Sexism in Fantasyland This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

February 22, 2010
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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.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.

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This article has 85 comments. Post your own now!

IAceEnglish This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
Feb. 19, 2016 at 12:03 pm
Have you seen the movie Brave yet? I think Merida is exactly what you are looking for. Frozen, too, has strong heroines that break the mold.
RustleCrowe said...
Mar. 16, 2015 at 12:08 pm
u go grill
Yasmin E. said...
Oct. 10, 2014 at 7:00 pm
honestly i couldnt agree more! but I guess even before disney these stories with females desperate for a male's protection were fed to children, in the end it really just depends on what society is expecting even from this entertaining media. 50 years ago it would have probably been 'unrealistic' to the audience that repunzel would actually cut her long beautiful hair, but now frozen showed that an act of true love doesnt neccessarilly have to be coming from a man ... (more »)
WOWriting said...
Apr. 28, 2014 at 1:07 pm
I like at the end of the film 'Gulliver's Travels' when the soppy princess that keeps getting kidnapped is kidnapped again and just gets fed up and punches her captor into submission ;) I can understand ur frustration.
BarzaitheWise said...
Dec. 30, 2013 at 12:05 pm
In the original Hans Christian Anderson story the Little Mermaid the titular character wanted to become Human in order to gain a soul, which merfolk lacked, living several centuries and then becoming sea foam.
Confused_scheherazade This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
Jul. 2, 2013 at 12:53 am
I agree about the whole sweet fairy tale/ brainwashing concept. We need more strong and intellectually depcited women in fictin/media and that is not a feminist tirade. Try a darker fairy tale/anime called Princess Tutu. Sounds crony, but this is about an enchanted girl who has to SAVE the prince. Also, try Avatar the Last Airbender and Legend of Korra. Best animation in years and the best diverse casting with ethnicity and gender.  
AliMotamedi said...
Jun. 7, 2013 at 11:06 am
although i disagree with many things in your article, i also agree with a lot of fact. and you are right we need more beautiful, independant heroiens. also, since you mentioned Bella from Twilight, i thought why not mention the great, intelligent, intellectual, funny and stunning Hermione Granger from Harry Potter. A self made woman who saves the day almost all the time. ;]
Brockili123 said...
Jan. 25, 2013 at 12:06 am
I loved that piece. Well Spoken!
Crulz said...
Jan. 20, 2013 at 10:30 pm
hey, i am also frm port st lucie fl by west palm beach i stil have cousins there that are in college and highschool.i also visit there all the time during the breaks.
AisuP said...
Jan. 7, 2013 at 9:44 pm
The Little Mermaid (in the original Andersen story) actually ends with her being depressed and throwing herself in the sea because she is so sad. Then she dissolves into sea foam. The happy ending is only in the Disney edition.
lkk4209 said...
Dec. 17, 2012 at 9:58 pm
You have seriously misrepresented a number of fairy tales in this essay...most of the storylines you referenced were the Disney versions rather than the originals. Your gripe should not be with Hans Christian Andersen or the Grimm Brothers, it should be with Disney.
theatregirl This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
Dec. 13, 2012 at 7:55 pm
 I am tired of "strong female character". They're stupid. They basic saying to girl that if you every like a guy or rely on guy for help your weak, which message to send girls. It only hurt them by distance themselve from male. Girls need to work with Boys, not shun them.  I person think that people often betray fairy character girls as weak.  They just as strong. In fact even stronging because they are willing to realize their weakness and rely on others (includin... (more »)
PurpleFeather said...
Dec. 1, 2012 at 4:43 pm
Cinderella was written by the Grimm Brothers, not Andersen. Also, you address the authors when you really should be addressing Disney. None of these stories were ever intended for kids, and the plot lines you cite are those made up by Disney. The original stories' plots are quite different (especially The Little Mermaid. Definitely NOT a happily-ever-after ending). I understand and agree with your point, but this article makes it seem like you haven't done your research.
RiverSong said...
Nov. 13, 2012 at 7:14 pm
Love this argument, but I have to disagree with you about Mulan. There's nothing wrong with depicting a historical society in which women were marginalised, particularly when you show a woman overcoming that sexism and marginalisation. The characters in the movie shun Mulan when they learn that she is female, but the film is specifically constructed to make the viewer side with Mulan, the girl who is defying very rigid gender roles and expectations. She proved that she is equally capable (in... (more »)
BraidRunner said...
Oct. 26, 2012 at 8:32 pm
While modern ideals have changed, it seems like your treatment of these heroins is overly rough. It seems like your complaints over details is detracting from your larger argument.
andrea said...
Sept. 14, 2012 at 1:51 am
Hans Christian Andersen never wrote Cinderella, he was a fairy tale writer not a traditional folk tale collector like the Brothers Grimm. That means "The little mermaid" was a pure and simple invention of his genius, and for your political corrected ears it would be a pleasure to hear that "The little mermaid" was a metaphor of Andersen's homosexuality, and also one of the most beautiful love stories ever told or written. Grimm's fairy tales DID include stories with s... (more »)
JoJo replied...
Dec. 16, 2013 at 11:00 pm
I COMPLETLY agree with you andrea
8tephanie This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
Aug. 16, 2012 at 2:41 pm
If you think about the new Princess and The Frog, Disney women are improving. She works long and hard for many years to have the money to set up a business for herself. She rescues and changes the heart of a man she falls in love with and they each loved each other when they were botyh slimy disgusting frogs. I see improvement there........
Anon123 said...
Jul. 20, 2012 at 6:51 pm
Good article, but your review of The Little Mermaid is incorrect- I think you're basing your opinions on the Disney film rather than the original fairytale. Hans Christian Anderson didn't give it a happy ending.
PennyM.L said...
Jun. 8, 2012 at 3:20 pm
Bella? Seriously? That series is so sexist. Many times implying how she needs someone, or how men can do things women can't. And Mulan, it was stating that being born a women is bad, it was showing how men discriminate her simply because of her breast and what's between her thighs.
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