Fairy Tales and Gender Roles

Fairy tales have influenced people into who they are today ever since they were little kids; especially in conventional status after the separation of gender roles took place. Women are usually less powerful than men or are framed as being victimized and innocent in fairy tales. Centuries ago, women used to only stay home and do housework and men go to work and take the lead in the house. The concept of women not being in control still exists in many people’s thoughts. Andrea Dworkin claims that “We have not formed that ancient world [of fairy tales]—it has formed us. We ingested it as children whole, had its values and consciousness imprinted on our minds as cultural absolutes long before we were in fact men and women...” (Dworkin, 1974). Many people may argue that females take some dominant roles in fairy tales such as mothers, queens, or even witches. However, the main female characters in most fairytales are demonstrated to be less influential than the main male characters. Jacob Grimm and Wilhelm Grimm’s Bluebeard and Rapunzel are great examples of supporting Dworkin’s claim that fairy tales have in fact formed who we are today.

Women are portrayed as people who lack sense of self determination and only do what their husbands want. In Bluebeard, a husband kills his beloved wife simply because she has refused to be obedient to his commands. It simply implies that this aggressive nature of women was not acceptable in this society. In fact, it looks worse that one would rather kill a disobedient wife than tolerate her. It simply underscores the significance that the society has put on obedience from women. It is something unimaginable that a woman would stand so firm for what he thinks. In the same story, women do not seem to have a choice on who they get married to. It is up to the society to decide for their partners and their only role is to remain obedient. In addition, they lack equal rights to material possession like their male colleagues and all that they can pride themselves in is their husband’s. the society does not expect them to build any estates or even become rich as this is the role of the husband. Essentially, the story places women at the periphery where their contribution is merely cosmetic and their existence hardly appreciated.  

The fairy tales depict women as people who are even insufficient for marriage in their natural status. They don’t seem to marry for love like men do. For example, it is a custom that ladies going into marriage are asked by their mothers if they really love the man they intend to marry, to which the ladies are supposed to respond that they are sure they wanted to marry them. In this example, the custom is designed such that ladies evade the issue of love, but rather concentrate on the aspect of marriage. It simply implies that marriage is not necessarily triggered by love, but a social obligation that women have to comply with. This vow is, therefore, an affirmation of commitment to marriage rather than an expression of deep feelings of love for the partner. It is clear that the only reason people went into marriage was to get social satisfaction. It is why ladies would simply accept to marry any man who looked able to fend for himself and for her. Essentially, the sense of self determination as regards marriage is lost as women come of age and begin to realize that they need someone to support them in life. It is this feeling of social isolation and desperation that drives them into marriage unlike the conventional concept of love in marriage. However, towards the end it appears that women also have power and can change situations, especially at the point where the strong mother comes to the aid of the young lady. It gives a completely different picture of women from what has dominated the story. Indeed, it serves as a motivator to women to pick up arms and fight for their space in the society as they have the power to do it. It also gives the courage to resist any forms of mistreatment from men who are out to exploit them.

In Rapunzel, the idea of self determination by women comes out clearly when the woman asks her husband to give her some rampion from the garden. At the first instance, he shows great passion by going out of his way to get the best rampions in the garden. The woman develops a greater appetite after tasting them, prompting her to go back to the garden to get more. This time round she is caught up with and has to give strange promise in order to remain alive. The enchantresses demand a child from them as a fine for trespassing into their garden. According to this story, it appears that the enchantress were so desperate for a child that they would do anything to get it. This reveals the idea that the society view women as vessels of child birth and that no woman without a child would be treated with respect. In spite of their social status, the enchantresses did not feel complete without a child and the burden seems to lie squarely on the woman’s laps. She is the one who uses the slightest opportunity to rob their neighbors of their child.

Rapunzel is married to an old man that she doesn’t love and she is not expected to get out of that marriage. The society has designed its values in such a way that they serve men, but suppress women. From Rapunzel’s life, it is clear that this society doesn’t care if she is happy or not. Yet, the same society does not only ensure that the old Dame Gothel gets a beautiful woman, but also keeps the woman to him in spite of the fact that the woman doesn’t love him. It is the reason Rapunzel thinks of fleeing away from home when it becomes apparent that she is in love with the king’s son. The enchantress bitterly complained about Rapunzel’s actions terming them evil and uncalled for. In addition, the fact that the enchantress tried to destroy her clothing point to the fact that Rapunzel was no longer worth the glory that came with her beauty (Jack 2000). That is probably why she tried to tear her apart and destroy her look, ostensibly for being disobedient. Essentially, this incident paints women as subordinate to men and implies that they lose their glory when they become assertive in life.

In conclusion, fairy tales continue to influence people’s thoughts and perception of life. The idea that women are less important than their male colleagues is widely captured in most fairy tales. However, this only mirrors what used to happen centuries ago when women would be confined to the kitchen. In as much as some women take active roles in the society, they end up failing in the hands of men or due to disobedience to men. This is clear from the story of Rapunzel who was valued as the most beautiful woman in the world until she walked out on the old Dame Gothel and married the king’s son.

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