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

February 22, 2010
Custom User Avatar
More by this author
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.

Join the Discussion

This article has 85 comments. Post your own now!

SunnyWinter said...
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
INHAILED replied...
Jan. 12, 2012 at 12:55 pm
Many guys like actually like being very polite to women. To many, its not that women rely on us but we try and be the best we can for them. I agree with you on you being as strong as men, if any guy disagrees i believe they're wrong.
RiverSong said...
Feb. 12, 2011 at 9:16 pm
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, ma... (more »)
INHAILED replied...
Jan. 12, 2012 at 12:59 pm
Look at the game "Beyond Good and Evil." I know "Tomb Raider" shows that "perfect" image for a women but she can basically pull through any task. Also the story of Mulan. I'm not saying that the games you mentioned aren't sexist and can see where you're coming from but there are many games and fairy tales that show women are strong and independent.
RiverSong replied...
Jan. 14, 2012 at 12:07 pm
Hmm, I haven't heard of that game; I'll look it up. And yeah, I definitely see your point; there are lots of good games and movies, and especially books, with strong, capable girls. (I LOVE MULAN!!) But it is a shame that the majority of video games ARE kind of sexist. Not in a girls-aren't-allowed-to-do-this kind of way, but in a way that just promotes classic stereotypes about girls, like "All girls like pink" or "All girls want boys to rescue them". And, seeing as lots of kids (like my bro... (more »)
RiverSong replied...
Jan. 14, 2012 at 12:19 pm
Another note about Mulan: the author got this one wrong. There is nothing at all sexist about rebelling against society's principles by doing everything and more that boys did at the time. And if Mulan's friends shun her when they find out, well, it was ancient China. Mulan is a true girl hero and the fact that she had to dress up as a boy in order to be allowed to participate just shows how messed up sexism is; it doesn't promote it. To the author of the article: I encourage you to go read e... (more »)
INHAILED replied...
Jan. 14, 2012 at 8:30 pm
Yeah I know what you mean. Personally I think as long as the audience has a non-sexist family then they should inherit those views and hopefully not form a sexist opinion. But I agree there are many games/movies that support a sexist point of view and it's disappointing.
seriouswritersblock said...
Feb. 12, 2011 at 1:13 pm
Chick Power! :)
SophiaCross said...
Feb. 3, 2011 at 1:02 pm


yep, that pretty much sums it up

sparkledreamer said...
Jan. 2, 2011 at 12:44 am
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 This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
Dec. 29, 2010 at 10:44 am
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?
Stela said...
Nov. 28, 2010 at 7:44 am
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.
toxic.monkey replied...
Dec. 15, 2010 at 8:55 am
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!
HannahBanana23 said...
Nov. 16, 2010 at 2:10 pm

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. :)


'Asian' said...
Nov. 15, 2010 at 5:11 pm
Don't worry, I have been writing a short story, that might go big, and it has a really astonishing girl who kicks butt and does what she wants. Now there's the typical tears here and there but she (wo)mans up and beats more butt! lol. So I could send you the summary of how it looks and I'm rewriting it with more detail, but I havn't been able to work on it lately :P
MissMaegan This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. replied...
Nov. 15, 2010 at 5:20 pm
ALright, thanks. Always in the mood to read a great firl-power story! Lol  :p
Synestria said...
Nov. 6, 2010 at 7:08 pm

I agree with Ink_Stained_Fingers a little farther down in the comments list.  Some of those stories listed were the messed up Disney versions.  And Cinderella in the Grimm Brother's version was pretty gory.  The step-sisters hacked off their own feet for the prince, then got their eyes pecked out by doves in Cinderella's wedding.  There have been times when the girls actually did something.  Try reading the Six Swans by the Brothers.  The heroine&n... (more »)

BrokenInnocence said...
Nov. 3, 2010 at 2:07 pm
I really agree with this, I've been saying this for years.
rightbehindyou61 said...
Oct. 26, 2010 at 2:25 pm
I disagree with the part about Mulan.  The movie was not trying to "support the idea that being born female is a bad thing", it was simply trying to depict a time and place where women were supposed to be obediant and silent. Mulan tries to follow her dreams and do what is right by joining the army. The only way that she could do this at the time was by posing as a man.  The reason her friends shun her is because that was the mindset back then.  The movie obvoiously rejects this idea.
squalur996 replied...
Nov. 2, 2010 at 1:10 pm
I do agree that Mulan stands up for herself. In the end, she is the one who ends up saving the emperor from being killed.  But the rest of the princesses really do need to get offa their butts and do something!!!!!  so overall I think this article was a great opening eye into the world of sexism.
Site Feedback