Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about fairy tales.
I was a big fan of those Grimm boys growing up – I’ve always had a taste for the macabre and tragic – and, as an adult, was delighted to discover the original stories (sometimes only a few sentences long) that spared no gory detail. I could spend hours poring over every grisly scenario, shut away in my room, happily immersed in the fantastically abysmal lives of the characters.
I grew up reading those stories, and it didn’t occur to me that I was getting short-changed. I was never one of those girls who went gooey over Cinderella dancing with her Prince or the romance of the Mystery of the Shoe. I was more interested in the horror of sleeping for a hundred years, while everything you knew disappeared, than I was with the awakening kiss. Then again, I had a mother who never waited around for a man to rescue her or do anything that needed doing if she could figure out how to do it herself. She was even known to open her own jars.
I was vaguely bothered by the bad rap that stepmothers always seemed to get – my mother was a stepmother to two kids, after all – but it didn’t occur to me to wonder why there were never any stepfathers. I was chilled by Hansel and Gretel being sent out into the woods to die, discarded by their parents, but it didn’t occur to me to be horrified that Cinderella’s father was so indifferent to her, after losing her mother at a very young age, that he married a woman who was actively cruel to her. As someone who had an indifferent original father, maybe it just didn’t register.
But lately I’ve become more aware of the messages children, little girls in particular, are getting from all directions. I think we’re all aware enough of reality television to realize there are a shocking number of women out there who think The Wedding Day is the important part. (Spoiler alert: The Marriage is the important part.) There are an appalling number of women who truly believe someday their prince will come and take them away from their miserable lives and sweep them off to some castle where they will live in bliss for eternity. Where were the mothers to teach them you only get a prince if you bring something to the table? Where were the fathers to teach them that they were intelligent, funny, bold, daring, insert adverb here, and that they were the prize any prince would be lucky to share space with?
I don’t think we need to lose our minds and ban fairy tales (or cartoons or movies or books) or any other kneejerk madness. I think we need to have balance; we need to tell our children that these were stories written a long time ago to entertain and to scare children into never causing their parents one second of frustration. We need to tell our daughters – and sons – it was a different time when girls and women were looked at as Less Than, and that we all now know that’s just crazy. The only thing that can make girls and women Less Than these days is if they allow it. And we need to teach our sons that it’s not their job to rescue or dominate or control; Partnership is always the goal, and ensures the slipper and foot are a perfect fit.
Let them know that Red Riding Hood didn’t have to lose her grandmother to the wolf and didn’t have to be devoured herself, only to be saved by the huntsman who just happened to wander past. Let them know – sons and daughters both – that if Red had had her own axe, she never would have been swallowed in the first place.