Women of the SDMB: Do you think fairy tales are misogynist?

I’m writing a paper for my Feminist Philosophy class on fairy tales and misogyny/patriarchal oppression.

I am wondering about the collective thoughts of the women here. Do you find fairy tales offensive? What about the Disney adaptations of those fairy tales? Would you read them to your daughter?

Sometimes it bothers me that women are protrayed as miserable, unhappy, creatures until they are rescued by Prince Charming. And I’m not sure how comfortable I am with the fact that is considered “romantic”.
However I grew up watching these movies, and reading these fairy tales, and I’m fine. If my children wanted to watch the latest Disney Movie, or check out “Grimms Fairy Tales” from the Library, I wouldn’t stop them. I would read the stories to them, and explain why they were wrong, or at least, misguided. I would say something like “I love your father, and he loves me. You can see that a healthy, happy relationship is a strong and beautiful thing. However, you do not need a Prince Charming to make you happy. Your father doesn’t “make” me happy.” And I would explain that true love and happiness comes from within, and then it can be shared with others.
So basically, I would use them each as lil lessons, to prove a point about what “women’s roles” SHOULD be, as opposed to what they HAVE been.

Healthy honest relationships aren’t too fun to write about though…:slight_smile:

I think that they are, by our standards, sexist. However, remember that you have to apply their (fill in the year- don’t know when most of these were written) centurie’s standards when thinking. You can’t fairly label them misogynist and sexist, since they hadn’t even had a women’s liberation movement. You know, the stories were a product of their time.

If in your paper, you wish to talk about how they would fit in nowadays, I’d say they’re too one sided. What with the female being incredibly good looking (but then the male protagonist probably is too). And the fact that the female is almost always helpless…anyway…

I don’t think you can really make a blanket statement that fairy tales are misogynist. It does depend on the fairy tale. Can you give a specific fairy tale?

Disney adaptations of fairy tales are unadulterated feel good schlock. However… consider the “true versions”.

The Little Mermaid: Mermaid falls in love with prince. She gets a witch to change her. Every step she takes feel like she’s walking on nails. In the end, she doesn’t get him and she dies.

Disney version: shalahlahlahlahlah don’t be shy… you wanna kiss the girl…

Little Red Riding Hood: In some versions, LRRH dies. In some, she’s even raped. Some of the versions are truely sick and disturbing.

Disney version: It’s all good.

Cinderella: Cinderella’s evil stepsisters actually amputate parts of their foot in an attempt to fit the slippers. I believe that the ending is the same, but still.

The “true” versions tend to be a lot more gory and horrific. They were basically designed to scare and teach about the dangers of society.

If you examine any culture’s fairy tales or folklore, you will find elements of violence, death, rape… it’s not just Grimm’s that contain such things, and it’s certainly not confined to Eurocentric fairy tales.

Since in the past, many societies were more misogynistic (as well as, to an extent, more dangerous towards women), I would say the misogyny was a reflection on the times.

Fairy tales are a form of history. (I realize some people will disagree with that statement; it’s just my opinion.) You can’t be offended by history; it’s like disapproving of rain. You can be outraged, shocked, taught, moved by history… but I don’t think you can be offended by it.

I think they have merit as an art form. A culture’s fairy tales are telling about the culture. They make for good discussion and fantasty. And yes I’ll read them to baby andy in 10 years or so.

That help, Hastur?

I would recommend reading ‘fairy tales’ from other cultures as well. Chinese, Indian, and Arab stories often feature women as being incredibly capable. Some of the better examples are in Arabian Nights.

Take a look; it’s a glimpse into a different culture and besides, they’re good stories.

Some fairy tales are sexist. Some are not.

If you can, get a copy of “Beauties, Beasts and Enchantments” translated and with an introduction by Jack Zipes. This is a wonderful collection of classic French fairy tales (Beauty and the Beast, Puss in Boots, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, The Good Little Mouse, The Yellow Dwarf, etc.)

In the introduction Zipes points out, “In addition, since the majority of the writers and tellers of fairy tales were women, these tales displayed a certain resistance toward male rational precepts and patriarchal realms by conceiving pagan worlds in which the final say was determined by female fairies, extraordianarily majestic and powerful fairies, if you will.”

Many fairy tales started out as stories written for adults. The stories in this book were mostly written by members of the French court. Some of the best known fairy tales are by Charles Perrault. Even though he believed (as far as I can tell) that men were better than women, he didn’t hate women. And his stories often contain a powerful female fairy who runs things. After all, who has the real power in Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty?

The section on Marie-Catherine d’Aulnoy is my favoite. Her stories aren’t as popular today as Perrault’s, but if you’ve read The Blue Fairy book, you’ve read some of her stories. She was a very interesting woman, who didn’t like the absolute power King Louis XIV and his ministers had. In the introduction to her stories Zipes says, “Mm. d’Aulnoy did not like constraints. In particular, she did not like the manner in which women were treated and compelled to follow patriarchal codes, and as we know, she did not even stop short of abetting execution or murder of men she considered unworthy or tyrannical.”

I think one of the reasons little girls have always loved fairy tales is because female characters have such a large role in them. Prince Charming may have wealth and power, but the story is about Cinderella.

In the end, what counts is what you think the story means. When I see Sleeping Beauty I see a powerful queen who dominates her husband to the point that he gives her permission to murder his daughter. The daughter is then helped by powerful female fairies. The truth is, the men in this story aren’t that important. Sure, the prince has the power to wake Sleeping Beauty up, but only because it’s part of the spell created by the queen. Maybe if she’d picked a different spell he would have been required to juggle Christmas puddings!

If you consider The Little Mermaid, even the Disney version, the mermaid is the one who has all the adventures and grows as a person. The real sexism is that she takes huge risks just to win the Prince’s heart. And in the end, there’s some reverse sexism there, since she falls in love with him because of his looks!

But since you’re writing a paper, I’ll give you a little unsolicited advice. If your teacher thinks all fairy tales are misogynistic, slant the paper that way. If your teacher would enjoy the idea that many fairy tales are masked feminism, go that route.

To wrap up I’ll say I loved fairy tales as a kid, still read them now, and I’m a feminist.

Good luck with your paper!

There’s a Disney version of “Little Red Riding Hood”?

The blueprint for fairy tales are as follows: girl gets into trouble through no fault of her own, and usually because there is another evil female witch character. Boy swoops in and rescues girl, saving her from said trouble.

So you have two versions of womanhood, the evil old hag and the virginal maiden. We might get a fairy godmother or two, but they’re A.) not human and B.) in the form of kind old womenNot the most positive role models to place infront of a little girl.

However, I don’t think the actual fairy tales follow that blueprint. Grimm’s are horrific, and usually end in death. And you should make some argument about the Wizard of Oz as a modern fairy tale, in which the heroine takes a very feminist approach.

So, yea, I think the Disney-fied verions are horrid (giant boobs and itty bitty waist, anyone), but I think the traditional fairy tales are literature like anything else.

“Puss in Boots”, anyone?

Not as a full length feature. Disney cartoons have used LRRH as fodder for shorts for a long time. I remember they had this real moron wolf character who was into drooling. Same guy they did the 3 little pigs with… he was their standard wolf.

I’m usually pretty against fairy tales as role models. Disney does a horrible job.

That said, Disney’s Mulan does a nice bit toward fixing that. She saves her father, saves China, gets awarded by the emperor, and goes home. What’s his face has to look at the fact that yes, she is a girl, and she is still a capable wonderful human being.

The rest of them have an excessive dependance on an absentee male for happiness. Yes, the girls grow and are the central charactor, but they aren’t happy/complete people until the Prince kisses them. Bah.

Oh yeah, that’s definitely a good point to bring up. And that’s not limited to fairy tales either- its true in “actual” books- Tale of Two Cities, for one. I gues, it shows that the tellers of these stories attempt to classify women (in some fairy tales, that is) in two extremes. But I also agree, a wide range of stories would be good…from all cultures.

Disney definitely had issues with women. Look at all the modern heroines: Ariel, Belle, Cinderella – where are their mothers? But they all have caring, if not a bit misguided, fathers. And then there are the villains - a huge, disproportionate of which are women: Snow White’s own mother tries to kill her because she’s prettier than she is; Sleeping Beauty is stalked by a jealous fairy, Cinderella’s stepmother makes her work like a slave because she is jealous, Cruella deVille, well she kills PUPPIES, and Ursula the Sea Witch is a jealous hag. Suprisingly, rarely are men seen as evil. Which is ironic, because of course, a huge percentage of criminals are MEN.

The only really positive maternal roles are animals: Lion King, Dalmatians, and Bambi.

That aside, my personal favorite Disney plot is from Sleeping Beauty. Snow falls in love with a dude after seeing him a few times. She escapes the hatchet only to be saved by 7 dwarfs. They feed her, shelter her, entertain her and protect her. And when she dies, they mourn her so much they can’t bear to bury her.

And the thanks they get? The prince kisses her, she wakes up, gets on his horse and says “BYE!”

I like the classic Disney, okay?
That said, I like fairy tales, the old ones and the new ones.
So sue me.

A few books from my Feminist Fairy Tales class from UPenn:

  • Don’t Bet on the Prince : Contemporary Feminist Fairy Tales in North America and England- by Jack Zipes

*From the Beast to the Blonde- by Marina Warner

*The Uses of Enchantment- by Bruno Bettleheim (A Freudian, and it’s very interesting to see where he and Ms. Warner differ)

I’d also suggest the various modern feminist fairy tales (the titles escape me).

After a careful study of the same tales in various incarnations from different countries, you do see some themes take precedence, depending on who’s doing the telling. Snow White, as some have mentioned, is really about the relationship between an older woman and a youthful one; it stands to reason that one day, Snow White herself will grow up and replace the Queen as the older jealous fading beauty.

Girls are not the only ones subjected to murderous rages, though; there are plenty of boys who face monsters, evil parents and the like.

Without getting into a long argument here, I’d say I don’t think the fairy tales are misogynistic, but they are not nearly as simplistic as most people think they are.

Sure some fairy tales are misogynist; they’re a product of their time. If you read them the right way, some are misanthropist (I know that’s not exactly the word I want) as well.

I don’t find the older tales offensive, though. They’re entertaining, and that’s all they’re meant to be. Remember, most of these tales were written for adult audiences, not to be read to children as bedtime stories. That didn’t come until the bowdlerisation of the Victorian age.

If you insist on reading them as morality tales, then read them another way. Take Cinderella: how can a story about a girl who disobeys her father and stepmother in order to make her own life better be bad? She’s taking charge of her life instead of accepting the life her father has given her. Sounds good to me.

For good modern adaptations in the spirit of the originals, read the series edited by Datlow and Windling (Snow White, Blood Red; Black Thorn, White Rose; etc.)