Get Inspired, Be Empowered Forums Sexism & Patriarchy Fairy Tales like Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty have women as passive characters… Reply To: Fairy Tales like Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty have women as passive characters…

Mayuravarshini Mohana
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Bed-time story telling is now a popular custom and one to be encouraged. However, it becomes problematic when the stories being narrated contribute towards sexist conditioning of young minds. Fairy tales, which are much loved by children, are guilty of this.

The heroines of fairy-tales get into a fix and it is ultimately a man, a certain ‘prince charming’ who saves her from her ordeal. This equation is consistent across many fairy-tales and when these stories are boiled down to their essence it is a typical ‘valiant man saves damsel in distress’. Why is it that damsels are always in distress and can’t seem to save themselves?

The villain most often in these stories is a woman. Take for example, the evil mermaid witch in Ariel, the cruel stepmothers in Cinderella and Snow White or the malevolent fairy in Sleeping Beauty. By relaying these stories to children, we make them believe that women tend to be hostile towards each other, that woman’s greatest enemy is woman herself. Sisterhood and solidarity remain out of question. In a surprising twist, all men always seem to have best interests at their hearts.

Through telling these stories we condition the minds of children and teach them that an ideal woman is passive and always remains waiting. The most she can do is mope around, believe in magic, or even better, lose her voice for a man (literally!). She never seems to rely on herself to get out of a difficult situation. She absolutely surrenders herself to fate and relies externally for help. We only need to look around, at the wonderful and strong women peopling our lives to realise that this is light-years away from truth.

By glorifying the passive, submissive heroine, we unknowingly encourage girl children to emulate these characters. We quell their inherent strength and fiery spirit right at a nascent stage. And instead we tell them, ‘Don’t stand up for yourself. Be silent, and obey. Wait for a man to come save you (it is after all something only he can do). Most importantly, look pretty (even if you’ve been asleep for 100 years).’

Fairy-tales are unrealistic, out of date and flag bearers of patriarchy. It is time we stopped passing the baton. Only then can we hope for a more inclusive ‘happily ever after’.