Violence and Gender in Fairy Tales

Almost everyone has a favorite bedtime story or fairy tale from childhood. These were the stories that we begged to hear over and over again. In some cases, these stories were also movies that, in my case, were watched at home so often that the VHS tape was completely worn down. Fairy tales aren’t take literally by children; even little ones don’t actually believe that pumpkins can turn into carriages. Nonetheless, the stories are still major parts of our lives in the ways we played make-believe as children and in the ways we understood stories to flow.

Children’s and young adult literature is a particular interest of mine because I think it can be just as powerful or subtle as “adult” literature. Some wording may be simplified, but children’s literature, such as fairy tales, still includes as many subtleties and difficult questions as adult literature. Nevertheless, children’s minds are still being influenced by these stories.  It is from fairy tales that girls get the idea that they are best as pampered princesses waiting to be rescued, not ones that make proactive decisions. Boys likewise learn that it is their job to take care of the girls. And don’t forget that for old women, the ultimate drive toward violence is jealousy and want of beauty. I want to uncover the different ways that violence is used by both men and women in fairy tales to influence these gender roles mentioned above in the specific stories of Cinderella, Rapunzel, and Bluebeard.


Some questions I would like to explore in my paper are:

1) Is violence ever portrayed as a good thing when committed by women? Is it ever a bad thing when committed by the “hero” (typically male) of the story?

2) In what ways are acts of violence romanticized? Are some better than others?

3) Some of these fairy tales have evolved over  the years from their original forms, most especially Cinderella. Do the more “modern” versions have the same impact without as much violence? Is emotional abuse as bad as physical abuse?



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14 responses to “Violence and Gender in Fairy Tales

  1. aeernst

    Gender roles in the fairy tales is definitely a subject with many different facets and a lot of examples in the few that we read. I like that you are focusing on the significance of who commits violence and what result their gender has on how it is perceived. Maybe you could also consider:
    4) When do women commit violence in fairy tales and what is their goal?

  2. smboehm

    I like your take on this topic and I think you have a lot to work with. Here’s another facet to consider:

    5) Is the audience more likely to feel compassion towards a victim in a fairy tale that is a male or a female? How does this also work for the villain?

  3. siegvald

    I would like to hear more of what you mentioned in the description–how boys and girls have tendencies to “learn” roles from fairy tales. Perhaps this could be something to develop further: 6. How specifically is violence used as a key in fairy tales for “gender-programming?”

  4. stperry1

    Fairy tales are definitely a huge, lasting influence on children. There are plenty of memories that everyone has associate with the literature of their childhood and as you said most people don’t even realize the impact they can have. I think its really important to explore the roles that children are being taught and how the examples they are shown do or do not show diversity. In order to make sure all bases are covered I think its important to explore this question further:
    7) Are there multiple types of roles for genders being shown to children? If so how do these roles relate to each other?

  5. vrosengrant20

    I think it is great that you are exploring the more subtle messages that fairy tales are teaching. You might want to focus not only on who is executing the violence, but also on who are the victims and antagonists. That way you can show just what actions fairy tales deem worthy of extreme violence. This can be shown with a question like:
    8.) What characteristics and gender are commonly used in the antagonists?

  6. Samantha Cooke

    I think it is interesting that you are looking at violence and the differences in the men and women, especially as violence is so often associated with men.
    Something I think you should look at, especially in tales with a female protagonist and a male villain or a male protagonist and a female villain:

    9. How does the violence differ when it is done by the hero versus by the villain?

  7. This is a very good topic and I think that it could be argued that certain types of violence get gendered. For example, rape could be considered a male crime. My question would be:
    1. In the fairy tales Bluebeard, Cinderella, and Rapunzel, how does violence get gendered? Are there any crimes that seem gender specific? Has the gendering of these crimes changed over time?

  8. I think there’s a lot of potential in exploring the topic of how violence functions within fairy tales. However, before coming to the end of your post I was not sure what your topic was or where your ideas were going, so just a caution to look out for when writing your actual paper. I think you #1 is violence every portrayed as a good thing if committed by women is a very good point to include and explore in your paper!
    #11 How does the inclusion of violence within the fairy tale affect the overall tone of the story? If there is a moral/lesson with the story how does it alter it? Does the violence serve to reinforce the lessor or hinder it?

  9. autumncassidy

    I like that you brought up stereotypes that were present both at the time of the documenting of the fairy tales and also in a modern setting. Would it be possible for you to explore the relevance of these stereotypes in modern culture due to their integral aspect in child-rearing and the instilling of morals? Is not the mental categorization potentially as harmful as the explicit and implicit violence in the texts?

  10. looloo14

    It is often the case that men are the more aggressive characters while committing violence, while women are defensive. However, this is not always the case; often other cultures have expected norms when it comes to violence.
    13. What do the different types of violence say about the gender roles in different cultures?

  11. Sophi

    I love this topic as a paper. Much of what you say is completely true. Fairy tales are meant to influence children in some way, and having specifically gendered characters conducting themselves in violent ways may affect the mentality of young readers greatly.
    I think it would be really beneficial for your paper to look at how the versions of each tale you are analyzing correlate with the place and time period in which it was written. You may come to find that the tales are either reflections of what society has always been or they are influential in the way future generations learned to behave towards individuals of the opposite gender. With this in mind, you should consider:
    14.) The place that the tales were written may or may not have already been heavily influenced by violent fairy tales. How could this make a difference in the way the violence in your chosen tales may have been received by young boys and girls?

  12. For question 9, I feel as though the violence from the protagnoist is always justified, such as the Bluebeard tales. At the same time, the violence from the antagonists, although less enjoyable, are what instills the morals of the stories.

    15. Would these stories have the same impact without the violence?

  13. This topic is a fun one and gives you a lot to work with. Mostly all fairytales have some sort of violence, whether it be the “bad guy”, fights, mistreatment, or the ultimate factor–death. This is one you can play around with to develop your paper and a good argument. Another question to consider is:

    16.) Do these fairytales instill violence in our youth or do you think it is something they just overlook?

  14. I like your topic a lot! I completely agree with you that fairy tales can have just as much an impact on adults as with children (if not more). I would like to see your answer to question #1. Just how different is violence in women viewed differently than when men do it? Is this more positive or completely taboo when women do it?

    17) Violence in fairy tales was used to teach a lesson. Do you think this violence actually teaches a lesson? Or do you think it is overlooked? Or, do you think that fairy tales are promoting violence at all? How do you think the violence in fairy tales is perceived among readers?

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