“And they all lived happily ever after”. Throughout a child’s life, someone has once read to them a fairytale. Every word and every picture of fairytales usually play a magical image in a person’s mind. While reading a fairytale it can open magical worlds, possibilities, hopeful thinking and allows the reader to explore new ideas. Fairytales hold an important piece of children’s literature that has a lasting impact on society. Most fairytales were written to fit the needs of society at some point. Although, as years went by these images began to establish a less relevant persona of what society is today. They reinforce the stereotypical gender roles women are trying to stay away from. What were once magical tales of women falling in love, beauty, life lessons, and villains it could be taken as a form of degrading women? Fairytales can create false advertisements for women, by appearance, behavior, and emotions.
A classic fairytale is a novel Cinderella by Brothers Grimme it describes a young beautiful girl who goes from rags to riches. Cinderella spends most of her time performing chores for her evil stepmother and her ugly stepsisters. A fairy godmother comes to Cinderella and grants her a wish, Cinderella chose to attend the ball. At the ball she meets her prince, they danced and mingled most of the night. When the clock struck twelve Cinderella left the ball quickly and left her glass slipper. The prince then searched the kingdom to find the girl who would fit into the glass slipper. To the surprise of her evil stepmother and sisters, Cinderella ended marrying the prince and living happily ever after.
Cinderella is a perfect example of how fairytales could produce false advertisements for young girls. Although, how does Cinderella end up with this happily ever after? Cinderella’s happy ending came from her prince. All Cinderella had to do to gain attention from the prince was to wear a dazzling dress, dance, and to be beautiful. The prince did not fall in love with Cinderella while she wore her servant clothes, sadly he didn’t know she existed until she put her ball gown on. Even when the prince finally sees Cinderella to allow her to try the glass slipper on, the prince no longer recognized her in the state she was in. The Cinderella the prince met was a misleading version of the true Cinderella, although she was always beautiful, he noticed her because of her “princess” like blue ballgown. For example, today it’s common for a female to gain male attention by playing “dumb”. For some men, this is “cute” and “witty”. Girls will manage to make themselves appear as ‘dumb” because of the stereotype that girls should keep their opinions and thoughts to themselves because it’s not appealing to men for a woman to have her own opinions.
Disney itself has felt guilty about the false image Cinderella has on young girls. The 2003 Disney Channel original movie The Cheetah Girls has a song called Cinderella, with lyrical phrases such as, “When I was just a little girl my mama used to tuck me into bed. And she’d read me a story. It always was about a princess in distress. And how a guy would save her and end up with her glory. I don’t want to be like Cinderella. Sittin’ in a dark cold dusty cellar. Waiting’ for somebody to come and set me free, I don’t want to be like someone waiting. For a handsome prince to come and save me. Oh, I will survive, I’d rather rescue myself.” Personally, I remember listening to this song around the age of seven or eight and understanding the meaning of it perfectly. The meaning behind the Cheetah Girls Cinderella song is that it is referencing the misleading outcome of Cinderella. The Cheetah Girls are singing how they don’t want to be like the rest of the girls, waiting for their prince charming to allow them to see the world. They want to be their own rescuers. Instead of waiting for their prince charming they will prove they do not need any man to make their dreams possible.
In most fairytales, the female character is seen as passive, obedient and sheltered. The male character is brave, strong and heroic. We see this in fairy tales such as Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, Thumbelina, and Cinderella. Aside from them all sharing beautiful faces, porcelain white skin, and glossy hair they all are saved from a handsome heroic prince. Each story ends with a beautiful fairytale ending. This presents young women to believe the idea of marriage is a sole goal in their lifetime, that after finding your “prince” you will live happily ever after. As much as everyone hopes for a successful and long-lasting marriage realistically it doesn’t always happen. Marriage shouldn’t be an ultimate award in a women’s life, but this is a theme that is demonstrated in fairytales. In the Disney version of Snow White, Snow White sings “Someday my Prince Will Come” reinforcing the idea of a prince in your happy ending.
In contrast, to the female character being passive and obedient its always seen in fairytales the female character who is ambitious is played to be an evil villain. The evil character is seen as ugly, mean and scary. Fairytales embody the way society attempts to silence and oppress women by making them appear passive. In the article, The Portrayal of Women in the Fairy Tales Dr. Silima Nanda shares how Snow White has attached female stereotypes to her character. Nanda writes, “In Snow White, the dwarfs make sure that Snow White can cook, wash and clean the house. They also make the condition that the girl should not go out of the house or entertain everyone. Snow White is so innocent that she is deprived of developing an independent self. She is unable to defeat the stepmother’s evil plans. Thus, she is the perfect image of innocence, virtuous beauty, and youth.” (p.248) Besides Snow White, Cinderella obviously fulfills the stereotypical female duties around the house. Cinderella never chooses to stand up against her email stepmother and sisters, although the only way she rebelled against them was when a man claimed to own her after the slipper fit. Cinderella carries all the qualities a man wanted; she worked for the house, she was obedient and with no surprise beautiful.
Fairytales have portrayed women in positive and negative ways. Women are seen in fairytales as both admirable and abominable. Female beauty is a main theme in fairytales, although the “beauty” exposed isn’t the way beauty should always be looked too. Fairytales will forever hold sexist and stereotypical gender roles within females. In current times males and females are viewed as equals by the majority of the population. I don’t believe that young women and children should never be exposed to fairytales because there is truly something captivating and magical about them. Fairytales will change and evolve on the bias of the person reading. It’s common for young girls to dream about wearing a beautiful ball gown and dancing the night away with their prince charming. Thus, it’s important to teach women that there are different roles women can experience in life rather than traditional ones these fairytales brought upon us. These roles could be, single, single mother, widowed, a successful businesswoman, and a strong female warrior. Currently, fairytales are evolving the roles of women are changing in today’s culture. We see this in Disney movies such as, Mulan, The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast and The Princess and the Frog. Another story with a plot twist is The Wicked Stepmother Lament by Sara Maitland where uncommonly the narrator is the stepmother. The stepmother tells her story through her own perspective rather than the way everyone has heard. Different perspectives of Cinderella can allow the reader to see different viewpoint and angles of the story. These stories tend to steer away from the gender roles that are seen in other fairytales, the female characters are allowed more freedom. It’s society’s job to create efforts to accept the change of gender roles and patriarchy to the world we live in today. When doing this we will present a new angle on the female gender character.