Fairy Tales and its link to misogyny

We need to talk about fairy tales. The cute stories that parents used to tell their children before bedtime. When the princess is being saved by the prince while silently enduring humiliation by her stepmother and the stepsister (Cinderella), or while the princess is waiting in the castle for her prince to save her, with her hair growing so long as for him to be able to climb the castle (Rapunzel).

Actually, why don’t we talk about Snow White – the beautiful princess that is being poised by her stepmother until a prince finds her in a casket and decides to take her with him?

Isn’t it romantic to dwell in these beautiful fairy tales? But hold on… all that these women were doing was waiting around to be saved. What values did they actually teach young children? I mean both boys and girls, but especially to the little girls who learn that all they need to be do is sit pretty and wait.

At this point, in retrospective, I am happy my mother has read different stories to me, because many of them (not all, see Mulan or Pocahontas for example), I found to be pretty boring. I asked my mom why these princesses are just lying around, or why they would not walk away from their stepmother when she is treating them badly. I grew up with stories of TKKG, a club of young detectives solving crime cases, where I was admiring Gabi for being part of that smart club. I grew up with Benjamin, an elephant in town ho has cool friends like “Carla Columna”, a journalist always on the right spot at the right time. I am a 90s kid and grew up with princess Fantaghiro who I found to be heroic! Active, beautiful, brilliant, a warrior, a lover. She was the embodiment of who I would went to be when I grew up. Good for me and all the others who grew up with cool role models.

But many generations grew up with different role models.

Generation over generation has read and listened to stories of princesses sleeping for hundreds of years, of old and evil witches or stepmothers dwelling in jealousy. Of princesses waiting to be saved by a prince. This had been the perception of whats normal storytelling. What do children learn from that?

Symbolism in Fairy Tales and Folklore

Besides the virtues of the main female character, that often is beauty only, many fairy tales have the following symbols:

Misogyny and the witch

The witch is famous! She is old, hiding in the woods eating children or out to curse the beautiful girl/princess. Witches are the ultimate symbol – not only in folklore but in history itself- of the oppression through vilification of women. Women had been accused of being witches and burned en masse. Especially vulnerable were those elderly and independent. Living alone, maybe even well versed with herb remedy.

The witch hunts were an attack on women. An attack on women’s independence that did not only persist in the medieval times but persisted even way after, arguably until today, not only in folklore. As I said before, she always happens to be old and ugly.

What is so problematic about it is that it gives the message that old ladies become evil and undesirable. It is fatal for women as it leaves the subliminal message of women having to preserve their youth in order not to be dismissed into the wild, turning into the ugly old witch.

A woman is either young and desirable (by a prince), or she is old and needs to hide in the woods. Again; What message does this teach young children?

The prince

But that is a romantic one… Is it, though? Is it really romantic when the woman needs to be saved solely for her beauty? Cinderella was a pushover who always wanted to do right. Then she went to dance with the prince in a beautiful gown and he searches everywhere for her to

  1. save her and
  2. “take her” (to his kingdom, of course).

This is beyond problematic, it is a tragedy that little girls have to hear this and think it would be in any way “romantic”. It is not.

Girls do not have to obey, girls do not have to allow others to push them over. It is okay to fight back. And here is a little catch; If Cinderella would have put a stop to this, in the story, where, besides into the woods, could she have gone? And if she had gone into the woods, would she then have turned into a witch?

Misogyny misogyny in all these little stories. The helplessness of the females characters is terrifying.

The beautiful, virtuous and innocent girl

Beauty is a big thing, arguably the biggest thing for females in folklore and fairy tales. The girls and princesses have to be beautiful, as if that is an accomplishment in and of itself. (Oh and those that were not beautiful were witches, of course)

Some of the girls are badasses, such as Pocahontas, Mulan and Jasmine from Aladine. However but more than enough fairy tales portray the image of a naive but beautiful female. Let me differentiate here again, I am not referring to all fairy tales that ever existed. But there is a good number of fairy tales that do not offer great role models for young girls. I am thinking of sleeping beauty, snow white and of course cinderella. I am particularly nagging about this one because it is just so toxic that I cannot get my head around it. For real.

The little Mermaid is horrible, too. A mermaid with a beautiful voice sees a prince and decides she wants to be with him (without ever having spoken a word). She lets herself turn into a human, looses her fins, can never see her family and friends again and looses her voice, all in the name of love. The story of Arielle in Disney has a happy ending – with the prince and Arielle living happily ever after (yeay!) but the little mermaid that has been written by Anderson many, many years before ends with the prince marrying another woman and Arielle dying. Actually, maybe that does entail an important message for little girls; Better get to know the guy before making huge commitments such as giving up your voice. The same obviously goes for boys when it comes to girl.

Have a look at some other fairy tales and the little changes that Disney has made.

Vogues take on fairy tales and the stereotype issues.

How stories change

I have mentioned the movies, series and audio books that I – and many other boys and girls – grew up with. Princess Fantaghiro was my heroine and I am so happy stories like hers had been written. I wonder if these stories will make long term impact for future generations to come?

The german trailer to my favorite rebel princess

The english trailer

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