbie or Ken dolls -and way more interesting because of it! And you’re right, we’ve never discussed this before, so thanks for your comment – and keep teaching those students the ‘truth’!


  2. I agree with this!! I used to buy into Disney and their “Happily ever after” with their perfect “Prince Charming.” Real life is not like a Disney movie. What a rude awakening high school and college was/has been. However, I am happy to say I am a strong, independent woman who no longer relies on anybody, especially any man, to lend me happiness. You find happiness in yourself and for yourself.


  3. Great article, Lynda! I like how you interpret your little poem, reflecting upon female roles in the society. I hope one day the princess in the stories will have ambitious, career aspirations, and desiring more responsibilities in the society.


  4. That whole princess thing? Definitely comes with experience in order to have a rude awakening. I concur with that idea and now after a terrible first relationship, I find that SO hard to keep believing in. I cannot stress enough how much I DON’T want my future daughter to fall for that. She will be knowledgeable and intelligent and well rounded from the day she is born. Hey, maybe she’ll even become a human sexuality teacher! That will be something to be proud of! 😉


  5. I found out very young that the happily ever after cliche that I smiled over from Disney princess movies were never going to be a realistic portrayal of the real world. Not because of some life changing event, but mostly because I was a terribly realistic child. I thought that your poem from your young childhood was actually quite nice to the ear! Adorable.


  6. Even though I am positive, or believe that I am old enough to tell the difference between fairy tale happily ever after stories and the true nature of reality, I think you still shattered my childhood fantasies at the part about struggling with rapid ejaculations. T.T


  7. I agree that Disney makes things seem so simple and clean cut and lack developed characters. Like you asked, what is her hobbies, aspirations, etc., I also notice things like Cinderella where she meets a guy one time and runs off to marry him. What kind of message is that to children? And the way they subconsciously expect things to be later in life.


    • I know! I would counsel people to get to know each other as much as possible before making a commitment. That running off with a near-stranger stuff can get you killed in real life! (Or at least very, very miserable!)


  8. I found what you wrote very interesting and I agree with you. Girls grow up with a closed off mind set where girls are able to find their true love with just a glance and that life will be easy. Many parents show their daughters Disney movies that have the prince and princess, but in real life it is the opposite. When girls grow up into women and discover that they will not live a love life like the princesses, their dreams are usually shattered.

    Women do not need to be dependent on men to be able to live. It is not the end of the world if you do not find love like everyone else. A women is perfectly capable to be able to sustain herself today. If girls actually follow what Disney princesses do. It can actually be very dangerous. To run off with a random man is basically flashing red lights. You do not know anything about the man. Does he have any financial stability, a house, food, a healthy environment to live in?


  9. When I was a younger I always adored Cinderella and I actually still do its my favorite Disney princess movie. I always wanted to find my Prince Charming and live happily ever after, but in reality I wanted to graduate from college and be successful. A real princess is the one who is successful and a real Prince Charming is the one who supports her and see other things other then her outer beauty.


  10. While the concept of fairytales can be toxic to young girls to an extent they also instill good ideals. Such as, being kind, hard work, being with someone who loves you. Kids can absorb a lot subconsciously, but it is up to their parents to let them know that whats shown isn’t the real world & to also show them other characters or real life people to whom they can look up.


  11. Disney movies, portray their princesses as perfect, and that they will always find their true love. However, Disney does not show any hardships that the princesses go through. Unfortunately, many young children grew up watching Disney movies and created this ideal that everything in their life must be perfect or else they will never find their prince charming. And even when their life is perfect, their prince charming may never come. Some people will realize that life is not just rainbows and butterflies, but rather hard work, communication, and understanding.

    Fairy tales without Disney’s rendition’s were so much more meaningful.


    • Good description of some of the things that a relationship entails! I for one wish that little girls didn’t get those rainbow and butterfly and prince charming messages – unless they also come with a ‘here’s how times have changed’ message.


  12. I can relate to this blog. At such a young age girls are taught that all they need is to be a pretty little princess and that prince charming will take care of her but nobody really taught them to be independent and be the Queen instead of just a princess in need of a prince. Also in The Great Gastby Daisy says, ” I hope she”ll be a fool. That’s the best thing a girl can be in this world. A beautiful little fool.” It just shows that women are sometimes treated as a less than men.


  13. I 100% agree! I always thought i was the only one who thought this way, glad to see that I’m not alone. Thank you for an amazing read.


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