Why do we continue to read fairy tales to children?
Fairy tales play an influential role in shaping children’s perspectives about themselves and others such as how males and females are ‘supposed’ to behave.
Although fairy tales like Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast are hugely popular but they are also packed with prejudice and stereotypes and so promote outdated ideologies.
Females are portrayed as submissive and dependent on men to rescue them and males are portrayed as having power, bravery, strength and wit.
The story lines often depict two-dimensional women, misogynistic characters and racial uniformity yet they remain bedtime classics. I mean is it really appropriate that we have someone kiss someone else whilst they are asleep? There is a big issue in Sleeping Beauty about sexual behaviour and consent.
We could just refuse to read them but that would be a missed opportunity to actually teach children about the stereotypes.
One message children might pick up is that women are weak and vulnerable and only succeed when a man intervenes. They learn that they can be saved by a gallant knight in shining armour or a heroic Prince Charming. Why not read a fairy tale where the princess has to rescue the prince? Or where the prince has a disability?
Another message is the idea of getting married and living happily ever after as if marriage is somehow the ultimate reward. Marriage is not compulsory for a happy life and it isn’t the be-all and end-all. Not being married isn’t a failure. If we are depicting marriage in a fairy tale then why can’t we have a prince marrying a prince?
Children meet romanticised and perfect characters that just don’t represent the diversity of the real world. The women always seem to have porcelain skin and long blond, glossy hair. They are also super slim, beautiful, heterosexual and domesticated. Look around you folks, the world ain’t like that.
Fairy tales depict the fantastical lives of princes and princesses, witches and ogres, giants and dragons but they are reflections of our own societal prejudices.
There are of course many alternatives to choose from so why not take a look at the following:
- With financial attitudes shaped as early as five years old, a new book challenges traditional gender stereotypes in fairy tales. Published by HSBC UK, Fairer Tales: Princesses Doing it for Themselves by Emma Dodd, looks to tackle the financial gender gap by showing that women can achieve their goals independently.
- The Paperbag Princess by Robert Munsch. A princess sets off after the dragon who has carried away her prince.
- Interstellar Cinderella by Deborah Underwood. The slipper test is replaced by a test of mechanical skill in this outer space re-telling of Cinderella.
- Not all Princesses Dress in Pink by Jane Yolen. This challenges the ideas around what princesses are ‘supposed’ to wear and what they like to do.
- Prince Cinders by Babette Cole. A modern-day Cinderella tale with the gender roles reversed.
- Goldilocks on CCTV by John Agard. Contemporary revisions of well-known fairy tales told in verse.
- Jill and the Beanstalk by Richard Johnson. Features a confident young heroine who slays the giant.
- How the Library (Not the Prince) Saved Rapunzel by Wendy Meddour. In this modern version, Rapunzel takes her fate into her own hands.
- Moonbird by Joyce Dunbar and illustrated by Jane Ray. Features a young prince who cannot hear or speak but is taught how to communicate by a magical bird.
- Ella by Alex T. Smith. A re-working of the Cinderella story where a pair of glasses take the place of the slipper.
- Yeh-Shen: A Cinderella Story From Chinaby Ai-Ling Louie. In this tale the Cinderella character earns her wishes through acts of kindness.
- Pretty Salma by Niki Daly. A Red Riding Hood tale set in West Africa and featuring an inventive heroine.
- The Girl with a Brave Heart: A Tale From Tehran by Rita Jahanforuz. There’s not a handsome prince in sight in this Iranian story!
- Classic Fairy Tales by Berlie Doherty and illustrated by Jane Ray. Includes an Asian princess in The Frog Prince,and a Black prince in Cinderella.
Classic fairy tales are full of fluff but modern fairy tales are full of grit.