Sexism, in fairytales? Happily NEVER after. [Part 1]

This post is quite long overdue, but I wanted to publish my thoughts on a paper we were presented with in my English Language class at the very beginning of the academic year (so, this would’ve been around September/October 2015). This is a less formal response to a text than what I would do at school, for humorous and personal stylistic purposes x) Enjoy.

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“I went to a place where animals talk for goodness’ sake I don’t care about gender.”

The paper was in fact of an academic thesis nature, written by Alice Neikirk from the University of Hawaii (the original paper I will be referring to is here). The paper’s main purpose appears to be, at least, highlighting a certain degree of ‘sexism’ that supposedly appears in the Brothers Grimm renditions of classic fairytales. I don’t know if you’ve read the original versions of tales that the Brothers Grimm at times adapted and effectively re-wrote entirely, but they are very different to the ones you may be  reading to your children at night, before bed. The originals often featured harrowing imagery and the tales did not end “happily ever after” like the trope of modern day fairy tales makes us expect today. For instance, the original Rapunzel story ended rather badly for Rapunzel but arguably even worse for the ‘brave knight’ whom ends up severely injured and blinded by spikes, as the witch cuts Rapunzel’s hair and dangles it out of the window simply mimicking Rapunzel in order to deceive. Let’s acknowledge the fact that the original tales were often a lot worse and clearly not as ‘soft’ as the modern version are. Yet for some people, there are still faults to be plucked out of what, to me, seems like thin air.

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Tired of ‘gender roles’? Here’s a revolutionary idea. If you think people are pressuring them onto you, ignore them. I don’t like sausage rolls, I just don’t eat them.

“A survey of these re-published stories yields a distinct trend that focuses on validating
women through submissive beauty while men are portrayed as active and, at times, violent.” Alice Neikirk writes in her ‘essay’. Is that so? Well, I don’t seem to remember that the modern versions of the tales pay much attention to the description of the protagonists, especially the extent of their ‘beauty’ Perhaps you’re talking about the even more bastardised renditions of the tales that appear as Disney animated ‘classics’. Even then, they are cartoons, computer generated figures and clearly not realistic. I don’t sense an ‘expectation’ for anyone to be that way. It may be true that men are depicted as more violent, more active than the women in the stories. However, if you add a little bit of context you will realise that it isn’t as sexist to women as it is to men, as you think. To start with, is it really sexist to women that men are depicted as abusive, more violent? I think that stains the image of men, personally, I don’t remember violence ever being a flattering trait unless you’re primitive and bloodthirsty. Secondly, let me discuss the ‘beauty races’ of Ancient Europe. The Grimm Brothers, as I am sure you are aware, were German. Germans had a lot of influence and ancestry from Scandinavia. In Scandinavia, they had so called ‘beauty races’ where ruling women would host a series of challenges for men to take so they could prove their strength, mettle and thus worth to the women.  This is clearly channelled through the modernised tales and, I think, is sexist to men if you consider ‘societal expectations’ and not women.
She goes on to say “Rather than being a mere reflection of societal ideals, these fairytales perpetuate Christian, patriarchal concepts as a means of maintaining the gender hierarchy.” which also does not quite sit right with me. If you spend a few moments to research the matter, you may come to the conclusion that these fairytales actually have little to do with Christian ideals (really, where did that come from? Furthermore why is that such a bad thing anyway? Most of your morals derive from Christian teachings…) and patriarchy doesn’t really come into play, nor does gender hierarchy as there were many strong female influences and leaders in the society in which they were published. The societies of Ancient Europe, for example, were quite matriarchal if anything. Also, the use of ‘perpetuate’ with ‘Christian’ need I remind you that Christianity is not a European religion and certainly not the only religion in Europe, I would argue that Paganism in fact still had a majority of the influence at the time.
“The effects of fairytales are evident in everything from studies done with children to the roles of males and females in current television programs. Movies, and more particularly horror movies, thrive on exploiting the stereotypes that tie together sexuality and violence that children are initially exposed to through fairytales. Fairytales have never been bedtime stories; in this day in age, they have morphed into a very effective means of exercising power over women and maintaining gender inequality.”
My problem with this is that, firstly, the so-called ‘studies’ are not listed in any manner whatsoever, which makes the statement lack significant plausibility and reliability. “Movies” and “horror movies” aren’t to do with fairy tales, so I sense a slight topic shift here. Is that a straw man to make your initial argument look more believable. I don’t think ‘sexuality and violence’ are exposed to children in the fairytales, unless you’re reading the originals, which I highly doubt you are. They also have nothing to do with these ‘horror movies’ If it upsets you that the “man might protect the woman” in a horror film, let’s see a film where the woman protects the man – I would love to see the outcry of ‘sexism’ that they let the woman die on screen and let the man live.  I do agree, however, with the first part of the last sentence of that paragraph. It is correct, in this day and age fairytales aren’t about bedtime stories, but it’s not correct that they’re about power over women and maintaining gender inequality (do you really think people make it their sole goal to ensure that woman aren’t equal to them? Maybe if you live in the Middle East.) I think they are about exploitation, but not to do with gender, to do with our pockets. Disney clearly create renditions of old fairytales to appease mums and dads and nuclear children and churn out all this cancerous merchandise to suit the cash cow they’ve clearly found in the market.
“Attractiveness is the most important attribute that a woman can possess, and is often an indicator of chances of future happiness.”
Again, is this based on how 3D models look, or the cartoon 2D illustrations of books? Any written ‘mention’ of beauty is surely subjective and hardly relevant to the outcome of the tale. Was the granny from Little Red Riding Hood exceptionally beautiful? Well, for one there was no mention and secondly, she was still saved, right?
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Because who can remember the “flattering” Betty Boop version of Cinderella?

“If the heroine is beautiful and good, then the evil character must exhibit the opposite physical attributes and this largely holds true.”
This is called physiognomy and appeared in most tales, still does to a large extent. Has fuck all to do with the gender of the protagonists/antagonists. Bond: “Handsome” Villain: “Grotesque” Try and think of some more examples. They’re everywhere and not exclusive to sex (which is the same as gender by the way c:) Also, the next section that reads: “Lazy girls and older women are generally ugly, evil, and determined to take advantage of the heroine.” provokes my response of… Lazy people are considered ugly as laziness, or ‘sloth’, is an ugly trait to many. It’s a metaphor. Secondly, all old people are ostracised by the young. It is always like that and, again, sex is irrelevant.
“They also exhibit traits that directly threaten the feminine ideal; they are strong, determined, and perhaps even greedy.”
Okay, so perhaps greed, or ‘avarice’, is unattractive and threatens and ideal but how does strength and determination threaten a feminine ideal? I thought women want to be presented as strong and determined.
“An interesting trend in fairytales arose during this period as well; rather than reflecting these changes in society, the focus on, and therefore perceived importance of, female attractiveness intensified (Lieberman, 2003). The new fairytales that began to emerge may portray a female in a more powerfully independent role, yet the physical appearance rarely departed from the heterosexual “Barbie doll” with a slight range of hair colors[sic.]*.”
* = Colour 😉
Yes, that would be because most people of the era were heterosexual and homosexuality was basically unheard of in society. Also, yes of course there would only be a ‘slight’ range of hair colours. Here! Black, brown, blonde, ginger, grey. There are your natural hair colours, anything other than that is fake! [sarcasm] Damn it’s a trip how there’s no multi-coloured haired gay fairies in any of the tales… I will never know… [/sarcasm]
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Modernising fairy tales in my opinion is uncalled for. In another 200 years someone will just re-write the re-written ones because they think ‘our’ ‘ideals’ are trash too.

Anyway, this post is getting long. See you in Part 2!
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