Little did I realize these books were sub consciously feeding me with stereotypes which would become such an integral part of my thinking and personality that shaking them off will not be easy. Have you realized that most of these fairy tales of our times are so deeply flawed, gender biased and scarily possess the ability to influence young minds in a very powerful way?
A bibliophile that I always was- my favorite activity would always be curling up in bed with a book. I grew up in a virtual world of the dark woods, enchanting castles, beautiful princesses, and handsome knights in shining armor who would come riding on a white horse and rescue the damsel in distress, the wicked ugly witch who tortured the princess but would meet a horrible end.
I was always an avid reader, thanks to my Mom who inculcated this hobby in me when I was young and this is a rare and priceless gift she gave me which has stayed for life. I can’t thank her enough for this. I was drawn into the enchanting world of books, where the characters danced before my eyes, it seemed so real.
Snow White for instance which has always enthralled us talks about a evil stepmom, a beautiful princess who is dumb for she blindly obeys her step mom. She escapes finally from the clutches of her evil step mom and ends up with the dwarfs but due to her dumb and docile nature the dwarfs are always seen ordering her around while she mutely follows their instructions. Then she dies by eating the poison laden apple, -enter the handsome prince who is spell bound by her beauty (note that he knows nothing about her as a person, her qualities etc)- her external beauty is enough to enthrall him, he kisses her, the spell is broken and they live happily ever after.
Did you just notice how deeply flawed this story is – the step mom is evil, which creates a notion that all step moms are evil (Hansel and Gretel propagated the same). The heroine’s supreme quality is her physical beauty- other qualities are not at all spoken about- even the prince is drawn to her due to her beauty. She is a dumb girl who meekly refuses to stand up for herself. The prince is again shown as someone who rescues her rather than she being the rescuer and master of her fate.
Take any other fairy tale- Red Riding Hood, Cinderella, Rapunzel- the themes are the same. When young children grow up reading these, it is but obvious of how badly skewed and stereotypical their thinking would be. It’s time to re write these tales to show our young girls and boys that hey – the heroine is someone who is bold, compassionate, and has dreams for herself and the courage to chase them. She writes her own destiny, she is not a damsel in distress who awaits the prince to rescue her and marry her. She creates her own happily ever after. The prince is not a supernatural guy but the boy next door who plays with his sister, helps his Mommy in the kitchen, is a friend and companion who dreams and hand in hand with the princess they write their happily ever after.
I was really impressed by reading an article about Scandinavian schools who have decided to completely do away with these old fairy tales because of their gender stereotypes, and skewed theories. They want the kids to be in sync with reality of our times to the extent possible. Their stories depict different types of heroes and diverse family model like adopted children, adoptive parents, single Moms and Dads, same sex parents.
We always talk about how divorce is a taboo in India and while it is difficult for the adults in question, it is always tough for the kids for they are looked upon as an outcast by others in school, people whisper about them and chances are few befriend them. This behavior comes to a great extent from the experiences our children are subject to – through books, conversations etc. Imagine if they read stories which spoke about single parents, adoptive parents etc. it would just seem a normal thing to them when they heard that someone parents’ did not live together.
Some may argue that these are just fairy tales and we will eventually grow up and move on but we often fail to recognize the damage these stories cause- gradually bit by bit by feeding such irrational and outdated ideas to young kids. They will grow up, see the world and learn the reality eventually but how many would be able to shake free of these notions and carve their own destiny, is a question.
Its time we work towards creating a gender egalitarian society by doing away with these fairy tales which propagate biases and feed us with so many wrong notions of beauty, happily ever after, prince charming. We should work towards creating innovative stories which are in sync with reality of our times and steers clear of gender stereotypes.