Sexism in Fantasyland | TeenInk

Sexism in Fantasyland MAG

February 22, 2010
By MissMaegan SILVER, Port St. Lucie, Florida
MissMaegan SILVER, Port St. Lucie, Florida
6 articles 0 photos 6 comments

Favorite Quote:
"I have too many fantasies to be a housewife. I guess I am a fantasy."

--Marilyn Monroe

And so the story ends. The dashing prince in his tasseled, shoulder-padded suit bends down to kiss her lips. He swoops her up in his arms and gingerly places her on the white stallion. Then the perfect couple gallops toward the prince's lavish castle, its two towers silhouetted against the orange sunset with its turrets poking holes in the fluffy clouds. Oh, and of course, she lives happily ever after. Bleh.

These sappy, wistful endings seem to be the uniform finish of fairy tales. Back in the days of Grimm and Hans Christian Andersen, fairy tales were the wish fulfillment of medieval-day peasant girls.

Think of the fairy tales you know – the popular gooey ones with princes and kisses. Now think of the boring, vapid girls who star in them. Their grand role is to sit pretty and mope around until a handsome hero comes to their salvation. It's a popular case of the classic someday-my-prince-will-come syndrome.

In Hans Christian Andersen's famous “Cinderella,” Cindy's simple jobs consist of cooking, cleaning, crying until a fairy godmother shows up, wearing a pretty dress, being home on time, and ultimately being rescued from slavery to her step-family by none other than … Prince Charming.

Now ponder Ariel in “The Little Mermaid” who lives “under the sea, under the sea.” Clad in just a skimpy seashell bra that would shame a Victoria's Secret model, Ariel starts out as a spunky, happy-go-lucky redhead who rebels against her stern father's rules. But as soon as her sky blue eyes glimpse her prince, she becomes meek and shy. And since trading her beautiful voice for a pair of nice legs was her pact with the sea witch, Ariel must capture his heart with just her looks and bashful smiles. Not exactly a good message to send to children, Hans. The story ends just as the star-struck mermaid wants. The evil sea witch is defeated, Ariel's voice is restored, and the prince is hers. Of course, in the process she gives up her family, underwater friends, her home, her royal title, and everything she knows and loves – all for a man. But hey, whatever makes you happy, Princess.

Think of the Grimm Brothers' “Snow White.” Snow White herself is described as a translucent beauty with raven hair and blood-red lips. She also happens to be meek, sweet, and a great cook and housewife. The fairy tale depicts women as beauty-crazed fanatics in desperate need of male protection. When Snowy's evil queen stepmother declares that she wants her stepdaughter's heart cut out of her chest so she can eat it, Snow White runs away to the forest. At first, it seems this darling femme might actually have an adventure for herself, but alas, no. As soon as she enters the forest, the silly nit joins up with seven dwarves and washes, cooks and cleans for them in return for protection. Apparently, male protection is what Snowy needs, even if they are only two-and-a-half feet tall.

And you can add “vulnerable” and “idiotic” to the list of negative traits fairy tales attribute to women. After all, only an idiot would open the door to a gnarly, creepy old woman in a black cape and actually buy apples from her. Especially if she gives you a hint they're enchanted. And when she falls into a death-like coma, who wakes Snowy up? You got it … another predictable, face-sucking prince.

And now a different fairy-tale star: Rapunzel. Trapped in a tower by an evil witch who kidnapped her at birth, Rapunzel somehow manages to keep her 100-foot-long tresses shiny and clean with no running water or Herbal Essence shampoo. Her fabulous escapade is to “let down her hair” out of a window. It's the prince's job to climb up the side of the tower using her locks. Anyone who's ever tried to climb a rope, even with knots in it, knows how hard that must have been. Vain 'Punzel refuses to chop off her lid to get herself out of the tower, so instead she slowly knits a ladder, which adds weeks to her escape date. Then she's stupid enough to tip off her witchy captor. Even after thorns blind her darling hero, he still commandeers the final escape and provides transportation to his castle.

Think of Mulan. This Chinese girl probably is the best fairy-tale subject out there. She fights, saves the man she loves, kills the Huns, and gets to shoot cannons. Of course, her story is set back in sexist Imperial China, where, as a woman, she is expected to serve her husband. The only way Mulan gets ahead in life and makes friends is by disguising herself as a man. When the truth finally comes out, Mulan's friends shun her. This fairy tale clearly supports the idea that being born female is a bad thing.

Who remembers the story of Rumpelstiltskin? Oddly enough, the girl we must call our heroine doesn't even get a name. The creepy, baby-stealing stalker is the villain who snags the title. The lovely miller's daughter responds to the news that she must spin straw into gold or die, by crying and sniveling. Then when she realizes she must give up her baby, she cries and snivels some more. Throughout the tale, she does almost nothing for herself besides producing enough tears to water a cotton field. The only reason Mr. Rumpelstiltskin doesn't triumph in the end is dumb luck, happenstance, and a faithful male messenger who informs his queen what he heard the little man sing at the campfire.

All of the classic fairy-tale females end up being saved by masculine heroes. The only women in the tales with any cunning, wit, cleverness, boldness, or strength are hideous hags, murderous witches, and beauty-obsessed stepmothers. The young, lovely heroines are meek, good, obedient, submissive, and naturally weaker and inferior to their heroes. We need more heroines with independent traits.

We need a Rapunzel with the brains to have cut off her hair and climbed down it years ago. We need a Gretel who saves her beloved brother. We need a Beauty to rescue her Beast. We need a Bella to fight alongside her Edward, and a Maid Marian to spring her beloved Robin Hood out of prison. We need a Cinderella who stands up to her stepmother. At least can we have a Snow White who won't open the door to strange, wizened women?

We need a gal with guts, derring-do, moxie, gumption, and agency. We need female characters who can fight for themselves, and maybe pick up true love along the way. We, along with the rest of America, need a good dose of fresh, unadulterated girl-power.

The author's comments:
I wrote this because after a bit telling the truth. Of course, I'd like to add that this may be considered a bit extreme, and that fairytales can be just as sexist to men. After all, in Fantasyland, a man isn't worth his salt unless he can kill a dragon.

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This article has 85 comments.

on Apr. 13 2011 at 7:24 pm
Tbug1997 PLATINUM, Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania
29 articles 1 photo 39 comments

Favorite Quote:
When in doubt... Blame it on your siblings
when life gives you skittles throw them at random people and yell FEEL THE RAINBOW

If you want a kick butt girl go for The Hunger Games or Graceling both of these books have really tough kick butt girls as the heros insead of the boy being there helping the girl somehow the girls help the boys

on Apr. 8 2011 at 4:56 pm
RedheadAtHeart ELITE, Mountain Home, Idaho
109 articles 0 photos 165 comments

Favorite Quote:
Love with open hands. - Madeleine L'Engle

If you're looking for tough female heroines, allow me to point you in the direction of most crime dramas on TV. The female detectives are always stalwart, tough, "don't start with me 'cuz you won't win"-type ladies.


Personally, I think we need a happy medium. Heroines who are smart enough not to open the door to enchantresses, as you said, but who are not superwomen whom everyone else bows down to. We need reality, and that's what we've missed.

Lilliterra said...
on Mar. 18 2011 at 12:19 am

I can hardly begin to say how much you got wrong about this article.

I beleive in respect towards women. This is a weird thing for me, as a girl, to say, but I think men should still do stuff like open doors for ladies, and let girls go first. It doesn't devalue us, rather it esteems us. Too few men do it these days. If men desire the privelege of serving women, let them.

Cinderella: what's wrong with wearing a pretty dress and being home on time?

Ariel: "As soon as her sky-blue eyes glimpse her prince, she becomes meek and shy." Apparently love will do that to you. By the way, you are describing the Disney movie, not the fairy tale by Hans Christian andersen, which ends tragically. I'd also like to remind you that she didn't just leave the sea for the prince, in the disney movie, she was fascinated with the land.

Snow White: What's wrong with being sweet and a good cook? And how could it describe her as a good housewife when she wasn't married at the beginning of the book? Also, this fairy tale depicts the evil stepmother as a beauty-crazed fanatic. Not Snow White. Also, Snow White was alone in the middle of the forest and needed somewhere to stay, so the dwarves offered to take her in. She did not need "male protection."

And as for being awakened, it WAS supposed to be TRUE LOVE'S kiss. So obviously it would have been a male. The fact that fairy tales have a never-ending fascination with princes is beside the point.

Rapunzel: Why didn't she chop off her own locks? I've wondered this. I think it was the author's stupidity and not Rapunzel's.

Mulan: Mulan is not a fairy tale. It is a disney movie. As for the cultural setting, does it offend you? 'cause it was real once. And this seems to ME like an example of women overcoming adverse circumstances.

Rumplestiltskin: First of all, it's a short story, maybe she doesn't need a name. Second, about the title, so? Third, those seem like perfectly legitamate reasons to cry. "THe only reason rumplestiltskin doesn't triumph in the end is dumb luck" How does this relect badly on women?

Since when does being meek,  good, obedient and submissive make you weak and inferior? Even as for being meek, the Bible says "blassed are the meek, for they shall inherit the Earth." That goes for everyone, not just women.

And lastly, Didn't Gretel save her brother by bringing him a chicken bone? Didn't beauty rescue her beast? And I think it would be cool if Maid Marian sprung Robin Hood out of prison. You go ahead and write that episode.

on Mar. 10 2011 at 11:29 pm
ilovedayna BRONZE, Story, Wyoming
3 articles 4 photos 77 comments

Favorite Quote:
i love you

i like fairytales and they are just that- fairytales. they can be quite cheesy at times but that's why i like them- i'm weird that way

EternalLove said...
on Mar. 4 2011 at 10:30 am
EternalLove, New York, New York
0 articles 0 photos 10 comments

Favorite Quote:
life is never what we see, but what we cant see, overturned by reality..quote from me

absolutly awsoem, you captuerd the whole essence of the idioticy of those stories. The way you protruded your side of the story was enlighting and very informative. I belive you just wrote what 100s of SMART girls were thinking. This is a peice everyone should read, listen to, and be informed by.. Amazing job, very well written and very well put together. Your peice was amazing, and i am recomending it to many of my friends. Thank you for sharing this wonderfull outlook with rthe rest of us. :D

SunnyWinter said...
on Feb. 20 2011 at 9:57 pm
I totally agree especially with the video games, i was playing black opps and please correct me if im wrong becuase im not totally familiar with it but they were all men! The only reason that women depend on men is becuase they think they need to, and we don't in the least we are just as strong as men are

on Feb. 12 2011 at 9:16 pm
RiverSong BRONZE, Baltimore, Maryland
3 articles 0 photos 100 comments
Love this!!! I agree with it wholeheartedly.  (Girl power, whoo!) Fairy tales aren't the only things that are sexist.  Has anyone noticed how sexist video games are?  My brother has this game called Starfox assault, and there is only one female character in the game.  Her name is Krystal, she has huge brea sts and she constantly begs the main character for help.  Even Mario is sexist--he always rescues Princess Peach (complete with a lacy pink parasol and floaty, matching pink dress). We need fairy tales (and video games) with confident, talented girl characters who can kick some male butt!

TheDuck GOLD said...
on Feb. 12 2011 at 1:13 pm
TheDuck GOLD, Braselton, Georgia
11 articles 12 photos 77 comments

Favorite Quote:
“Raids, bullets, crime... no problem. A missing duster? Crisis."-The Last Sacrifice
"If we stand for nothing, we'll fall for anything." -All Time Low

Chick Power! :)

on Feb. 3 2011 at 1:02 pm
SophiaCross SILVER, Plattsburgh, New York
7 articles 3 photos 89 comments

Favorite Quote:
To love, to be loved. To never forget your own insignificance. To never get used to the unspeakable violence and vulgar disparity of the life around you. To seek joy in the saddest places. To pursue beauty to its lair. To never simplify what is complicated or complicate what is simple. To respect strength, never power. Above all to watch. To try and understand. To never look away. And never, never to forget.”


yep, that pretty much sums it up

Sue-rah said...
on Jan. 5 2011 at 10:02 pm
Mulan is technically not a Disney "princess" by the standards of the company.  Interesting how their strongest female character is not catagorized as one of the princesses.

on Jan. 2 2011 at 12:44 am
sparkledreamer SILVER, Los Angeles, California
7 articles 5 photos 31 comments

Favorite Quote:
"There's a lot of things you need to get across this universe. Warp drive... wormhole refractors... You know the thing you need most of all? You need a hand to hold." - The Doctor

I think this is really true however, if you watch any classic fairytale that has been remade by disney you will find that they all have a happy ending. in the original stories they don't always but i get your point. Most fairytales are sexist.

Atrissa BRONZE said...
on Dec. 29 2010 at 10:44 am
Atrissa BRONZE, Akron, Ohio
1 article 0 photos 57 comments

Favorite Quote:
With everything falling down around me, I'd like to believe in all the possibilities.

i thought this article was awsome :) the real little mermaid didnt end that way, but i still like it. why should the prince always be the one to be the hero?

on Dec. 15 2010 at 8:55 am
toxic.monkey SILVER, Tashkent, Other
6 articles 0 photos 210 comments

Favorite Quote:
"Homo homini lupus"

That's what bothered me about this article too. Gretel does save her brother by shoving the witch into the oven, by the way- she's got some chutzpah!

Stela SILVER said...
on Nov. 28 2010 at 7:44 am
Stela SILVER, Dubai, Other
6 articles 0 photos 14 comments

Favorite Quote:
You\'re not your job. You\'re not how much money you have in the bank. You\'re not the car you drive. You\'re not the contents of your wallet. You\'re not your f***ing khakis. You\'re the all-singing, all-dancing crap of the world. - Fight Club

I noticed that a lot of your stories end the way the Disney movies end. But that's not the end that some of their authors had for them. For example, in the little Mermaid, she ended up dying in the original story, so you can't criticize the author here.

on Nov. 26 2010 at 4:26 pm
Anaise11 SILVER, Randolph, Massachusetts
6 articles 0 photos 6 comments

Favorite Quote:
You know you've found the right one when instead of falling in love, they are holding you upright~ Past love experiences

I agree with the fact that being a damsel in distress isn't a great way to portray the female mindset but I don't think that a lot of the Disney princesses or females were shown this way. 

Pocahontas for example was very independent and fierce. She stood up against her father to defend John Smith a complete stranger but someone she knew they had no right to immediately judge. She even went overseas in the second movie, immersing herself into a new country and a new culture.

Jasmine, was a brave girl too. She escaped the palace walls and demanded that she choose her own husband, out of love and not just social status. 

Tiana, from the Princess and the Frog, was extremely independent and was working her own way up to having her own restaurant and she was definitely not looking for a prince along the way. In fact, he was the one that ended up falling for her and admitting that first.

Nala and Kiara from the Lion King movies were rebellious in the fact that they were the ones who promoted change. Nala pushed Simba to go back to Pride Rock and fix things and when he disagreed she left his a** lol . Kiara was the one who made her father realize that accepting others that are different isn't necessarily so bad. Meanwhile Kovu, the guy she was defending, was perfectly fine with running away. 

As for Ariel, she was my favorite princess so I might be biased in my opinion. But I think that she was perfectly spirited and honestly, she was 16 and in love. I think everyone gets a little shy when they see someone they really like. And the only reason why was because she lost her voice, and she wasn't that dependent on Eric because she clearly dragged him around everywhere when they went out together. And she didn't completely lose her family because the castle was right next to Atlantica. It could have helped if she had been the one to get rid of Ursula instead of Eric but hey. And you have to admit Ursula, for a female villain, was pretty awesome. 

And Mulan was shunned in the beginning for her choices but in the end her spirit was the force that made them listen to HER, and follow HER lead, and bow down to HER, and honor HER in the end. And she even took that guy's job lol. 

Not to mention Kida from Atlantis, and Helen from the Incredibles. I think that as time has passed, Disney and other media (besides Twilight...smh)  has gotten better at showing the strong, independent, heroic characteristics of women. 

on Nov. 16 2010 at 2:10 pm
HannahBanana23 BRONZE, Eatonville, Washington
2 articles 0 photos 35 comments

Favorite Quote:
You have enemies? Good. That means you've stood up for something, sometime in your life
Winston Churchill

your right it always ends up the man coming to the rescue of the princess, i mean come on Grimm Brothers' why couldnt you have wrote something that would make us girls use our minds instead of tears. Great story about what should happen if someone writes another fairy tale. Keep up the good work. :)


on Nov. 15 2010 at 6:21 pm
squalur996 GOLD, Henderson, Nevada
10 articles 3 photos 43 comments

Favorite Quote:
"If death meant just leaving the stage long enough to change costume and come back as a new character....would you slow down? Or speed up?
-- Chuck Palanick

haha! alright, agreed.

on Nov. 15 2010 at 5:25 pm
MissMaegan SILVER, Port St. Lucie, Florida
6 articles 0 photos 6 comments

Favorite Quote:
"I have too many fantasies to be a housewife. I guess I am a fantasy."

--Marilyn Monroe

Yes, Mulan does actually do things in the story, I admit. My focus was more on her being told from the beginning that because she was born a girl she's inferior. I do realize that this was what it was really like in Imperial China...but does that really make anything better that it was real and not fabricated? Lol, but I see where you're coming from, and yes, I admit that Mulan does kick some serious Hun butt...  :p

on Nov. 15 2010 at 5:22 pm
MissMaegan SILVER, Port St. Lucie, Florida
6 articles 0 photos 6 comments

Favorite Quote:
"I have too many fantasies to be a housewife. I guess I am a fantasy."

--Marilyn Monroe

Sorry about not answering sooner. I agree with what you said about the Grimms fairy tales being far more gory and girl power-y. I read Aschenputtel...anyway, I guess I shoul've thought more about blaming Walt Disney and not the Grimm guys. Thanks for the insight.

on Nov. 15 2010 at 5:20 pm
MissMaegan SILVER, Port St. Lucie, Florida
6 articles 0 photos 6 comments

Favorite Quote:
"I have too many fantasies to be a housewife. I guess I am a fantasy."

--Marilyn Monroe

ALright, thanks. Always in the mood to read a great firl-power story! Lol  :p