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amazingme's avatar

Anyone know of any gender stereotypes in fairy tales?

Asked by amazingme (1825 points ) October 26th, 2010

I am doing a gender roles comparison essay for English class. I have decided to write mine on gender stereotypes in fairy tales. I already have a few which include:
Powerful female character is always the villain and is ultimately defeated.
The main female’s main dream is for her prince to come.
The main female is usually a homemaker.

Wish to share anymore? I know there are a lot out there.

PS- I am mainly focusing on Disney because that is what I have readily available.

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19 Answers

Blackberry's avatar

The hero is an alpha male that is extremely masculine.

MissPoovey's avatar

If you move in with 6 men you have to clean house too

MyNewtBoobs's avatar

1. A woman always needs a man. Even when there’s a female kicking ass, she’ll be defeated right before the climax and need a man to swoop in and save her.
2. Women are passive, men are aggressive.
3. Every woman wants a “happily ever after” – never a “good for right now” or a “real life” or what have you.
4. Any man who isn’t killing and swinging a sword (or other weapon) isn’t a man, he’s a boy or a portrayal of a nancyboy (I know it’s not PC, but neither is the portrayal…). Exception: Old men who once killed things with weapons – they will be men, but weak and probably die early on.
5. Once a woman is past her nubile, long flowing hair period she’s just an annoying but kind-hearted plump woman who gossips and does housework.
6. Women are stupid and gullible and naive and sweet, who will believe that the wolf wearing her grandmother’s clothes is her grandmother. Men are smart and discerning and wise.
7. In order to be pretty, you must have white skin, red lips, and long hair.
8. In order to be handsome, you must have muscles all over.

Jeruba's avatar

Are you asking about authentic traditional fairy tales in books such as Grimm or Andrew Lang, or Disney-type animated and filmed adaptations of them? They’re not the same thing. What you’re describing sounds like the movies to me.

DominicX's avatar

I remember seeing something advertising a seminar on this and the flyer showed an image of a cartoon boy character in a castle crying “save me!” and a cartoon girl character clad in armor with a sword outside the castle and it was like a mindfuck…lol

I guess that’s part of the whole “damsel in distress” image; the woman is the delicate flower who needs to be protected and the man is the robust hero who does the protecting/saving. Chivalry, anyone?

Interesting about the powerful female character being evil; it’s kind of true. Powerful male characters can be evil as well, but they can also be good wise wizards, whereas the female ones are often evil jealous witches (Sleeping Beauty, Snow White, Cinderella, etc.).

Joybird's avatar

There are only stereotypes if you fail to look no further than the superficiality of the story. Fairy tales and other similar tales are based on archetypes. Archetypes might be construed as having no gender preference although the story might be of a magician, a king, a warrior, or a god. There is no exlusion for a female to be any of the above…ruler, warrior, magician, sorceress or higher power.
Archetypes are universal stories that seem to be told by all cultures. They appear to be inate in many of their forms.
Three books that may be of interest to you are “Women who run with the wolves: Myths and stories of the Wild Woman Archetype” by Clarissa Pinkola Estes PhD, “Awakening the Heros Within: Twelve Archetypes to help us find ourselves and transform our world” by Carol S. Pearson and “The Four-fold way: walking the paths of the warrior, teacher, healer, and visionary” by Angeles Arrien, PhD.
Many presumed “stereotypes” within fairy tales are more about us traveling a journey and finding our authentic way of moving in the world. They are about elements of the process of doing this.

amazingme's avatar

@Jeruba Sorry, Disney ones.

Jeruba's avatar

Thanks for the clarification, @amazingme. I’m not sure you’re looking at gender stereotypes there so much as a Disney formula rooted in conventional pre-feminist U.S. culture of the 1930s-1960s. Notice that the Witch-Queen of Snow White, the stepmother in Cinderella, and Maleficent in Sleeping Beauty are practically clones, This is pure Disney. There’s no “Maleficent” in the traditional tale of the Sleeping Beauty in the Wood, for example, just a spiteful fairy who utters her curse and then leaves.

I agree with @Joybird that the traditional characters are archetypes. Sexism hadn’t been invented when these stories came about. Arguing that these stories exhibit gender stereotypes actually sounds like a difficult proposition to me.

P.S. I second Bettelheim (mentioned by @JilltheTooth, below). There are actually many excellent scholarly works of analysis of folk tales and fairy tales, including Erich Fromm’s The Forgotten Language; but I do not recommend Marie-Louise von Franz’s work, despite the Jungian connection. However, I don’t think these will get you what you’re looking for because they are not about gender roles so much as about life tasks.

JilltheTooth's avatar

The list that @Joybird mentioned is a good one, as well, if I recall, Bruno Bettelheim addresses some of these issues in The Uses of Enchantment. I personally feel that Disney is a very poor source as the tales have been drastically altered to fit the “animation for children” formula. These tales have been written and rewritten so many times, and Disney is a gross bastardisation of the originals. Fairy Tales and After by Roger Sale addresses this somewhat. It’s been awhile since I’ve read these, I hope I remember correctly.

AZByzantium's avatar

girls are always in need of their father’s approval, and if they are different they will not get it without proving themselves worthy.

MyNewtBoobs's avatar

@Jeruba Sexism hadn’t been invented? Sexism has been institutionalized since prehistory. The notion that there’s something wrong with it is new, but gender roles go way back.

Jeruba's avatar

What I mean by that, @papayalily, is that it didn’t have currency as a concept. People didn’t think about it and talk about it as an issue. Gender roles were seen as having their roots in nature or maybe as being ordained by God. Societal attitudes weren’t separated out and examined in such a way as to suggest that there were alternative ways of viewing those roles.

MyNewtBoobs's avatar

@Jeruba Ah. Now I’m with you.

Aesthetic_Mess's avatar

The prince is always the good guy. Women always need help or saving of some sort

spittingblaze's avatar

Strong or ‘weak’ types of women apparently always have to be tamed by the macho man
Men cannot be girly
Men often don’t have much depth in very tales because the focus is on saving the female
In the old days it was expected for women to depend on men and independence or a female depending on themselves was horrid when we look back at that today we cannot really understand
Male and female, if you were born into a gender you were expected to act the sterotype in that day and age and it holds true today
Men today are often scorned for being ‘like a woman’ and if they are they must want to have sex with men even if maybe they don’t want to but I guess that’s not really a fairy tale sterotype
Women had to cover up their legs and be floaty
Women we the baby makers
The ideal back in the day seems to stress that one must feel happy all the time and never have a bad hence ‘happily ever after’
You’re just supposed to take queer acting men
Sexual attraction in fairy tales is often quick and ‘love at first sight’
love at first sight seems to be a stereotype

Jeruba's avatar

@spittingblaze, are you describing stories you’ve read, or are you too (like the OP) relying on the Disney version of things? or are you basing your comments on a movie version of medieval society? They do not sound much like supportable generalities about the hundreds of folktales and fairy tales that I have read over the years.

For one example, there are countless fairy tales that begin with some version of “A man had three sons” (a king, a merchant, a poor farmer, etc.). The youngest of the three becomes our hero, sometimes in competition with his older brothers and sometimes simply to fend for himself. In may of these stories there is no important female character, and in others she is just the object of a quest or a prize to be awarded. So this is not true at all:

Men often don’t have much depth in very tales because the focus is on saving the female

Rather, the story is about a young man’s grappling with foes and overcoming challenges to become master of his own fate; in other words, a coming-of-age story. Most such stories do feature a male character.

Magic5678's avatar

The first thing that the prince says when he wakes the princess up is “were getting married, no questions”

lifeflame's avatar

By the way, Shrek makes fun of a lot of those fairytale conventions.

non_omnis_moriar's avatar

Old women never have a husband and are usually witches.

Young girls are sweet and nubile and yearn to be won by a handsome hero.

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