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    OK. I was discussing gender roles and gender trait assignment with a fellow student in one of my classes. We hit on the socialization process that occurs in subconscious ways. Such things as painting a nursery pink when parents know they are having a girl, buying toy trucks for a one-year-old boy, and assigning chores around the house based on sex all come to mind. But, we also looked at other ways that this occurs. One way that we talked about how this process happens is through the use of archetypal images presented to us in our fairy tales.

    Now, I was never read fairy tales growing up, but I was given books of fairy tales that I did read. I was always left feeling kind of disappointed by the stories (and even repulsed by some of the stories) due to the way that females are portrayed in the tales. I mean, there is always a princess that is locked up and guarded by a dragon, a heroic knight must come and save her… blah blah blah…..

    I even remember thinking that Rapunzel was the dumbest story ever. I mean, if a girl has that long of hair, and is locked in a tower… then why didn’t she weave her hair into a rope and climb down???  :P Stupid stories.

    Or, why does Prince Charming have to be there? Personally, I’d have preferred it if the “savior” was a rugged, sweaty warrior fresh in from the battlefields, but that’s just me, I suppose.  :D

    And yeah, I understand the other symbolism that some claim is in these tales. The Rapunzel story has been linked with the opening of the Kundalini. I get that, but I feel as if while these tales are nice and entertaining, they can also be damaging to children and later on, to adults. If a girl is raised to believe that no matter how stupid her situation is (usually due to her own faulty behavior), a Prince Charming will come in and sweep her off her feet and provide her with a life in a castle in which they will live happily ever after…. yeah, whatever….

    Or, what about the boys? They are taught through these stories that men have to be heroes, strong, handsome, warriors, and most of all….. RICH! Now, how many men out there have all of those qualities? lol.

    So, while no one really believes that they will sweep in on a white horse to save the damsel from the evil dragon and then run away to that glorious castle in Neverland… I think that we are taught to have unrealistic expectations as to what our gender roles are. (Yes, I know, they are in fact a social construct that really do not exist. :P )

    So, I’m wondering… how do you see these fairy tales? Did they ever make you angry? Did you believe in them? Did you always find them utterly ridiculous? Guys, did you always believe that you had to be the hero? Girls, did you always believe that the only options in life had to do with the rich prince saving your butt because you were too weak and ignorant to do it yourself?

    Yeah, I know. Most people won’t understand why I see it this way. Personally, though, I always identified more with the Prince than the damsel. (Always the tomboy.) If there was any part of these tales that you identified with, which stories did they come from, and why did you like them and identify with them?


    Beral Khan

    so this guy gets a message that he has to save the beautiful princess from the evil overlord… oh wait, that’s star wars.  :trooper


    so, anyway…

    The stories of “Fairy Tales” came from a time when men were dominant in the world and women were not.  It’s merely a matter of when most of them were written.  But yes, just like books of the bible and other religious tomes (which by some would be considered myths or “fairy tales”) the point of the stories are to teach lessons.  And not in the watered down, silly versions that we have today.  Yes, the versions we have today have merely been broken down in to Archetypes in an effort to entertain children and not teach a lesson. 
    Good people sometimes die,  Bad people sometimes win, and sometimes, you should be afraid of the dark. :)

    Here’s a version I recommend http://www.editoreric.com/greatlit/books/Grimms.html



    Yes, you are correct. I have given my kids both (many) versions of each of these stories so that they can formulate their own ideas… However, once upon a time, something kind of sad happened. One day, my oldest son came home and asked me who Little Red Riding Hood was. I felt horrible because he knew the story of the Raven (from Poe), he knew the Scarlett Letter… he even knew stories from Lovecraft… and he can recite mythology like all get out, but he didn’t know who Riding Hood was. Hmmm…. yeah, most of the parents think I’m weird, and I did feel a bit bad about him not knowing that, so I gave him a version from today, and a version from when I was kid… complete with a hatchet-murdering woodcutter.  :maul

    But the point is how the stories that we have today are affecting the psychological construct of our people.

    Kol Drake

    Something to remember too…

    These stories have been ‘changed’ over the years.

    Today, the princess kisses the frog… in the original story.. she picks him up and throws him against a wall in hopes of bashing his brains out!


    Some are ‘grain of truth’ stories.

    … don’t accept candy (or poison apples) from a a stranger…

    … something about watching blind mice…

    … beware walking in dark woods with a pic-e-nik basket full of goodies…  (random Yogi’s may be stalking you!!!!)

    While some are cautionary tales; others are ‘simplistic’ life lessons… geared for kids.
    It’s only been in the last handful of decades when everyone has gotten all Freudian about it and assign overt sexual overtones to Red’s wearing a Hood or why the wolf is caught in bed wearing Grandmaw’s nightgown!

    I have never understood the near paranoia surrounding some of these ‘tales’ — with people practically foaming at the mouth over the ‘sex’ involved — which, is totally not an issue to the little kids — who are NOT listening with a set of mental filters all set to “sex”… they just like hearing/reading the stories.

    Have to admit — I never read the stories and my kids both got the ‘Disney-fied’ versions.
    A piece of ‘ancient culture’ which I really need to fix by going through Grimm’s fairy tales and Aesop’s Fables a time or two.
    Same for ‘wise old sayings’ — a stitch in time;  a watched pot, etc.    ((  I watched a quiz show, Jeopardy, the other day — all college kids who had no clue as to how any of those ‘old sayings’ started or ended. ))

    Times change.  Where once we passed on wisdom by reading to one another;  40 years ago, we started sticking a kid in front of a TV and said, “sit, be quiet — I’ll get back to you when you are old enough to understand better.”;    now, we do it with TV and computers/computer games.    Imagine how much is ‘lost’ from what was considered knowledge worth handing down…. and what sorts of values they are picking up from South Park, Grand Theft Auto, Survivor, Teletubbies, etc.

    (( not that I am saying they are ALL bad… just that most kids being exposed to such stuff do not have the emotional and judgmental ‘filters’ in place to be able to understand what they are seeing/reacting to. ))


    It’s not just fairy tales.  Look at movies marketed towards kids.  Disney is horrible about it.  While there is a loosening of gender roles, it’s still the most grievous rule break in many areas of society.  I’m fairly confident I have not been offered jobs due to my gender expression.  I have been harassed for it.  A trip to a public bathroom is always complicated as I try to time it so that no one actually sees me enter or exit.  I’ve actually had security called on me because they thought a man was in the bathroom.  As if I was unable to read the signs when I entered.  Which is why I overemphasize looking at the signs before I enter.  It tends to cut down on the people who tell me I’m in the wrong bathroom.  

    That having been said, this is something I live every day.  Growing up I was pushing gender roles and rebelled at anything meant to feminize me.  I still do, at least when it comes to outward feminization.  It’s certainly hindered my path towards balance and unification of all sides of my gender.  

    I plan to be quite careful about what my kids watch and read, especially if we have any girls.  I think it’s far more harmful what is done to girls, trying to make them submissive than what is done to boys which gives them power.  However, in that same vein I will work to raise boys who are in touch with their feelings while still being strong which is beaten out of most boys in our society.  For some reason we have a hard time understanding that people can be feminine and strong, masculine and emotional, all at the same time.  I hope to begin to undo this with my children, and in myself as I grow.  I don’t care if I have kids that like to wear pink so long as they are also empowered individuals, with strength, compassion, and love.  

    It’s not just fairy tales.  Look at movies marketed towards kids.  Disney is horrible about it.  

    That’s because the majority of their work is fairy tale stuff. :P

    You know which one I hate? No, I won’t say it yet, but which Disney flick would you say is the worst about sending the wrong “Submit now!” messages to girls?

    Kol Drake

    Disney and messages…

    wow… not sure I meant to intentionally open up *that* particular can of worms.   😮

    On a ‘gender role’ note–

    My son was always slight (downright skinny) and in high school sprang up over six feet quickly (tops out at close to 6 foot six now).    He tried out for basketball but, soon injured an ankle.  Wanted to go out for football but his mom (and I) were certain he would snap like a twig at the first ‘pile on’.  (He really is tall and thin.. and weighed about 160 pounds at the time.)   HE finally did something ‘out of the box’.  He tried out for and became the first male cheerleader the school had ever had.   Nothing odder than going to watch a kid pick up some little five foot nothing girl and toss her seven feet (or more) into the air.

    At first, the footballers and ‘jocks’ razzed him… but then came to realize.. hey, this guy is surrounded by some of the best looking girls in the school…. every day!    :P    And my son found out he got to be sort of a semi ‘hero’ to the smaller kids (it’s a elementary  thru high school arrangement) — who came to the games and saw this Ichabod Crane looking character.. who was having a good time; chatting with the little ones; and being a ‘nice guy’ without having to elbow, block or otherwise ‘macho’ his way around school.

    Now, his sister… she isn’t tall and skinny… and, the first time some kids tried to take a ball away from her on the playground — she promptly told them to give it back.. and when they ran…. she chased them down and kicked their butts… all three of them.   :P     She then asked her mom to change from jazz/dance to Tai Kwon Do training.    Only took a school year before all the guys politely gave back the balls that went astray.

    And…. thinking back, I know neither I or their mom tried to ‘brand them’ to any particular gender role….. other than educating them on how each had some specific plumbing to attend to.   For the most part, we tried to do the “…you can be anything you want to be — as long as you work for it…” mentality.    Daughter HATES anything pink.  Son is decent in sports and has a ‘thing’ for certain female anime characters but… they seem well adjusted enough.

    (( Guess I’ll find out when they both publish their “…. this is why I’m so screwed up…” life stories ! ))     ::)

    Beral Khan

    yes, I think they promote bad gender roles.  Which is why my children grew up on Rocky Horror…. err…. well now, that explains a lot. ;)

    Kol Drake


    Beral… I think that may explain alot about my kids too.

    Star Trek, Star Wars (( no no no… you HAVE to see that first spaceship come on the BIG SCREEN to get the real impact!!!), japanese anime, old B&W monster movies… ya, I totally warped my kids minds.

    But, I hope I did some good there too… letting them ‘see’ more than the narrow ‘american way’ flavor of the day.
    And reading… I go through a lot of books.  My daughter has gotten to be the same way.  My son… has his moments when he reads.. and then not for long long stretches… so….

    Sometimes the ‘nuts’ do not fall far from the tree after all…

    Kol Drake

    Now, on to Disney…

    Sleeping Beauty for example.
    Released around 1959.   Disney at it’s crest of ‘animation as main stream entertainment’ at the cinema.   Evil queen/witch decides to have SB killed so she can be the ‘fairest in the land’.  Instead, SB is allowed to live and hides in the woods with seven dwarves.  Witch Queen finds out and slips SB the poison apple.  Prince Charming comes along and kisses her and … happily ever after.  (Witch is done with somewhere in there too…)

    Now, that is the Disney “lets make it okay for kids and modernize it a bit” version.  (( not unlike what the Politically Correct ‘police’ are doing to the fairy tales these days. ))

    Brothers Grimm version…
    Oh, who would kill for beauty!  This is almost their version of “The Silence of the Lambs” and Hannibal Lecter — telling a horrific tale of bloodthirsty envy.   The real thing would never have made it to the publishers anyway.   In it was a deranged mother — NOT a stepmother like we were made to believe, but a biological mother — so envious that she ordered her own daughter’s lungs and liver on her dinner plate to settle the score once and for all.    This narcissistic woman knew that if she was going to be the most beautiful woman in the world, any threat to that prized title would have to be eliminated — even if it were her of her own flesh and blood.

    If you’ll notice, evil stepmothers only made it to the villains’ hitlist in the last century. Children’s books publishers decided that biological mothers and fathers killing and consuming their own offspring has become too disturbing a notion for the modern person, hence the modification.    Not only giving kids the heebeegeebees at bedtime ((wondering when mom or dad was gonna sneak in and whack them… or growing up and thinking ‘now is a good night to curl up next to the fire with a tasty snack of kid’s parts.)) 

    That aside, Prince Charming never kisses Snow White either.   Instead, our necrophiliac prince falls in love with our “dead” princess and finding himself unable to part from her sight, carts her away in her glass coffin for his own viewing pleasure.      With luck, he stumbles upon a pothole that dislodges the poisonous apple from her throat.   This is where they kiss, defeat the wicked queen and live happily ever after.

    A whole different story than what Disney told.. or what is published these days.


                Early oral folk tales were just that: stories told by a storyteller or community member.  These tales created a sense of community and explained forces in nature.  The stories were passed generation to generation and carried the wisdom of the culture and the lessons necessary to become a member of the society.  They served the dual purpose of education and entertainment.   All elements of a society were reflected in the folk tales, such as a people’s beliefs, language, philosophies, dance, art, music, traditions and customs.  These stories passed from village to village through word of mouth, bringing news from other villages, and instructing and preparing children for life’s realities without being specifically meant for children.

                In the 16th century, life was hard for peasants.  Repeated famines exacerbated the poor living conditions of the peasants, often forcing them to sell any meager possessions for food.  Sometimes they would eat grass and bark and be forced into cannibalism.  During this time period, both boys and girls needed to be instructed in survival skills.  The way to survival was to become self-reliant and to live by one’s wits.  Every member of the family had to be responsible and work hard in order for the family unit to survive.   The earliest versions of many fairy tales reflect these qualities, showing the protagonist as surviving by the use of his/her wits.

                As the European feudal system and the unity of the Catholic Church began to break down at the end of the 17th century, there were considerable changes in the configuration of the upper classes.  There emerged the idea of civilite, a code of social manners that reflected social standings and privilege.  This concept of social manners gained a strong foothold in France in the 17th century, with the new aristocracy increasingly reliant upon manners and behavior to differentiate itself from other social classes.

                The irony is that the aristocracy took their stories about behavior from the peasants’ traditional folk tales.  By the time of Louis XIV in the 17th century, the traditional oral tales had been adopted to entertain and instruct the aristocracy.  French aristocratic women contributed heavily to the institutionalization of the fairy tale by discussing these tales in their literary salons.   They developed narratives expressing sentiments about issues such as morality, education and society.

                By the 1690s, the authors of these salon fairy tales were writing them down in order to publish them.  The most notable writer from this time is Charles Perrault.  As a member of the court of Louis XIV, he introduced these tales to the court for the purpose of amusement and entertainment.  His works laid a major foundation for the literary fairy tale.     

                 These new fairy tales were not written exclusively or predominantly for children since children were not regarded as different from adults.  They were seen as small adults without special needs or desires. Children’s literature is a recent development and unknown until the 18th century when children became objects of entertainment and diversion within the family.   The Industrial Revolution, the increase in life expectancy and the Enlightenment period all contributed to developing a notion of children as different from adults. They were regarded as creatures that must be protected and instructed in particular  ways to conform to society.

                Perrault modified the folk tales, editing out much of their cruelty and crassness since this would have been too shocking for his aristocratic audience.   He also modified the tone of the folk tales:   gender distinctions were more finely honed and strictly enforced, reflecting a  social opinion previously unknown.  Perrault’s heroines are all helpless and have no control over their own fate.  This represents a major difference to heroines from the folk tale.  For the bourgeois and upper class audience, the complete dependence of the female on the male was desirable.  Perrault placed great value on the beauty and submissiveness of the female.  The goal of the female, and her greatest reward, is marriage to a wealthy and handsome prince.

               The Grimm Brothers intended their first collection of fairy tales for adults but their second edition was revised to instruct and amuse children as well.    While Perrault used satire and irony and tragic endings, the Grimm Brothers have a naïve tone and happy endings, supposedly more in keeping with the “original” folk tales.  These changes were made to appeal to the growing middle class; sexual references that might be offensive were eliminated and Christian references were added.  Specific role models for males and females were emphasized illustrating Christian morality and the Protestant work ethic as well as social injustices and the possibility for self-determination.

                Vladimir Propps’ study of the fairy tales, The Morphology of the Folktale,  identifies 37 functions of the stories given to the various characters and creatures.   A function is a basic and constant element of the plot that enables the story to proceed to its conclusion.  The conclusion is generally resolved happily for the protagonist.  A summary of these functions goes like this:  The protagonist has a prohibition that he or she violates.  Because of this violation, the protagonist is banished or leaves the family.  He or she is then given or assumes a task.  There is an encounter with both a villain and someone who gives the protagonist a magical gift or gifts.  Then comes the test of the protagonist where he battles and conquers the villain.   There may be a setback that is only temporary.  Armed with the magical gifts the protagonist achieves his goal either through battles, performing impossible tasks or breaking a magical spell.  The villain is punished and the protagonist survives which usually leads to marriage, money, wisdom, or any combination of the three. 

                The best known characters in fairy tales are overwhelmingly female, yet there are just as many male protagonists.  In European fairy tales, the hero is a man and he is shown in his confrontation with the world.  The feminine component is that part of a man closer to nature.  In a fairy tale all things are possible.  One can rise above oneself and attain the highest things.  The fairy tale hero is essentially a wanderer, someone who sets off from home out into the world.  This conveys a sense of freedom.  The men represent the movers of the plot who arrive at the end to make everything right.  For females the goal is marriage, for males it is to become the all-powerful king. 

                The fairy tales that we in Western society are familiar with have basically been frozen in time.  In writing down the oral tales, writers such as Perrault and the Grimm Brothers reinforced the hierarchy of class and race.  In the original oral tales, there were actual possibilities for boys and girls to reach their potential.   The written tales are specific to a male, middle class ideology, oftentimes reinforcing negative gender roles.

    Now, today.. we ‘rewrite’ them again to fit to our ‘more refined’ views of how females and males ‘should’ act.

    Go figure.

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