Whenever one hears the term ‘fairy tale’ one expects a nice goody goody story with a happy ending. Though most of the popular fairy tales abide by the happily ever after ending the same cannot be said about the overall content which in many ways is not suitable for the age groups that these stories target. And I’m talking about the age old stories here like Snow white, Cinderella, Beauty and the Beast among others which have been circulating for years. Before people raise an eyebrow and start question about what can possibly be wrong in these seemingly innocent books let me elaborate.
What I most hate about the kids fairy tales is that they portray women as weak and helpless who lead a miserable life until prince charming comes along galloping on a horse and rescues them to lead a happily ever after life!! Why can’t Cinderella stand up to the atrocities of her step mother and step sisters? Why does Rapunzel put up with the wicked witch who kidnaps her? Why do snow white or sleeping beauty require a prince to kiss them to free them from evil curses? Well come on people, we live in the 21st century, shouldn’t we be teaching our girls to be strong and independent and fight their own battles? As it is we live in a male dominated world and such regressive content in story books will only endorse these beliefs!
Many of these stories have content which is too violent for kids to read or even understand.Consider the story of Snow White in which Snow White’s evil step mother asks her huntsman to take her to the forest, kill her and bring back her heart as proof. Or the story of Red Riding Hood in which a wolf gobbles up Red Riding Hood’s grandma and pretends to be grandma in order to eat her up too! Or the story of Hansel and Gretal in which a wicked witch captures 2 kids in order to eat them up!! It may not seem like much to us adults who are used to watching violent content on TV or reading about violence in newspapers, but to little kids who are just beginning to makes some sense of the world, it is a big deal.Halfway through the tale of Red Riding Hood, my daughter asked me to stop narrating as she was too scared to listen any further!! I think just as movies are classified and given a rating based on their content, so also books should be rated so as parents and children get an inkling of what lies in store for them.
Another thing that bothers me about these fairy tales is the undue importance given to beauty and external appearances.In the story of the ugly duckling, a poor duckling is shunned even by its own mother for being ugly and is only accepted by its siblings and friends when it turns into a beautiful swan. Does it not send out a wrong message that one needs to be good looking to be accepted by society? The very fact that stories are named like Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, Beauty and the Beast say it all! Beauty is put so high up on a pedestal that it disturbs me. I can’t help but be bothered by thoughts that such stories might make my little one feel inadequate adversely affect her self esteem.As it is I’m haunted by thoughts on how to bring up my daughter in this crazy world where TV commercials and other media constantly hammer into our brains that beauty is a pre-requisite for success.Do I also need to protect my daughter from these stories and the negative impact they might have on her innocent mind?
Some of the kids tales are just plainly absurd that you don’t know whether to laugh it off or fret over it !!For instance the story of Princess and the pea. In this story a princess is unable to sleep because of a pea which is several layers down in her bed and this proves that she is a real princess! How illogical is that!!
Another weird tale is Thumbelina. This one takes the cake and beats even the most absurd Ekta Kapoor soap!! A childless woman is granted with her wish of having a child when a child the size of a thumb emerges from a magic plant. How she is captured by an evil frog and how she escapes to live with a mouse who wants to marry her off to a wicked mole only to be rescued by a swallow forms the rest of the absurd plot. I started narrating this to my kid but stopped mid way as I was totally lost on how to explain it to her!! How can such illogical and unrealistic content be narrated to kids? I seriously begin to wonder if the writers were in their right mind while writing such stories!!
Putting beauty and goodness at par
Not only do the fairy tales glorify beauty but also equate it with kindness and other good qualities. Why is that the pretty Cinderella is the nice one whereas the evil step sisters are ugly? Why are the evil witches in most of the stories ugly? Not only does this create stereotypes but also confuses children. Do they need to be pretty in order to be considered good human beings? If they don’t have fair skin and blue eyes will they be considered evil? Such doubts are bound to creep into the young minds who read these books and would go a long way in shaping their personality.