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

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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 82 comments. Post your own!

Ink_Stained_Fingers said...
May 28, 2010 at 10:20 pm:

hmmm...very well written. but there are a lot of problems:

1. You can't say Hans Christian Anderson and the Brothers Grimm are responsible, or that their tales were mushy feel-good crap because...

they weren't.

have you ever read the Brothers Grimm? not only are they gory, severe, and very serious, but the girls don't just sit around and cry. they do stuff. and Hans Christian Anderson's orginal 'little mermaid' wasn't even close to the Disney version.

more »)
 
MissMaegan This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. replied...
Nov. 15, 2010 at 5:22 pm :
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.
 
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Jenbabe said...
May 4, 2010 at 6:49 am:
I agree with donna, I personally loved fairy tales when I was younger, but I can see your point of view too. It's a smack in the face of all women when young girls call for their little boy friends to "save" them from situations where they could take care of themsleves.
 
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donna said...
Apr. 25, 2010 at 1:45 pm:
peronnally,I like the fairy tails the way thay are.I grew up reading them and enjoyed them very much.I personally like the thought of being  protected and rescued by a handsome prince.but great writing and imagination!good luck!
 
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MissyHoney said...
Apr. 15, 2010 at 4:17 pm:
I totally agree
 
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daved said...
Apr. 2, 2010 at 8:20 am:
I notice some of the animated childrens movies today are along the same lines,however it does make intresting scripts when the damsel is freed from the bad guys or prison.
 
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Penelope said...
Mar. 30, 2010 at 6:29 pm:
This is the most truthful article I've read in along time. it makes me happy to know that women are standing up for themselves instead of letting men do all the work. In a world where women hold the same jobs as men and even can run for office, it's truly shocking that more people aren't turning their noses up at the sexism that we drill into our children called fairytales.
 
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Jane said...
Mar. 29, 2010 at 6:08 pm:
Hello Miss Exactly-What-This-World-Needs. I want to sincerely congradulate you on writing an article that should be told to every little child instead of the demeaning fairy tales that teach little girls to dress up pretty and have stuck up men saving their butts. Keep writing, MissMaegan!
 
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Auntie P said...
Mar. 29, 2010 at 2:36 pm:
I look forward to reading your version of a girl-power type of modern day fairy tale.
 
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dixiegal56 said...
Mar. 28, 2010 at 12:09 pm:
Excellent job! I love the way you look at things with such imagination. Keep up the good work!
 
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poppyseed said...
Mar. 28, 2010 at 8:07 am:
keep up the good work.we need to use our imaginations more.especially children!Always stay positive and keep on writing.
 
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david said...
Mar. 27, 2010 at 9:08 pm:
great imagination and very well written and interesting to read also.great all the way around!
 
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lollypop said...
Mar. 26, 2010 at 8:21 pm:
I could read this kind of writing all day long. very imaginative and very well written.
 
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katieg said...
Mar. 26, 2010 at 1:48 pm:
This is a great article!especially for women.I hope men will think about it and appreciate it as much as women.
 
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alan1123 said...
Mar. 26, 2010 at 1:42 pm:
Great article!Also great imagination!IT makes us think of things in a totally different way.I would like to see more of your work.
 
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MrsHandbag said...
Mar. 26, 2010 at 8:34 am:
Very well written and thought provoking. Fairy Tales have such a lot to answer for! Well done. Helen, UK
 
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puppysis said...
Mar. 25, 2010 at 9:08 am:
maegan,I thought this was awsome!Most of the childrens fairytails are scary and negative also. keep up the good work!
 
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virgonaut6 said...
Mar. 25, 2010 at 8:58 am:
Well thought out, well written, and worthy of a 60 Minutes expose! That being said, does this kill the notion of 'love at first sight?'
 
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Phoenix said...
Mar. 23, 2010 at 1:17 pm:
Well written. I have always thought fairytales were demeaning to women. Thank you Maegan.
 
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FashionDesignWriter23 said...
Mar. 12, 2010 at 7:31 pm:
maegan loved this completely trueeee
 
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