Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Feminist Approaches to Fairy Tales

I am currently reading a collection of feminist fairy tales and that has got me thinking. I have always considered myself a feminist, but yet, I read a lot of fairy tale collections and consider myself a big fan of people like the Grimms' Brothers, who wrote collections of stories that were not necessarily very flattering to females. Fairy tales have often followed a very strict pattern when it comes to the characters. If there is a male character, there is always a female character that is in distress of some kind and the male character has to come to their rescue. If there is a step-mother or step-sisters, they are always evil and the father, who more often than not dies, is always portrayed as a kind, yet gentle, sort.

Fairy tales are being rewritten all the time. Times have changed (we hope) and the need is there to make fairy tales make more sense for the times we are living in. This means that female characters are not 'betting on the prince' anymore and are actually being the heroine instead of the damsel in distress. I have read a couple collections of what could be called fairy tales for the R.I.P. Challenge, and with the rewriting it is very obvious that women are coming into their own in regards to the genre. The current book I am reading is a collection of short stories by several different authors. I will write a full review of it soon, but it just has me thinking about what my favourite classic fairy tales are, whether it is a good idea to mess with them so entirely, and are we moving away from reading our children stories by the Grimms' Brothers and more towards stories of a new generation where women and girls play a stronger role? And, is this a good or a bad thing? I read the 'old' fairy tales and I still believe that girls are capable of anything, but does everyone think like that? With our need to make the children the best they can be, and the changes we have made in society as to what that means, is it limiting for children to read the old stories of people like Snow White and Cinderella?

Anyone have any thoughts on this? What are your favourite fairy tales?


  1. I like the classics, most of them anyway. I never did like Sleeping Beauty. What a useless chick. Although my girl loves the story (and movie), I usually voice my opinions on her. I think new stories should be written with strong females, like Penelope, instead of just rewriting the old. Of course, a reinterpretation never hurt anyone.

  2. I really enjoy the classics and don't mind the modern retellings as long as whatever message that is trying to be preached isn't beating me over the head. When I read the classics I don't see the women as weak characters. It is probably just a male perspective but I've always seen them as being strong in their own ways and in the restrictions that were placed upon them by society in that time period. I've certainly always considered them to be emotionally strong characters even if the story somehow involved a need to be rescued either by man or by fate or a fairy godmother. My take is that there had to be something about that person's inner and outer beauty to warrant them being saved in the first place, something that compelled men to risk life and limb for them, that compelled the gods or fortunes or fate to listen to their cries for help. If that isn't a mark of a strong character, I'm not sure what is.

    I think it is interesting that the trend seems to be completely reversed in modern television today in which the men are often shown as inept, bumbling, etc. It isn't often that you see a strong, worthwhile and cherished father role. They are usually the brunt of the jokes, etc. Times have indeed changed, but not necessarily for the better.

    Chris, Penelope is a great example, I love that movie.

  3. I think it is interesting that the trend seems to be completely reversed in modern television today in which the men are often shown as inept, bumbling, etc. It isn't often that you see a strong, worthwhile and cherished father role. They are usually the brunt of the jokes, etc. Times have indeed changed, but not necessarily for the better.

    I totally agree with you, Carl! It's weird how we have changed, or not changed, in this manner. We can't seem to find a happy medium, can we. It's crazy! It is apparent with other things as well, though.

    And, I apparently need to see Penelope. I think I have heard of it, but never watched it. I thought Shrek was a good twist on fairy tale stereotypes, as well... One of my favourite new fairy tales is Mercedes Lackey's novel. Her five hundred series makes fun of 'traditional' fairy tales and fights against them. I like it.

  4. I love all things fairy tale. THe classics and the modern re-tellings and new stories. You should look into finding a copy of Don't Bet on the Prince edited by Jack Zipes which is mostly feminist fairy tales. Oh and get hold of all of the fairy tale series that Terri Windling edited of which Briar Rose is a part of. Also the collections she did with Ellen Datlow of adult fairy tales which I have reviewed on my blog this year would definitely be something you would enjoy as many of them have feminist ideas.

  5. I am reading Jack Zipes book right now, actually, Rhinoa. :)

  6. I was going to say the same thing Rhinoa did concerning Don't Bet on the Prince! That was such a good book.

    Anyway, I don't think that reading the classic fairy tales will necessarily children the wrong idea about gender roles. Most children are able to contextualize things, and plus they also read other stories with both males and females doing all sorts of different things, being both strong and weak, scared and brave, etc.

    For a great collection of fairy tales with feminist leanings that are definitely not preachy nor overstate the point, I really recommend A.S. Byatt's The Djinn in the Nightingale's Eye.

    Thank you for posting this, I really enjoyed reading your thoughts and everyone's comments.

  7. Yeah, strange, huh, me actually updating my blog? Who would've thought. haha

    I think I bought Jack Zipes book based on a review in the blogosphere. It was done by either you, Nymeth, or Rhinoa. I can't remember now. I really should write these things down! It is going to be my fifth R.I.P. read. I should have it finished by tonight and then I think I am going to take a break from short stories for a while. I will add the book you mentioned to my wish list, though. :)

  8. I think it's important to read the classic fairy tales so you are fully familiar with them, in order to appreciate all the reworkings. That said, I do like the way Zipes approaches his retellings. Lots of fun!

  9. Musicsusi4:58 PM

    I know this seems a bit late as comments go, but I just stumbled upon this. I think the fairytales we tell our children are an excellent example of Hegemony in Western Culture. I'm not saying that they should be done away with, but balanced out. Disney is one of the biggest culprits of this. All powerful and successful figures in Disney movies are male. The women are behind the scenes. This is even true in the Lion King!! As Princesses go, most are white (with exception to Jasmine and her newest friend, Tiana), they are almost always shown as beautiful, skinny, vocal musicians who wear skirts and dream about their "other half" coming to rescue them. Even in the recent movie "Bedtime Stories", the man saves the woman.

    We clearly need more stories of women who aren't waiting around for men to come rescue us and instead, are the ones doing the rescuing! Who says a woman can't ride up on a white horse and save a man whose drowning or stuck in quicksand? And truly, I would love to see one of these feminist fairy-tales get picked up by a film company such as Dreamworks, Disney, or MGM. I will celebrate the day when a woman is not taught throughout her childhood that she has to be beautiful and sweet and timid just waiting for a man to do all the dirty work.


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