One of the first things children are exposed to is the well-known fairy tales written by the Grimm Brothers or Hans Christian Anderson. These tales portray the story of a heroic, strong, and powerful man saving the weak, dependent, damsel in distress. As expressed by Leslee Kuyendal and Brian Sturem in their article “We Said Feminist Fairy Tales, Not Fractured Fairy Tales! ” fairy tales “reflect and reproduce the patriarchal values of the society that crafted them”(“We Said Feminist…” page 1). The men in these tales are brave and assertive, while the women are objectified and helpless.
If a woman is powerful, her power comes with evil and ugliness. Whether she is the princess needing to be saved or the evil witch casting dark spells, women are portrayed poorly in fairy tales. Hans Christian Anderson’s fairy tale, The Little Mermaid, tells of a young mermaid fascinated with a Prince and his human lifestyle. She first sees the prince on her fifteenth birthday, the first day she is allowed to rise above the sea and watch the human world above her home. After seeing a prince on one occasion, the Little Mermaid becomes obsessed, if not consumed, by the idea of being with him.
Her quick obsession makes her appear needy and dependent. Not only does she return to the shore everyday in hopes of seeing him, but she also gives up her daily routines. The obsession progresses and she learns where he lives, “Here she would sit and watch the young prince.. ” (Anderson Little Mermaid). The Little Mermaid can no longer function or live her life without the prince. Not having power she, the Little Mermaid, goes to visit the sea witch. The powerful sea witch is of course ugly and conniving.
The sea witch has toad eating from her mouth and is covered in “ugly water-snakes” (Anderson Little Mermaid). With her given power, the Sea Witch gives the Little Mermaid the impossible task of communicating with the prince without her voice. The Sea Witch uses her power, that of a sorcerer, for self gain. While in the castle with the Prince, she is referred to as his “little foundling”, his object of entertainment. She even receives his “permission” to sleep outside his door on a pillow. Even after her devotion and sacrifices for the Prince, she is still cast aside when a new woman comes into the picture.
The Little Mermaid is blinded by a “love” that does not exist between the two and puts herself in danger for a man that cares more about his well-being than her own. Wanting to escape death, the Little Mermaid’s only way to salvation is murdering the Prince, which will give her her tail in return. However, “the knife quivered in her hand” (Grimm Brothers Little Mermaid) and she was too weak. She chooses to die for a man that never loved her back. In the end, she falls into the ocean and dies, becoming the suds in the ocean.
The Little Mermaid makes a number of sacrifices for the Prince including her voice, legs, family, and eventually her life. She is objectified by the Prince because of her looks and not appreciated for the things she does; she is naive and weak. Rapunzel, a fairy tale written by the Grimm Brothers exposes the conniving side of women in fairy tales, and like the Little Mermaid, also presents women in their weak fairy tale state. The first character mentioned in the tale is an enchantress who is feared by all. She is greedy and selfish in her plan to trick a man and wife into giving up their first child for just a herb in her garden.
The conniving enchantress uses the couple’s longing for a simple herb, rapunzel, in her garden to her own advantage and takes away their first child. Even after taking the child and assuming a mother-position, she locks Rapunzel up in a tower in solitude away from the world. She locks the child away because of her greediness, not wanting to share the child with others, and her jealousy of the child. “Rapunzel grew into the most beautiful child under the sun,” (Grimm Brothers Rapunzel) the enchantress, being used to her superiority did not want her “daughter” to outshine her and therefore hid her up in a tower.
One day, however, a prince sees the enchantress go up the tower by Rapunzel’s long hair after saying “Rapunzel, Rapunzel, Let down your hair to me” (Grimm Brothers Rapunzel). The fact that Rapunzel stays up in the tower shows her lack of a backbone and her how easily she submits to what she is demanded or told. The Prince says the same command and Rapunzel drops her hair to him. Rapunzel, even after hearing a man’s voice call for her, is shocked when he comes into her room. She is naive in the fact that she could not distinguish the enchantress’s voice, which she has heard since she was a baby, and a random man’s voice calling her name.
After knowing the man for less than twenty-four hours, Rapunzel agrees to marriage and running away with the man. When Rapunzel says “He will love me more than the old Dame Grothel does,” (Grimm Brothers Rapunzel) she is proving the fact that not only is she naive, but she is also dependent on man to take care of her. After living in years of solitude, she agrees to a life with a man she does not know and already assumes that he will love her more than a woman who has provided for her since she was a baby.
Furthering the argument that Rapunzel is not very bright, is her confession to the enchantress, “Tell me, Dame Grothel, how it happens that you are so much heavier for me to draw up than the young king’s son…”(Grimm Brothers Rapunzel). Rapunzel has the prince come to her at night, knowing the “old woman” came to her during the day. However she blows her cover in a matter of seconds by shooting herself in the foot because of her simplemindedness. The venomous enchantress blinds the Prince and leaves him to roam in misery in the forest. Rapunzel’s lack of knowledge or thinking, and dependency on a man led to her demise in the end.
She does not posses the strength to stand up to the enchanter or to live her life independently. Just as the Little Mermaid, she gives up her comfortable easy-going life for a man. Rapunzel is waiting to be saved, rather than taking matters into her own hands. On the other hand, the enchantress is a bitter old woman who’s jealously and greed led her to strike fear into other people. Her power leads to her solitude seeing that no one wants to be near her. Another insult to women in this fairy tale is the man’s role. The Prince is confident and intelligent.
The Prince is not fearful of climbing up the tower to see Rapunzel; he knows what he wants and has perseverance. He is intelligent in his observing the tower and learning the call to Rapunzel that would make her let her hair down. Comparing the two sexes roles in the fairy tale only leads to a further insult to women. The weakness, simplemindedness, conniving, and evilness of Rapunzel and the enchantress cause them to be portrayed poorly. The tale, Hansel and Gretel, written by the Grimm Brothers takes many jabs at women and their character. The two children, Hansel and Gretel, live in a family struck by poverty.
A talk between the wife and husband reveals the wife’s evil and shocking plan. The wife suggests taking the children to the forest and leaving them when they go to work. “They will not find the way home again, and we shall be rid of them,” (Grimm Brothers Hansel and Gretel) the wife said as an answer to their poverty. The wife is repulsive and sickening in the fact that she would leave her two young children in the forest to starve or be eaten up by wild animals. Gretel and Hansel were prepared for her devious plan and left a trail of white pebbles to lead them back home.
When they returned their awful stepmother reprimands the children for “sleeping” in the forest all night and locks them in their room. The stepmother is not the stereotypical loving mother, rather she is more concerned with her happiness over the lives of the children. She is also, conniving and sneaky. When the children return back to the house she makes it seem like it was their fault for being lost in the forest. Again she plots to get rid of them “we will take them farther in the wood, so that they will not be able to find their way out again” (Grimm Brothers Hansel and Gretel).
Unable to find their ways out the children roam for three days until coming upon a house built from sugar, bread and cakes. An old woman, the owner of the bread house, invites the children inside. The old woman is really a wicked witch and her building of the house of bread was a ploy to bring them into her captivity. The witch tricks the poor innocent children by exposing their weakness: their hunger. Not only is she heartless for preying on young children but also diabolical in her plan of building the bread house.
The witch has no morals and feels no pity, “When the children fell into her power, she killed it, cooked and ate it, and that was a feast day with her” (Grimm Brothers Hansel and Gretel). However, on top of being evil and conniving, the witch is also portrayed as dimwitted. When checking to see if Hansel is fattening, he puts out a bone to her and she falls for the trick. Tricking her into believing he is still thin, Hansel was able to prolong the witch’s plan of eating him. When it came to her cooking the children, she is tricked yet again when Gretel says she does not know how to climb into the oven.
The witch climbs in to show her how and ends up getting herself killed. Along with unintelligence, the witch is manipulative in her coaxing the children into her home and her bribing the starving them with food. The mother is, in addition to manipulative, lazy. She does not look for work when her family is having financial problems, instead she chooses to try to kill half of her family; she does not have the motherly touch and caring for children. In further looking at the mother, it can also be said that the Grimm Brothers are saying that woman set themselves on a specific act and are too stubborn to give up on it; i. . the mother’s first failed attempt at killing the children.
Unlike the wife, the husband is glorified. He tries to shake off the wife’s thoughts of killing the children, “I will not do that; how can I bear to leave my children alone in the forest? ” (Grimm Brothers Hansel and Gretel). The husband is seen as caring, loving, and thoughtful. The wife makes the decision to abandon the children, but the husband thinks it through and is levelheaded. The man is good and on the right path but is “corrupted” by the woman. This idea can be seen in John Milton’s Paradise Lost.
Adam and Eve, the first woman and man break the Father’s rules and in return loose Paradise. In the epic Eve is targeted by Satan and led into temptation. After falling for Satan’s lies, Eve convinces Adam to follow her in her sin and eat the forbidden fruit. In both Hansel and Gretel and Paradise Lost, the man is good and on the right path. It is not until the woman leads him off his path that he is tempted by evil. Fairy tales are written in an anti-feminist form. The female characters are either powerless, naive, and useless like the Little Mermaid or Rapunzel or powerful, ugly, evil, conniving and deceiving.
Both types of females share the trait of unintelligence. A part of learning is reading literature, including fairy tales. Do we want children to absorb the idea of gender roles that fairy tales teach? The Little Mermaid has makes poor decisions because of her simplemindedness and her idea of love. Rapunzel is dimwitted and unintelligent in her dealings with the evil enchantress, and is more than willing to throw her life away just as the Little Mermaid does for a man she does not know; a sign of dependency and weakness.
The evil enchantress, the mother, and the evil witch in the woods portray a just as poor image of women. All three women are diabolic and conniving in their plans to get what they want and although they are powerful, their power brings them ugliness and unhappiness. Whether it be the story of a love-struck mermaid, the beautiful girl with luscious locks, or the evil child-eating witch, woman are portrayed poorly and rottenly in fairy tales.