Friday, April 29, 2005

more on fairy tales

Read this one first.

OK, now. I'm a little amused by my defensive response to the fairy tales and domestic violence study, because in fact when I teach fairy tales I often try to convince my (mostly female) students that in fact fairy tales might teach some, shall we say, submissive and/or unfeminist behavior, or (to be more subtle) might suggest that such behavior is rewarded in the world, and my students invariably say, "yes, but..."

Yes, but we still love fairy tales and won't stop reading them.

Yes, but there are other good things going on in fairy tales.

Yes, but kids don't know what the fairy tales imply so it's ok. (This is my favorite, actually, My current response to this is that kids don't know what's in their breakfast cereal, either, but that doesn't keep it from affecting them.)

Or, some even say, no. No, fairy tales aren't anti-feminist. No, fairy tales don't suggest that beauty and passivity are rewarded over brains and talent. When I point out that Snow White, for example, is really really stupid (I mean, come on, she keeps letting the evil stepmother give her stuff, even after the dwarves warn her over and over again!) they laugh, but still refuse to believe that fairy tales have any real ideological impact.

So, I think they do. I think fairy tales may indeed teach (or at least subliminally suggest) that, in women, passivity and beauty are to be valued over brains and talent. But I think it's a huge leap from that to being prone to domestic violence. I guess I can't really imagine that fairy tales alone could have that big an impact. Do I contradict myself? Very well then...

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

One of my favorite fairy tales as a little girl was "the princess on the glass hill," which was basically about a princess who sat on a glass hill and kicked down any man she didn't like who tried to climb up. I definitely think this has influenced my behavior towards men, but in an oppposite way from passive and submissive. Perhaps it is the specific stories we tell, and more so, in America, the way we water down and "beautify" our fairy tales so that suddenly they seem appealing instead of grim and terrifying, as most of them actually are.

Libby said...

Ha! This was a tale my father used to tell me frequently, or so I remember. Which says something about his goals for his daughter, no doubt.

Sass said...

In any women's studies classes I've taken, there's always a majority of students who argue that fairy tales don't suggest passivity (usually the same ones that argue Pretty Woman is a feminist text). I usually pipe in with my story about playing fairy tales with two of my best girl friends when I was about 6. We all fought and fought over who was going to be Sleeping Beauty. I finally won, and then had to lay still as the Prince and the Witch hovered over me, doing things I couldn't watch (they kept yelling at me to stay asleep!), and having the sudden sense of dread that I was going to be stepped on. So I popped up and announced that I wasn't sleeping beauty at all, but a witch named "awake ugly"--her opposite. I still think its better to be "awake ugly" than a hopelessly passive 'n' pretty wax work, but then again, I'd like to think we have more choices than that.

Libby said...

I love the idea of "awake ugly"!

Mamacita said...

My daughter and I recently fell in love with Ella Enchanted, one of the few modern fairy tales she's liked where the heroine is, well, heroic. But in the movie version of the book, they really dumb her down -- very disappointing.

Libby said...

I was afraid to see the movie for that reason. I've always enjoyed the book.