Pop-psychology author Dan Kiley discussed the so-called "Peter Pan syndrome" as a variant on the puer aeternus (eternal child) Jungian archetype, in connection with adults who are socially immature and unable to form adequate relationships. Medically there is no such a thing as a Peter Pan syndrome, but this has become a shorthand to identify immature men - although the Peter Pans can be both male and female, they tend to be primarily male. In a nutshell, when men affected by the Peter Pan syndrome form attachments with a woman they become extremely jealous, exhibit violent outbursts and can become enraged when the woman asserts independence in any form. The fear of impotency and rejection contributes to verbally abusive behavior.
Photographer: Jan Murphy
Alice is an intelligent young girl who like Peter initially rejects the adult world - in her case the stifling ordered Victorian world in which she is growing up - but through her escape in the illogical and magical world of Wonderland is determined to discover its paradoxes, leading to acceptance of the adult world in a new key and thereby acceptance of her own maturity. Alice's constant question which she puts to everyone she encounters is 'Why'. The screen version of Alice in Wonderland by Tim Burton has strong feminist overtones, a re-reading and a rendering of the novel which pleases me despite all its faults because I have always felt that Lewis Carroll's Alice epitomised a strong willed adolescent woman not afraid of growing up, only unwilling to do so without self understanding and self knowledge: she rejects the adult world because she wants to grow up on her own terms. Peter Pan on the other hand is afraid of the adult world and escapes into childhood, hoping to acquire true freedom, which in real terms is untenable. Peter Pan escapes, whereas Alice does not.
In real life the Alices of the world are women on a voyage of self discovery. What happens when Peter Pan meets Alice in Wonderland? They are bound to be a match in hell. Despite their initial common ground and attraction they misunderstand each other. Alice seems to want to leave the adult world behind, and in this she appears to be more radical than Wendy who maintains some ambivalence in relation to adulthood, through her mothering. But in fact Alice wants to understand adulthood, rather than fleeing from it. Peter lacks the ability to keep Alice intrigued for long and feels threatened by her constant questioning. To avoid the feeling of being swamped by Alice's independent thinking Peter has to feign a depth which he finds difficult to sustain. His ability to fly will keep Alice wondering but she is bound to want to find out more about 'the happy thoughts' and 'fairy dust' and he will not be willing to share such secrets. Alice lacks the conventional mothering qualities of Wendy Darling. She will want Peter to experiment with his size, like she does, not understanding that such experimentation will feel to Peter like acceptance of an inner growth of which he is incapable, without renouncing his Peter Pan identity. Eventually, Alice will disappoint Peter even more than Wendy because she does not reject the adult world at all, she wants to decipher it and make it her own, on her terms.
The Mad Hatter is a positive force for a feminist society for a variety of reasons. He is kind to Alice, who is both female and a young person. He is supportive of women in leadership roles: He is a supporter of the White Queen (a woman leader, and the better royal in the movie) and a supporter of Alice. In addition, The Mad Hatter models feminist and non-coercive support for Alice, because he does not demand that Alice battles the Jabberwocky, but asks reflective questions and offers her support as she decides what to do.
(All photos modelled by Alex B. )