Most people grow up listening to fairy tales which have always been an inspiration to people. They are always important types of narrations for societies and are transferred from generation to generation. They are not told only for entertainment, but they also shape society in a way. Despite the fact that fairy tales are written in a short and simple language, they have deep meanings and hidden messages. One of these hidden messages is gender stereotyping. Females and males are presented stereotypically. The females are presented as beautiful, naive, weak, passive and dependent on men. The males are presented as charming, strong, rescuer, brave. The purpose of this study is to examine gender stereotypes in fairy tales such as Cinderella, Snow White, Sleeping Beauty.
The fairy tale is one of the most popular types of folk narratives. A fairy tale is a tool and source of the rules, codes, cultural values and dominant thoughts of the society in which it exists as a legacy to the next generation. Indeed, children are major targets for fairy tales and their main goals are to prepare children for adulthood with the messages they give. Children start to learn the world through them.
It cannot be questioned that fairy tales are the best way to bring up children through heroic actions of their favorite characters. Moreover, kids easily absorb whatever they are told from the fairy tale, and they imitate characters. They never differentiate between good and bad, useful and worthless. Such huge proportion of info and images affect their life perception and shapes their nature and mindset. (‘Gender Roles in Fairy Tales: Discover The Stereotypes Children are Taught Since Childhood’)
Even though fairy tales, which seem innocent in the eyes of society, have the potential to manage perception. The roles of men and women are shaped by social norms that are presented in most of the fairy tales.
According to Kasner(2004), in fairy tales, boys are typically adventurous; rescuers; fighters and capable; symbolize ingenuity and perseverance. On the other hand, female characters are represented as victims; seldom triumph if not beautiful; passive; submissive and dependent to male figures.” (qtd. in Cekiso 202)
Snow white is quickly tricked by the evil witch and can only be brought back to life by a prince. Sleeping Beauty does nothing, she just sleeps for a long time, she cannot wake up on her own, she needs a male to wake up. Cinderella loses her shoe, and the Prince takes it and starts to find the girl who falls in love. Cinderella is presented as a passive girl who is dependent on a man and she waits to be saved by a man. Almost all children are raised by reading or listening to fairy tales such as Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, Snow White. Children can imitate many of the characters of fairy tales in daily life, they take them as role models. For instance, while girls want to be as beautiful as Snow White and Cinderella, boys want to be as handsome and brave as a prince. Therefore, children think that those all are normal, and what needs to be done.
Gender stereotypes are common in every society and most of the people are exposed to these stereotypes without even realizing it. For instance; beauty standards that are set by society and efforts to fit into those standards exist today. These are exposed to us via fairy tales. In fairy tales, beauty is one of the most common aspects of both men and female figures. Beauty standards are tried to impose on us through the beautifulness and attractiveness of the male and female fairy tales’ characters. Typically, the main female character is beautiful, the main male character is handsome. Almost all prince /hero/king want to single out the most beautiful girl. If you are a beautiful girl, you get a chance to get marry a handsome prince/hero/king.
When Cinderella entered the palace, everybody was struck by her beauty. Nobody, not even Cinderella’s stepmother or stepsisters, knew who she really was in her pretty clothes and shoes. The handsome prince also saw her and fell in love with Cinderella. (365 Fairy Tales 22 23)
In Cinderella, the handsome prince is supposed to choose a girl to get married, all young girls in the town want to get married to him because he is the most handsome boy. The prince chooses Cinderella because she fits into beauty standards.
A form of beauty that is only ‘white’ and ‘fair’. Similarly, Cinderella, with the help of her fairy godmother, attends the ball in a very beautiful gown and a pair of glass slippers. Her charm shocks the guests in the ball, and even her stepsisters or stepmother cannot recognize her. In fact, Cinderella’s beauty is not just confined to her face; it is also symbolized by her small feet. It’s her unique beauty that entices the prince and sweeps him off his feet. Since the glass slippers are very small, only a person with extraordinary small feet can fit into them. (“Fairytales and ‘The Beauty Ideal’”)
Cinderella’s evil stepmother and stepsisters have short black hair, and their skins are darker than Cinderella. Her step sister’s feet are too large to fit into tiny glass slippers. These are not suited for beauty standards so in the tale they are not presented as beautiful.
Then were the two sisters glad, for they had pretty feet. The eldest went with the shoe into her room and wanted to try it on, and her mother stood by. But she could not get her big toe into it, and the shoe was too small for her. Then her mother gave her a knife and said: “Cut the toe off; when thou art Queen thou wilt have no more need to go on foot. (Grimm 84)
It is not enough to have pretty feet. Their feet are too big to get into tiny glass slippers. However, Cinderella is the only one who fits into beauty standards. Every woman wants to be as beautiful as Cinderella and tries to duplicate her beauty to have her physical appearance because fairy tales tell us that Cinderella is physically perfect, she is completely as admirable girl as every man desire.
Another stereotype in fairy tales is that the woman who is beautiful is also kind-hearted. Evil and ugly women in fairy tales are always jealous of the beautiful and good-hearted one and try to harm her somehow. However, mostly the beautiful and good-hearted ones are rescued by a handsome prince. Being rescued from the evil ones by a handsome prince and getting married to him is presented as the beautiful girls’ reward.
At the same time, very interestingly each beautiful girl has good-heart at the same time, she is submissive, passive, weak, innocent, and easily deceived. She complains about nothing, she does not attempt to escape or save from difficulties or miseries. A hero will save her at the end and they will marry. The woman who is beautiful and good is rewarded by happiness. However, if you are ugly, you are married to an ugly man, even though you marry a king/padishah accidentally or incidentally you will be punished because of your ugliness and evil behaviors at the end of the tale. (Sahin 6)
Despite the fact that Snow White helps evil witch because she thinks that the witch is old and sick, the witch easily deceives her with a poisonous apple in Snow White. In Sleeping Beauty, Sleeping Beauty believes in the old woman and the woman causes her eternal sleep. Therefore, bad characters abuse beautiful girls because of their kind-heartedness.
In Cinderella, goodness is still overwhelming the tale although Cinderella suffers being servant and victim. She represents the real and symbolic of victimization of a girl who lost her mother and lives the injustice of her stepmother and stepsisters. (Al- Barazenji 49)
Cinderella is naive and always kind to her stepmother and stepsister, she never complains about doing housework even though they dress up and make fun of her and treat her like a servant. She tries to make everything fun; she dances and sings when she sweeps the house. In this fairy tale, the message is given to us is that if you are a kind-hearted and beautiful girl, first you are punished by jealous women, and you are rewarded with marrying a handsome prince.
As in the tale of Cinderella, beauty is presented stereotypically in Snow White. Snow White ‘s mother wished her daughter’ s skin be as white as snow, her hair black and lips as red as blood. It is easily understood that stereotyped beauty perception is imposed upon us through Snow White’s physical appearance. Her mother’s wishes come true, and thanks to her mother’s wish, Snow White is born as a beautiful girl. Even when she goes to the house of the seven dwarfs, the seven dwarfs are attracted to her beauty, so they take their home and help her. In Snow White, beauty is also a symbol of the desire to be seen.
‘She looks so beautiful,” said Sneezy, “we will not bury her. We will place her in a glass coffin and carry it to the forest, so that anyone who passes can see her and admire her beautiful face.’ (Grimm 32 33).
When she dies because of the apple, the Seven Dwarfs do not bury her under the ground because they think that she is still so beautiful even she is dead.
The Image of Male Character
Even though the female figures are portrayed as passive, in need of help, dependent on a man, weak, defenseless, emotional and they are always associated with housework and birth and nurturing.; the men figures are portrayed as active, brave, adventurous, self-sufficient. They are associated with embarking on an adventure, saving helpless girls, riding a horse,
Women in fairy tales are always busy giving birth to beautiful princesses, doing household chores, plotting against each other and concerned with their beauty. On the contrary, men are busy ruling the kingdom, participating in wars, going on adventures, saving princesses, and performing other masculine activities. (Sharif 30).
While men always perform challenging tasks that require courage, women are always preoccupied with housework and children. “Male characters were most often portrayed in adventurous pursuits and outdoor activities requiring independence and strength, while female characters are seen in indoor activities and portrayed as passive and dependent.” (Mudhovozi 89). For instance; in Snow White, Snow White does house works such as cleaning Seven Dwarfs’ clothes, cooking, sweeping the house, Seven Dwarfs go mining. Going through a dangerous jungle and mining is considered a challenging task.
The dwarfs said, ‘If you will take care of our house, cook, make the beds, wash, sew, and knit, and if you will keep everything neat and clean, you can stay with us and you shall want for nothing.’ ‘Yes,’ said Snow-white, ‘with all my heart,’ and she stayed with them. She kept the house in order for them; in the mornings they went to the mountains and looked for copper and gold, in the evenings they came back, and then their supper had to be ready. (Jacob Wilhelm 252)
In these lines of the fairy tale, the dwarfs go to hard work, the Snow White serves them and needs them to stay at home. They say that she can only stay at their homes, provided that she does their daily chores. Another stereotype in fairy tales is that the female figure often suffers and the reason is mostly a woman such as stepmother, witch, step-sisters. However, the female figure gets rid of the suffering with the help of a man. The male figure is always a rescuer. In Sleeping Beauty, Sleeping Beauty needs a man to wake up and continue her life, if the Prince comes and kisses her, she can wake up. The Prince is the only one who can restore her life. Another message that is intended to be given is that man is a superior being, when the male figure in fairy tales is compared with the female figure, the male figure is always superior to the female figure. Females cannot solve their problems or even survive without males in fairy tales.
The Prince presented as not only superior but also brave. The Prince is portrayed as one who takes the bull by the horns. The Prince goes on his way to find and save the beautiful girl without being afraid of monsters, dragons, scary giants.
The Prince in The Sleeping Beauty in the Wood, however, is more active than the Prince in Cinderella. He merely hears about a tale of hidden castle with a princess sleeping inside and he immediately feels that he is all set for the adventure, for a Prince ought to be “young and gallant” in Perreault’s words. He bravely cuts through great trees, bushes and brambles to reach the hidden castle. (qtd. in R 6).
As stated above, on the way to the princess, the Prince goes on an adventure willingly to save Sleeping Beauty. He faces several difficulties but he overcomes fearlessly. Overcoming difficulties and finally reaching the princess is an example of how brave the Prince is.
Fairy tales are not only oral narratives mostly for children but also historical resources. They give a lot of information about the social and cultural values of societies. Therefore, they are viewed as a vehicle for introducing gender roles, and they play a huge role to shape the outlook of people especially children. However, in fairy tales, for the most part, both genders are portrayed stereotypically. The ideal men are portrayed as savior, attractive, courageous. On the other hand, the ideal women are portrayed as pretty and in need of saving. According to the tales, the beautiful girl is always deceived by evil ones because of her kind-heartedness, then she rescued by the handsome prince. The handsome prince goes on an adventure to save the beautiful girl’s life. It is clear that men are more dominant and independent, and women are helpless. To sum everything up, women are often stereotyped as inferior to men whereas men are stereotyped as superior to women in fairy tales.
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