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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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