For generations, fairytales has served as the foundation that maintained the excitement and innocence in countless childhoods. Parents allow their children to read these stories because it oozed of wonderful and magical characters. Fairytales are designed supposedly portray worlds that are better than our own, but that is just the sugarcoated surface. What underlies a lot of these fantasies degrading sexism against women. Oftentimes, the roles of female characters in children’s books were severely downplayed while male characters are glorified as being the hero despite only appearing towards the end.
One key aspect that “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” and “Cinderella” have in common with each other is that both heroines identify with the trope of getting assisted by a male figure. Elizabeth Bell makes the observation that “Men ultimately hold procreative and productive dominion as civilizing forces in these worlds” (Bell 11). In Brother’s Grimm adaptation of “Cinderella”, the first line is “The wife of a rich man” (Tartar 148). This is a context clue that shows that a woman would only court men who are wealthy because apparently, she cannot achieve having financial stability herself. This also draws back to how the wicked stepfamily got their newly found fortune in the first place. Additionally, In this setting, a man holds so much power over a woman that he have to ability to make them chop up their feet just to be in the same room as him. Even though Cinderella did not go to the same extremities that her sisters went to in order to marry the prince, there is no dialogue in the text between the Prince and Cinderella. It’s not shown whether The Prince revealed his name to her, yet he has the capability to persuade her into marrying a complete stranger because he is the one who is going to save her from a miserable lifestyle.
Moreover, The Huntsman was ordered to murder Snow White, but spared her life since she is so young and beautiful. The seven dwarfs allowed her to live with them. The dwarfs had to constantly warn her to never open the door for anyone. This teaches young girls that she should always take advice from men because once she thinks for herself, she’s incapable of making wise decisions. Even when she’s dead, men can’t resist in saving her. The Prince’s servants accidentally bought her back to life by stumbling over a shrub. After a brief meeting, the Prince told her that she was going to be his bride and whisk her away to a better life in his castle. It’s assumed that Snow White didn’t voice any objection to the sudden proposal.
To further enhance the feeble depiction of female characters, Brothers Grimm de that a woman’s place is inside the house. Feminist author Joie Parker observes that “an obedient women in early folktales were not raised, but trained” (Parker 23), Cinderella and Snow White had their biological mothers die when they were an early age, which in turn made them developed a passive mindset. Cinderella’s “punishment” in the story was to be forced into servitude and being confined in the house. Furthermore, Snow White was only given a place to stay because she knew how to do the housework and cooking. In addition, a woman is designed to have one personality and that’s either the virtuous or the vicious. The protagonist is often illustrated as beautiful, kind, and helpful. While she is gifted with all these great qualities, the heroine is also passive, weak minded, and reliant on everyone else. Cinderella submitted to her stepmother’s demands, depended on the animals to help her pick out lentils and to give her fancy dresses. On the contrary, the women who have intelligence and determination are the ones with ugly hearts, envious, and destined to despair in the end. The evil queen in Snow White managed to outsmart Snow White several times to become “the fairest”, however her triumph is short-lived when she is ordered to dance to her death.
De Beaumont’s Beauty and the Beast is the story that meshes beauty and intelligence into one character. Beaumont also shatters the stereotypes of women being nothing more than a tool. Beauty is a character who can think for herself. She voluntarily does housework and cooking despite them being too hard for her. She stands her ground whenever she is opposed, such as refusing to stay home after her father said so. In those ages, it was unheard of for a woman to go against a man, but Beaumont demonstrates that a girl can have the ability to be courageous. Even though Beauty doesn’t have a wicked stepmother that she is in dire need to escape from, she is held prisoner by a monstrous beast. Beaumont eliminated the “handsome prince” motif to show young girls that she does not have to rely on a man to give her liberation. Additionally, when the merchant regains some of his fortune back, the elder sisters beg for riches and fine gowns and Beauty asks her father bring her a rose, only because she did not want to appear unappreciative. Beauty’s selflessness illuminates the fact that she would never rely on a man to give her riches; she even refuses The Beast’s extravagant gifts. Beaumont molds her heroine as a girl with intelligence. When she was not doing chores, Beauty spends her time reading books. When she was shown her new living headquarters “She was impressed by a huge bookcase” (Beaumont 45). Ironically, it was The Beast who lacked intelligence, a far cry from what is expected of a man in this period. The Brothers Grimm had their protagonists married off because a man couldn’t resist how beautiful she was, however Beaumont endeavors to tell younger audiences how much more important personality is over appearances. Beauty’s elder sisters believed that a man was going to save them from living miserably, however no suitors bothered to make them their wives because they had such ugly and vain personalities. When the Beast’s spell was broken, Beauty was more concerned about what happened to the Beast and not the handsome Prince, even though they are the same person. Furthermore, it was the girl who saves the man by falling in love and returning him back to human.
In closing, women brainwashed by gender ideology are under the impression that she have to accept the role of being led and controlled by dominant males. Many fairytales send the message that in order to achieve “happily ever after”, she must play the role of the “good” girl and normally the “happily ever after” means being rescued by a man. Cinderella and Snow White are “feminine” characters that accept this patterns willingly and happily, despite being treated poorly. On the other hand, certain authors believed that female characters being oppressed by the patriarchal order was a ridiculous intention and diminished the expected feminine roles from their characters. In feminist fairytales, such as Beauty and the Beast, the protagonist, Beauty, is portrayed as strong, bold and active. She possess the traditional “masculine” traits in order to inform young girls that women have equal abilities as to men. The Disney franchise began picking up on this notion that the heroine does not have to wait for her prince to come and displayed this in several movies such as, Frozen, Mulan, The Princess and the Frog. As future generations get wiser, a balanced reinterpretation of gender roles should continue to broaden through this narrative genre.
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