By Lim Jing Xiang Jovan (23J20)
Have you ever wondered what is that one childhood experience which is universal worldwide? That, I feel, would be the exposure to fairy tales. I believe that everyone is familiar with fairy tale classics such as Snow white and the Seven Dwarfs or Cinderella. But have you wondered the adverse effects fairy tales have on us?
Let us explore deeper into the unknown.
Fairy tales have that unexplainable charm that not only intrigues one's mind but also allows one’s mind to temporarily escape reality. It is no secret that many well-known fairy tales have been built on stereotypes, from the evil old stepmother creating havoc to the heroic prince saving the damsel in distress and falling in love at the end. However, how often are these stereotypes true? Get ready as we explore deeper into the hidden truths of fairy tales.
Gender stereotypes are a similarity among many fairy tales. The idea of a damsel in distress being saved by a heroic and charming prince has been overused. The imagery depicted by fairy tales suggests the roles that one should play with regard to their gender. The females in fairy tales are often thought to be princesses who are depicted to be charming and beautiful but are unable to save themselves, whereas the male is always portrayed as princes brave enough to defeat evil and save princesses.
However, especially in today’s world, this is no longer the case. With new movements such as #MeToo, #EachforEqual or the #LGBTQ, it is apparent these stereotypes are not true, especially as gender roles have changed tremendously. There has been an increasing number of women holding onto roles with high responsibility. In the context of Singapore, one of the countless examples, and the most prominent one would be our president, Halimah Yacob, who holds an extremely important position, which is to care for Singapore as a nation. These women have overcome all of societal stigma to be where they are today. Unlike in fairy tales where women are portrayed as weak, many have stood up for themselves and their rights. This can be prominently seen in different women’s rights protests such as the protest in Iran, in view of the Afghanistan's Taliban new rules that female cannot go to universities. Thousands of women were not afraid and wanted to make a change. This proves that women are actually not like what fairy tales describe them to be. Different people have different personalities and hence, fairy tales are not an accurate representation of the different gender groups.
The beauty standards of princesses
Similarly, the standard of beauty has been a controversial one in many fairy tales. Fairy tales such as Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty portray beauty as fair skinned princesses who are elegant, flawless and graceful. Today, we strive for inclusivity among people of different races, religions and sizes. Furthermore, words in fairy tales usually denote certain ideas. For example, the words ‘ugly’ and ‘fat’ are usually associated with evil and cunning. This may have adverse effects on people as they are taught the different stereotypes in our society. Impressionable children will start to develop a belief that people of other certain sizes and races are inferior, resulting in more severe discrimination. Since the majority of the ‘good characters’ are fair-skinned, thin and tall, it makes some children who are of different races or different sizes think that they cannot be as beautiful as these princesses due to their differences. These unrealistic beauty standards will only hurt many who are unable to obtain these goals. Ironically, fairy tales are supposed to be a powerful tool to teach children that everyone is beautiful in their own way, but this isn’t always the case. Since there are people who are often different from what fairy tales consider beautiful, many start to form an impression that certain groups are prettier than others, resulting in a divide. Children today can get discriminated against and often get put down by their peers because of this divide and influence that fairy tales have on them.
Personally, I believe that it is time these stories change to fit today’s context. Fairy tales have a possibility to inculcate wrong lessons to children: staying quiet when faced with injustice; people will only be jealous because of our success; a girl who is pretty will get a happy ever after in the end. Such lessons should no longer be taught as this is no longer relevant in today’s world. Instead, It is time to make more stories about gender equality, about peace and inclusivity. We have come to love these fairy tale classics as they have made a huge impact on our childhood. Undoubtedly, we hope to share these stories with future generations and share our childhood with them. In order for these stories to be more accepted and less controversial, we should enlighten children of what is morally right and wrong. Fairy tales should only be a source of entertainment and not a place where children can learn life lessons from. Fairy tales should be a way to empower people through their stories, making people believe that everything is possible if they put their hearts into it, and not one which outcasts certain groups. What do you think? Isn’t it time for newer fairy tales to be more inclusive?