Discrimination in fairytales

Published: 2021-09-13 08:50:09
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Category: Discrimination, Cinderella

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What do you think about fairytales? Do you think about a pretty little princess waiting for her prince or a dark sensual world of make-believe that revolves around violence? I seriously doubt it's the latter. This is because fairytales have drastically changed over the centuries. The modern versions we know today were preceded by a much darker kind of story, one that played heavily on the ideas of superstition, the devil and violence. Genders weren't as heavily criticised. Heroines used to save themselves and others too, usually with brains or charm opposed to brawn. But at least they were trying.
An example of this could be "Sleeping Beauty", Perrault's version, where the Princess saves herself and her two children from her husband's evil stepmother, by cooking a goat; instead of one of the children as the ogress requested. Her husband then comes in to save her. She played a crucial part in the story: saving her children from the cannibalism of their father's step-mother. Cannibalism is certainly frowned on in society, but is in fact actually a rather common theme in fairytales: Red Riding Hood also originally included cannibalism. The Wolf left the Grandmother's blood and meat for the girl to eat.
After she unwittingly cannibalises her grandmother, she sometimes strips for the wolf and gets into bed with it. He then either eats her or ties her to a piece of string. She usually escapes using her own cunning. This is quite different from the grandma-loving biscuit-carrying Red Riding Hood of today. It actually comes across as a story more about child molesting, or at the very least, lust. The story is sometimes seen as a parable of sexual awakening. The red cloak symbolises the blood of the menstruation cycle or the hymen, although earlier versions of the tale do not state the cloak is red.



The anthropomorphic wolf can symbolise a lover, a seducer, a rapist, or a molester. This is clearly a rather different take on the Red Riding Hood than we're used to. It seems to be a rather mature disturbing tale. I don't think it's necessarily something we would want our children exposed to. But that was how they were originally written. At least until they were bowdlerised by the Grimm brothers. Fairy stories were originally gothic tales and scary stories about what might come and take you in the night; they were far removed from the Disney classics.
The Grimm brothers, Jacob and Wilhelm, were born in Germany in the late 18th century. In an effort to preserve Germany's heritage and promote cultural unity, they collected a vast array of folk and fairy tales from their fellow Germans-mostly middle- and upper-class friends. Although their original intent was to preserve the stories exactly as told, one edit led to another, and soon they had given the stories a literary style and released them as Kinder- und Hausmi??rchen (Children's and Household Tales. )
Because their intended audience included children, the Grimms selectively bowdlerised the tales they published, notably removing evil mothers and replacing them with step-mothers (as in the case of ''Snow White''), and removing implications of sex and pregnancy (as in ''Rapunzel''). However, because standards of child-friendliness have shifted in the past 200 years, some of the Grimms' stories are now considered family unfriendly and the deaths written in them are considered to be shockingly violent. This was not the view at the time.
So basically they took a fornicating girl in a tower, and turned her into a damsel in distress. This was not quite the same idea. This gave rise to the dependent needy princesses and maidens that feature so heavily in today's fairytales. These are characters that belittle everything that women fight and give their lives to achieve. And ironically it is the past stories that show less anti-feminism even though people were actually more sexist in that period. At least those women had some self-respect and the ability to plot, and in rare cases, use weapons.
The blonde stereotype of women in modern fairytales is unparalleled. From a young age, it's almost as if we are being trained to indulge in the ideals of vanity and sexual dependence. Well excuse me... but I'd rather not. It seems to me that this is the start of young girls' urge and desperation for 'the look': this is something that many women will diet and exercise to achieve. Although as girls age they graduate off pretty princesses and onto fashion icons and models. I'm completely against this idea, partly because I'm a perpetrator of wanting 'the look' myself, and the fact that I will never achieve it.
In other fairytales, a heroine is willingly bound by a spell, whereas a male character may be cursed because he has refused to yield something, for example shelter, in 'Beauty and the Beast'. If the female character is cursed unwillingly, she is cursed by a malignant character that is as ugly as her personality. This is the exact opposite of the maiden who is cursed. This amplifies the idea that beauty is idyllic and good and ugliness is evil and unforgivable. This isn't a very good role model for children and I find this interesting because it seems to reflect our desire for beauty.
However, the reality is that women are not all beautiful and if they aren't, it doesn't necessarily mean that they are nasty unpleasant people. Some villains do have a sort of beauty, but this is usually a sharp-featured frightening beauty that terrifies the younger generation. A wronged women in a fairytale may take the form of a particular animal to escape an evil stepmother or an unwanted marriage. The animal they take is usually reflective of their main traits. For example a graceful and delicate woman may take the form of a swan or a doe. These are animals that are considered to be beautiful.
Their fellow animals will provide some company and will somehow help the character to regain what they have lost. This animalistic form gives the character a connection to nature and separates them from society. They become wilder and less sophisticated, embracing a more instinctual kind of beauty. So characters have also gone from blonde to beast, the opposite of the current situation-where blondes prevail far more than beasts. Beastly women, however, are often considered to be connected the Devil, like 'wild woman' who is the devil's offspring.
Lots of hair or fur seems to show some relation to evil, perhaps as it isn't very attractive. This can be compared with the Elizabethan saying 'Bush natural more hair than wit' which means that people with lots of hair or fur are supposed to be primitive, inferior, sexual and beastly. These weren't exactly desirable traits either at the time or now. Nowadays there seems to be a teeming population of blondes in fairy stories. An example could be "La Belle aux cheveux d'or" who had hair 'finer than gold' that was 'marvellously wonderfully blonde' and was 'curly and fell to her feet'.
This is a rather pleasing image: a beauty with long wondrously blonde hair. The story claims 'you couldn't look upon her without loving her'. A rather amazing claim: that a woman or man may just gaze upon her and find themselves desperately in love with her, whether in a sexual way or not. This seems to be an illustration of the power possessed by mere appearances. The word blonde comes from the Latin 'blandus' meaning charming. So in the past it had no implications of sex or great femininity.
It also comes from the Medieval Latin 'blundus' meaning yellow, which only serves to describe the colour not the appeal. In the 14th century, Chaucer began to use the word 'blondinet' or 'blondin', which was an affectionate diminutive. In fact it was mainly used for boys. Nowadays we don't think of boys being blonde in the same way girls are. Blonde began to become exclusively female and suggested sweetness, charm and youthfulness: everything a young princess would desire. Only in the 30's and 40's did the word acquire 'hot' vampirish undertones and begin to be desired almost obsessively.
The word blonde symbolises femininity and beauty; things that women crave beyond reason. However, the reality is that it's just a hair colour and that there are women of all hair colours- black, brown, red, grey... white, if you count albinos- that are as beautiful as blondes. More disturbingly perhaps, in recent years the word blonde has been yoked with 'dumb' to depict a particular character type. Not only is the heroine nearly always blonde, but she is always young. This seems rather ageist to me and isn't the sort of idea that we would want our children brainwashed with.
Do we want them to idolise the youthful and not respect that the elderly can achieve things themselves? No. They should understand from a young age that you can't use people and that OAP's are not a step of the stairway of success, as people is fairy stories often do. The heroine never possesses great wisdom and seems to get things and assistance by flicking her hair and batting her eyelashes. Wow... that's very useful. I don't think that that should be something that children aspire to be like. Intelligence and knowledge are more important than beauty, and fairytales seem to miss this.
So the prince can slay a dragon, but can he win a game of checkers? I wouldn't count on it. It seems to me that in fairytales, only the villains seem to possess a decent IQ, as they're the only characters that use their brains or cunning to conjure up a scheme. Heroes rely on courage. I think it's almost sad that in the stories strength and beauty are idolised and seem to triumph over intelligence. This is similar today, however, if we think about how the bullies of the world act all big and tough, but aren't the brightest bulbs around.
They tend to pick on the weak, so in today's world that would be the geek. Rather sad, don't you think? The stereotype of a maiden in fairy stories is dependent, needy and waiting for her happily-ever after. This is not exactly an image to aspire to. After all why would a woman need a man? She could get on perfectly well on her own. As the feminist saying goes, "A women needs a man, like a fish needs a bicycle. " However, I think this is a little extreme. Perhaps this dreadful stereotype of women could be remedied if half the time the women went out to save the men.
Perhaps it would ruin the men's egos, but at least the women could be portrayed with a little self-respect and not a day-dreaming ditz who has the attention p of a goldfish. The 90's Disney movies tried desperately to do this. Ariel, Belle and Mulan who rush to the aid of their lovers are the examples of this. I decided to write about fairytales because there are so many issues surrounding them. I remember them with fondness from my childhood, and I would want to read them to my children and grandchildren. I think gender discrimination is a serious issue.
Just because someone has an X and a Y chromosome or two X's, it doesn't mean they are any better than the other. I think feminism is a step too far in the other direction however. Being co-dependent isn't necessarily a bad thing. Men need women too. Fairytales show both sides of this as well. The prince rescues his princess as he can't live without her and the maiden loves the man because... well who can resist a man on a white horse? Not me! They are simple stories that are debated hotly because of the context of them. Are they too violent? Are they too idealistic? Are they too perfect?
Fairytales are all about love and romance. They are about good triumphing over evil in a series of unlikely events. They tell us of deeds of valour and bravery in a time that we can only imagine. They show us how a poor little maid can fall in love and become a princess. The characters may be seriously flawed and have many issues, but they are stories. Wonderful stories. Stories that we read time and time again so that we can dream of being that brave knight or that damsel in distress. I think that my childhood would not have been the same without Chicken Licken or the Princess and the Pea.
I think that even though they are unrealistic and give people impossible expectations and dreams, they are a part of our culture. To edit them, as the Grimm brothers did, would destroy a time long-forgotten. I think that they still exist today. The royalty of today is the celebrities-actors and models. We look at them and wish we were like them, just as the people of the Renaissance would have looked at a princess and thought 'I wish I was her... ' Dreaming is in our nature and to change that for the sake of a few misconceptions would be unforgivable.

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