We all have fairytales that we were so fond of when we were young. Be it Cinderella, Snow White, or even Sleeping Beauty, many girls dreamt of having the same life those characters ended up with. What we were not aware of at the time was how each of those marvelous fairy tales depicted gender roles and norms. Little did we know that those magical and inspiring stories do not provide the kind of morals and values that we should uphold and aspire to attain. Personally, it was only until I have come to understand the concept of feminism that I have managed to perceive those stories in a very new perspective. The implications behind those fairy tales didn’t make me happy, but rather concerned and disturbed.
The first thing I have noticed is how Disney princesses have set the standards of what beauty is. Long flowing hair, porcelain white skin and a slim figure are common physical features amongst them. Princess Jasmine (from Aladdin) was the only female character with a darker skin color. However, what the latter made up for in terms of skin tone is almost dismissed with how it represented Arab women’s physical features, dress, and demeanor. It is only recently, and thanks to feminists’ uproar on the need of inclusion and diversity in representation, that Disney movies added the African American Princess Tiana (from Princess and the Frog) and the slightly plump Princess Merida (from Brave). Women come in all shapes and sizes, and young girls should see that beauty is not limited to a specific skin color or body type if we are to nourish a positive body image among the youth.
Another thing I have noticed is that the female characters in those fairy tales need men’s help in order to be saved from whatever trouble they have gotten themselves into. They wait idly and helplessly for their prince charming, their ‘one true love’, to save them and to grant them a ‘happily ever after’ – through marriage, of course. Young girls should be taught and encouraged to solve their own problems and to think for themselves. They should aspire to achieve goals and seek fulfillment in all aspects of life, not just strictly in that of their personal and love lives. Women are no “damsels in distress”. They can be their own heroes.
Last but not least, the only work that most of those Disney princesses’ are in charge of is domestic work and household chores. Cinderella is a maid in her own home, Snow White tended to an empty house in the middle of the woods, and Belle (from Beauty and the Beast) is an outcast and is deemed “crazy” because she prefers reading books to cleaning and doing laundry. As important as hygiene and cleanliness are, such chores should not be associated with one’s gender or even just limited to women. Such representation only emphasizes the notion that domestic work is a woman’s job only and that it should be on top of her “to do” list.
All in all, fairytales might be all nice and cute until you start to notice that they are shaping how girls should look and behave, thereby reinforcing gender norms and stereotypes. Representation is important, and girls deserve to have a diversity of characters that they can identify with or aspire to become. It’s time to reevaluate the messages embedded in children’s stories and fairytales if we are to encourage young girls to reach their full potentials.
- Reem Makki
Communication and Social Media Student