Gender Roles In Fairy Tales

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Fairy tales have passed from generation to generation, almost as a rite of passage, throughout western civilization. Whether it is the tales of the Grimm Brothers’ or modern Disney versions, fairy tales have permeated society for ages. The question is whether they are merely stories told to children for entertainment or something more. Every tale offers children morals to live up to such as not trusting strangers to being kind to animals. Are morals all that are provided though? Fairy tales seem to have a much more lasting effect on a child’s psyche than simply a lesson learned. In this paper, fairy tales will be examined to see how gender roles are indoctrinated through them. Historian Sylvia D. Hoffert defines a gender ideal as “the cluster of characteristics, behavior patterns, and values that members of a group think a man or a woman should have, a set of cultural expectations.” In most fairy tales, females character fall into a dichotomy. The heroine is the ideal good girl. She is unequivocally beautiful, kind, and compassionate. She does not complain or get angry. Instead, she takes her burdens as they come. She is also, in most cases, naïve and sometimes downright foolish. She never tries to save herself, nor does she ask others to save her from misery. As scholar Kay Stone notes “heroines are not allowed any defects, nor are they required to develop, since they are already perfect.” In the end, the heroine is saved by a noble Prince and gets her happy ending
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