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Fairy Tales: misogynist or tales of justice?


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#1 justamouse

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Posted 23 May 2011 - 02:13 PM

Reading a lot of fairy tales lately to the hatchlings.

Today I read a Native America Cinderella Story, which was beautiful. On the front flap it talked about fairy tales being tales of justice. How there is little justice in the world, and how fairy tales fill that need to see justice done. Now, having read reframed fairy tales before this (tales rewritten by women to be more female empowering) I'd never really thought about fairy tales that way (as a story of justice), but I can see that perspective. What do you think about those two perspectives?

Granted, I get really tired of the boys saving the girls, but does the justice aspect redeem the story? Or was it just a tale of its time with the misogyny so woven into the social construct of the societies from which they came?

#2 Farrar

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Posted 23 May 2011 - 02:37 PM

I've seen that idea before. I feel like it gets at the same concept that fairy tales help give voice to the deepest fears of children in a way that allows them to deal with it (therefore the justice piece). I don't think it's some scale where fairy tales have to prove themselves (points off for misogyny, points for justice, etc.). I think they're just interesting and we can appreciate and critique and get at their hearts over and over in new ways.

I'm really not a fan of what I call neutered fairy tales (the PBS show Super Why is a prime example of that... pardon me while I wretch...).

You might like the book A Tale Dark and Grimm, which I read not that long ago. It's a middle grades novel about all the dark parts of fairy tales and one of the main themes is this question of justice and whether children specifically can ever get it and whether grown ups ever give it out. I reviewed it on my blog a little while back.

#3 justamouse

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Posted 23 May 2011 - 02:57 PM

I've seen that idea before. I feel like it gets at the same concept that fairy tales help give voice to the deepest fears of children in a way that allows them to deal with it (therefore the justice piece). I don't think it's some scale where fairy tales have to prove themselves (points off for misogyny, points for justice, etc.). I think they're just interesting and we can appreciate and critique and get at their hearts over and over in new ways.

I'm really not a fan of what I call neutered fairy tales (the PBS show Super Why is a prime example of that... pardon me while I wretch...). never seen! will watch

You might like the book A Tale Dark and Grimm, which I read not that long ago. It's a middle grades novel about all the dark parts of fairy tales and one of the main themes is this question of justice and whether children specifically can ever get it and whether grown ups ever give it out. I reviewed it on my blog a little while back.


Loved the blog post. I've never been one to think that kids should be sheltered from dark books, from gratuitous violence, yes.

I wonder if our recent years of Disnifying these stories has dulled our kid's sense of justice, then?

I'll order that one from the library, thanks!

Edited by justamouse, 23 May 2011 - 03:28 PM.


#4 Sebastian (a lady)

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Posted 23 May 2011 - 03:02 PM

Reading a lot of fairy tales lately to the hatchlings.

Today I read a Native America Cinderella Story, which was beautiful. On the front flap it talked about fairy tales being tales of justice. How there is little justice in the world, and how fairy tales fill that need to see justice done. Now, having read reframed fairy tales before this (tales rewritten by women to be more female empowering) I'd never really thought about fairy tales that way (as a story of justice), but I can see that perspective. What do you think about those two perspectives?

Granted, I get really tired of the boys saving the girls, but does the justice aspect redeem the story? Or was it just a tale of its time with the misogyny so woven into the social construct of the societies from which they came?


I think that it's easy to miss the idea that the characters rewarded in fairy tales tend to be the innocent, the good but less powerful, the lovely but less loved, the generous, etc. In other words just the sort of people who were not in positions of control when the stories were framed and recorded. So I think there is something of a justice story here, where the poor, the fatherless or the powerless are rewarded for generosity or are given their true inheritance.

I've never really understood the charge of misogyny in fairy tales either. In many, it is the strong female character who is named and the real source of conflict and resolution (Cinderella, Beauty and the Beast, Red Riding Hood, Snow White). Often the prince hardly even gets a name (The Prince, Prince Charming) and serves as the reward for the female character's unselfish actions.

#5 nmoira

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Posted 23 May 2011 - 03:05 PM

Granted, I get really tired of the boys saving the girls, but does the justice aspect redeem the story?

Not all fairytales/folktales are of the boys save the girls mentality. See especially Ethel Johnston Phelps two anthologies Tatterhood and other Tales and The Maid of the North. Their tales are not reformulations, but are rather authentic, despite the tagline "Feminist Folk Tales." Unfortunately, many of the tales that have come down to us have been neutered themselves over the years, but of powerful women. Andrew Lang's coloured Fairy Books are better than most of his era, perhaps because most of the editing was done by women; they still contain Perrault, etc., but they also have many older versions of tales.

The difference between some of the earlier versions of the Cinderella stories (Furball/Catskin, etc) are striking. See Neil Philip's The Cinderella Story or Cinderella: Three Hundred and Forty-Five Variants of Cinderella, Catskin, and Cap o'Rushes by Cox.

As to whether justice meted out redeems what may be an otherwise problematic tale, I'm not so sure... but I'm not a big ends-justifies-the-means person. Regardless, these stories are part of our cultural heritage, and I wouldn't think of leaving them out or sanitizing them (I prefer Red Riding Hood to be eaten by the wolf). We tend to older rather than modern adaptations, though I do make a conscious effort to balance the damsel in distress tales with those containing females at the very least active agents.

#6 LostSurprise

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Posted 23 May 2011 - 03:13 PM

To me fairy tales are an expression of wonder first of all. Then an example of human society and foibles. And finally a ghostly impression of what people wish their worlds were like. So there is racism and sexism and violence but there's also a wish for justice, fairness, and peace.

#7 nmoira

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Posted 23 May 2011 - 03:15 PM

've never really understood the charge of misogyny in fairy tales either. In many, it is the strong female character who is named and the real source of conflict and resolution (Cinderella, Beauty and the Beast, Red Riding Hood, Snow White). Often the prince hardly even gets a name (The Prince, Prince Charming) and serves as the reward for the female character's unselfish actions.

I find it easy to see:

Cinderella -- saved by an outside agent, held back by uppity women
Beauty and the Beast -- (I dont' recall Perrault's version offhand)
Red Riding Hood -- saved by huntsman/woodsman/woodcutter after putting herself in a compromising postion with the wolf
Snow White -- saved by the huntsman, taken to the forest by him, sheltered by the male dwarves, saved with a kiss; the only real choice she makes is to eat of the apple

In the most familiar versions of these "classic" fairy tales, women are rewarded either for being faithful and passive or rescued by a strong male figure for a lapse of judgement (the subtext is often that the lapse was moral in nature). OTOH, assertive women are almost unfailingly evil.

Edited by nmoira, 23 May 2011 - 03:33 PM.
clarity


#8 Farrar

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Posted 23 May 2011 - 03:24 PM

I agree that the misogyny is clearly present in many of the tales. Think of all the literal violence women inflict on themselves for men in fairy tales - the little mermaid chopping her tail, the stepsisters hacking off half their feet to fit into the slipper... Plus the fact that women who actually exercise their power in these tales are always the bad guys - the evil witch, the wicked stepmother... Whereas the girls who do nothing but submit to fate - Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, etc. - are the heroines.

Of course, there are other types of fairy tales too which have a lot less about gender and romance. But it feels like these are the ones our society has grabbed hold of.

#9 nmoira

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Posted 23 May 2011 - 03:27 PM

Of course, there are other types of fairy tales too which have a lot less about gender and romance. But it feels like these are the ones our society has grabbed hold of.

The Victorians had much to do with this. The majority of the tales people think of as fairytales came from adaptations published in the late 19th century, and we've only watered them down further since.

#10 justamouse

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Posted 23 May 2011 - 03:30 PM

I think that it's easy to miss the idea that the characters rewarded in fairy tales tend to be the innocent, the good but less powerful, the lovely but less loved, the generous, etc.


I have a friend that calls this the strength of the bending willow, which is an interesting argument. Even still, though, I can't let go of the misogyny.

#11 nmoira

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Posted 23 May 2011 - 03:41 PM

I have a friend that calls this the strength of the bending willow, which is an interesting argument. Even still, though, I can't let go of the misogyny.

Which implies little action on the part of the woman other than resolve. IMHO there are better tales which demonstrate faithfulness. "East of the Sun and West of the Moon" (DD the Elder just finished a delightful retelling called East by Edith Pattou) and "The Black Bull of Norroway" are two closely related tales that come to mind.

OT: I'm halfway through a book she told me I *had* to read: The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland. So far it's worth it.

#12 Garga

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Posted 23 May 2011 - 06:56 PM

Which fairy tales are you referring to? The Germanic tales (as the Grimm tales), Native American, Greek/Roman (myths), Celtic, Chinese or middle eastern (Arabian nights)?

I've been wondering recently what it would be like to compare the fairy tales of different nations to see how they are alike and different.

For instance, in Ali Babba and the 40 thieves, it's the crafty slave girl who thwarts the robber. And, of course, Scheherazade is the over-arching heroine for telling the stories in the first place. But in Aladdin, the princess is just a prize for Aladdin. So a person would have to study a lot of the stories of each nation to get a complete picture.

#13 Garga

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Posted 23 May 2011 - 06:57 PM

- the little mermaid chopping her tail,



I had to check b/c I didn't think she chopped off her tail. I just glanced thru my copy of Hans Christian Andersen stories and she doesn't chop off her tail...she chops off her tongue! (Just as bad!!!!!!) Not that it really matters....but I just had to check.

#14 3lilreds in NC

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Posted 23 May 2011 - 07:01 PM

OT: I'm halfway through a book she told me I *had* to read: The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland. So far it's worth it.


Glad to hear this! I just bought it the other night to read to the girls. It looked fabulous.

#15 Matryoshka

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Posted 23 May 2011 - 07:40 PM

Beauty and the Beast -- (I dont' recall Perrault's version offhand)


This is my favorite fairy tale.

Beauty saves the Beast, not the other way around. She also saves her father (it is her decision to go in his place, not his). It is also not a Perrault tale - the earliest print version is by Jeanne Marie Le Prince de Beaumont (a woman!)

I hate the Disney version. The Beast mistreats her and then changes his mind when he might be doomed forever (it's like a woman falling for her abuser!). This is nothing like the fairy tale, where he is always gentle with her, never forceful, and in fact they forge a friendship based on conversation and mutual respect, from day one. There is also no deadline for him to "shape up" by - he is always good and noble inside.

OTOH, I don't mind Disney changing Little Mermaid. That's not a "true" fairy tale anyway, having been written by someone (rather than passed down in folk tradition). He needed some Prozac, that man. Having the heroine commit suicide and the prince marry someone else is not my idea of a good fairy tale ending. No justice there.

Someone else mentioned East of the Sun and West of the Moon - that's a great one. I've read some Russian folk tales where the woman rescues the man as well.

#16 Matryoshka

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Posted 23 May 2011 - 07:42 PM

I had to check b/c I didn't think she chopped off her tail. I just glanced thru my copy of Hans Christian Andersen stories and she doesn't chop off her tail...she chops off her tongue! (Just as bad!!!!!!) Not that it really matters....but I just had to check.


No, the Sea Witch chops off her tongue. :glare: Then whenever she takes a step on her new legs, it's like walking on knives. Then the prince marries someone else and she commits suicide. :glare::glare::glare: We're supposed to be heartened because instead of just turning to seafoam (since mermaids don't have souls), she gets to be a "spirit of the air". :glare:

#17 Rosie_0801

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Posted 23 May 2011 - 08:03 PM

Granted, I get really tired of the boys saving the girls,


I like seeing the boys doing something useful. It's not nice to need saving and have no one do it.

Rosie- (I really hate The Little Mermaid.)

#18 justamouse

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Posted 23 May 2011 - 10:36 PM

Which implies little action on the part of the woman other than resolve. IMHO there are better tales which demonstrate faithfulness. "East of the Sun and West of the Moon" (DD the Elder just finished a delightful retelling called East by Edith Pattou) and "The Black Bull of Norroway" are two closely related tales that come to mind.

OT: I'm halfway through a book she told me I *had* to read: The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland. So far it's worth it.


Very, very true.

I must get those and the other ones you listed.

Garga, Just medieval studies and tales so far. Smatterings of each countries as we have gone though history. As far as the Arabian Nights, I have a copy, I forget which translation (I will look it up if I must) but I had to put it down because to me, I couldn't find one story where the men didn't think the women were duplicitous and want to kill them. I may have to try it again and see if I come up with the same reaction.

Edited by justamouse, 23 May 2011 - 10:42 PM.


#19 Garga

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Posted 24 May 2011 - 05:23 AM

Very, very true.

I must get those and the other ones you listed.

Garga, Just medieval studies and tales so far. Smatterings of each countries as we have gone though history. As far as the Arabian Nights, I have a copy, I forget which translation (I will look it up if I must) but I had to put it down because to me, I couldn't find one story where the men didn't think the women were duplicitous and want to kill them. I may have to try it again and see if I come up with the same reaction.


You're probably right about the Arabian Nights (if women are even mentioned at all.)

Honestly, thru much of hx and most cultures, women have always been 2nd class citizens, so it's no wonder if shows up in the fairy tales. I think we forget that. We're probably some of the only women in history who are puzzled and upset when we run into this. Haven't most women had to accept their lowered status as a fact of life? And unless they're going to chafe and be entirely miserable, many of them have probably bought into it without too much question.

I don't know, though. I'm just guessing. I'm remembering reading children's books in the 1800s where if a girl character reads too much or wants to learn too much, she knows it's a bad thing to do and quickly stops. These were books written by women and promoting that women shouldn't try to reach too far.




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