Today’s post will be different. Instead of checking the news for indignities suffered by women in male-dominated workplaces, I thought I’d look at classic fairy tales to see what truths lurk there.
I devoured fairy tales as a kid. Cinderella, Three Little Pigs, Jack and the Bean Stalk. There were some interesting dynamics in those tales. And since I was probably a strange little girl, I asked some tough questions about them. (They were never answered…) For example, why was Jack hailed as a hero when he was really such a dope with the cow and the beans? Why were Cinderella’s step sisters mean and so ugly? Both.
At their heart, fairy tales are mythic, aren’t they? These stories are supposed to be life lessons for children, teaching about the cruelties and the rewards of life. But, do those lessons help? Or hurt?
Let’s look at a few fairy tale heroines.
Cinderella. Cinder’s step family are the evil ones. Mean, ugly and all female. The only good female, a couturier, disguised as a fairy godmother, dresses Cinderella in a killer outfit for the ball and glass slippers. Excuse me, but you can’t even walk in glass slippers! And of course, the sister bullies don’t get the prince and they are really ugly anyway. Moral? have blonde hair, a fairy god mother and small feet…
Goldilocks and the Three Bears. I always thought Goldi was kind of a jerk who breaks and enters — or enters and breaks — into a house belonging to bears (bears? really? is she that stupid?), breaks and/or criticizes their furniture, eats and/or criticizes their food and then falls asleep? In the bears house she’s ransacked? Moral: make sure the bears aren’t hungry for a little golden-haired girl snack.
Hansel and Gretel. Two children follow a candy trail through the woods and are nearly made into cookies by an ugly witch. Moral: there is no such thing as free candy, and witches are hags who can make children into cookies and eat them.
None of those stories gives girls, step sisters or witches a big boost.
Disney has made a bundle updating fairy tales – Snow White, The Little Mermaid, Sleeping Beauty, Frozen, Beauty and the Beast (not Disney but in the Disney vein). Very few of these modern tellings feature a boy hero (Aladdin, and Pinocchio), maybe because they don’t need to be rescued? Whereas almost all the Disney heroines do need to be rescued – by princes, mostly. The Mermaid is even stripped of her mermaidenhood to marry her prince. Jeez.
The message is pretty clear in all these examples. Give yourself up to survive. Be gullible. Be a helpless blonde. Be rescue-able.
In truth, there are other lessons to be learned from these tales, not all so darkly anti-woman. But think about it. No message is to be found here for a young lesbian. A black girl. A poor girl. Or a smart girl who would think twice before venturing into a bears’ den.
This is a mild rant. I hope you have a laugh, a chuckle, or a tear. Remember you are not living in a fairy tale with crazy rules and life-chilling lessons. You don’t need a prince, just a voice and a brain.
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