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Should fairytales be retold for the changing times?
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Traditional fairy tales perpetuate sexist ideas

Traditional fairy tales deepen the patriarchy's hold on society by perpetuating harmful ideas such as binary gender roles, romanticized sexual violence, chivalry, and courtly love.


There is no doubt that traditional fairy tales have elements of sexism and uphold patriarchal values. They were ultimately morality tales, and at the time they were written, women were expected to be subservient to men.[1] This can help explain why the messages they provide are often outdated and sexist. Most of the fairy tales we knew as children were from Disney princess films, such as "Snow White," "Cinderella," and "The Little Mermaid," but the original fairy tales were largely written by the Grimm Brothers and Hans Christian Anderson. The original tales were much darker than the Disney portrayals, but the same sexist ideas and tropes exist in both.

The Argument

A common sexist trope from fairy tales is the evil stepmother, as seen in "Cinderella" and "Snow White". Another similar trope is the evil witch, as seen in "Sleeping Beauty", "The Little Mermaid" and "Rapunzel". These two tropes ultimately imply that women are a threat to one another and will not support each other. The existence of these tropes means that the female protagonist often has no female role model and relies on men for positive relationships. These tropes also combine sexism with ageism - suggesting that older women will become deathly jealous of younger women, and will end up ugly and alone.[2] One very concerning sexist trope in fairy tales is romanticized sexual violence. In Giambattista Basile's "Sun, Moon, and Talia", the original "Sleeping Beauty", the princess only wakes up when she is giving birth to the prince's children because she was raped in her sleep. In the original "Snow White", the princess is kidnapped by the prince while she is unconscious.[2] While we see a less vivid depiction of this sexual violence in the Disney versions, it is still alluded to and female characters do not consent to be kissed or touched. The final trope worth mentioning is the 'knight in shining armor', a trope carried forward from medieval ideas about chivalry and courtly love. The princess or female character is often painted as a victim who lives an uneventful life alone. They are then rescued by a prince, married, and live happily ever after. This celebration of matrimony implies that women who are unmarried are worthless, and this idea is outdated in most modern societies.[3] Since fairy tales are meant to teach morality, they should be amended to contain messages that actually empower girls today. Otherwise, they have no use to society anymore. Some examples of modern retellings of fairy tales that send good messages to women are "The Lunar Chronicles" by Marissa Meyer and "The Bloody Chamber" by Angela Carter.

Counter arguments

The fact that most fairy tales are named after the female characters and focus on a female protagonist shows that they are not inherently sexist and do encourage women to be the main character of their own story. The originally written fairy tales are not so much making a comment about gender, they are merely commenting on human behavior and morality. For example, the evil stepsisters in "Cinderella" are not punished because they are women, but because they are horrible to Cinderella. In "Beauty and the Beast", the princess finds love because she is a kind and loving person, not because she is forced into marriage as a woman.



[P1] Traditional fairy tales and their Disney counterparts contain sexist tropes and ideas. [P2] These tropes are outdated and do not send a good message to modern girls. [P3] Fairy tales should be rewritten in a way that empowers women.

Rejecting the premises


This page was last edited on Sunday, 18 Oct 2020 at 21:18 UTC

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