Gender Issues within Fairy Tales

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Gender Issues within Fairy Tales

Why is it that in a time when women were considered an inferior gender, they would become the main characters in fairy tales? One reason could be that fairy tales are one of the few genres created by women. The fairy tale originates in the seventeenth century when aristocratic women would gather in salons and play a game of who could make up the best story. This gave women a chance "to demonstrate their intelligence and education," and "to picture themselves, social manners, and relations in a manner that represented their interests" (Zipes 20). Many of these oral stories were later published by men, and through the years have been rewritten by men.

Perhaps the most popular writers of fairy tales are the brothers Grimm. The women in their renditions are portrayed as either beautiful, tortured women who must find a way out of their situation (usually through the aid of a man) or the woman is the villain who is usually causing the torture for the beautiful woman. The villainous woman is usually a stepmother who embodies "the many faces of maternal evil" (Tatar 140). Also, Tatar states that "instead of functioning as nurturers and providers, cannibalistic female villains withhold food and threaten to turn children into their own source of nourishment, reincorporating them into the bodies that gave birth to them" (140).

This cannibalistic female is seen in tales such as Hansel and Gretel where the old witch lures the children into her house made of candy and tries to cook Hansel for her supper and make Gretel a maid. The female villain, however, is not always a cannibal; "many are experts in the art of weaving spells: these are the witches and enchantresses." (T...

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...ce on adults; which I had never thought of because they are so marketed to children. During the Vietnam War students turned to "fairy tales as a revolt against the reality of the Vietnam War and the rationalizations of the so-called military-industrial complex that the younger generation could not trust" (Oxford XXX). Mainly through my research I regained my love for fairy tales because I could see the good side of them as well as the bad.

Works Cited

Luthi, Max. Once Upon a Time On the Nature of Fairy Tales. NY: Frederick Ungar Publishing Co., 1970.

Tatar, Maria. The Hard Facts of the Grimms' Fairy Tales. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1987.

Zipes, Jack. Fairy Tale as Myth: Myth as Fairy Tale. Kentucky: University Press of Kentucky, 1994.

Zipes, Jack ed. The Oxford Companion to Fairy Tales. NY: Oxford University Press, 2000.
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