I’ve been wanting to speak out for a while about the criticism fairy tales have continued to receive in the 21st century, and school mum Sarah Hall from Newcastle has been the Sleeping Beauty bashing fuel to my fire.
The mother has been recently mocked for asking her six-year-old son’s school to remove a storybook version of Sleeping Beauty from the curriculum because it promotes “inappropriate sexual behaviour”. Through a questioning of the story’s relevance, she has suggested the tale be used instead for older students, to educate them on the problem of consent. This comes as a result of her distaste at the Prince kissing Sleeping Beauty whilst she is… you guessed it…sleeping.
Scattered across the web are keyboard warriors informing us of the life falsities that fairy tales instil in young children, creating unrealistic dreams of true love, the perfect man and life success. Yes, I’m the first one to admit that often these endings to the Disney classics are over-looked, because we never truly see what happens after the Prince puts the glass slipper on old Cinders foot, (except for in Shrek…where the first movie was then surpassed by about seven others, truly honing-in on the trials and tribulations of married life!) Yet, the memory of fairy-tales, I argue, should be left as they are. I grew up with the classics – with Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, Beauty and the Beast, and when something goes wrong in my life, not once have I looked back and thought “those god-damn fairy tales are to blame - warping my mind with false truths”.
No - I recognise what a fairy tale is, and that it is just that, a TALE! I don’t expect to wander into a mansion to find a beast, introduced to me by a talking clock and candlestick. Nor do I believe bears eat porridge and don’t harm Goldilocks when they all come back to the house to find her alone there. We know fairy tales don’t speak truth because of the pure farcicality they include, so why are we condemning them more-so than ever?
On the back of a wealth of allegations on the Weinstein, Spacey and Westwick front, there’s no surprise that we’ve become much more alert to sexual harassment foreshadowing. However, is there not a level of absurdity to which we’re censoring literature, movies and more?
Children’s fairy tales have been blasted with phrases such as fearmongering and anxiety inducing… really?! Why are we thinking so much into something so innocently written such as a fairy tale? It’s as though we live in a culture that finds fault with everything, and in a world overrun by terrorism, Brexit and Trump let’s leave some of the happier aspects of life to be seen through rose coloured glasses.
The impressions of fairy tales have become tainted to the point that simply typing in ‘fairy tales are…’ into Google produces a wealth of negative associations; ‘fairy tales are…bad influences’, ‘fairy tales are…sexist’, ‘fairy tales are… misleading’, need I continue? Whilst I could easily sit down and cherry pick through fairy tales and find faults in the fact that all the female protagonists are unwaveringly beautiful and that the man is always the breadwinner, I feel this undervalues what they stand for.
They are there as something a lot of us, of a certain age, look back on and smile in memory of, and I don’t want those candyfloss, grass is always greener childhood memories to be tainted by the Sarah Halls of the world. Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls is a new take on 21st bedtime stories that includes a plethora of tales about female role models inclusive of Serena Williams, Elizabeth I, Francesca Cavallo, and more. I look at this and smile – it sounds like a tremendous piece of literature with motivational insight. Just as this will work for a young audience, so too do I think fairy tales worked for my generation whilst growing up – as beautiful creations of magic so please let’s leave them that way.
Vanessa Loder, an expert on women’s leadership and mindfulness, said in Huffington Post: “Many fairy tales completely negate the suffering that is common to all people. If everyone is living happily once they find their prince, what does that tell young women about how their relationships “should” be?” In this, she refers to the audience of fairytale’s as ‘young women’. Now, as a young woman myself I can happily claim that I very rarely dabble in fairy tales, let alone take them as gospel when I do peruse the pages. Fairy tales are for the young, for the “read me a bedtime story pleeeease”-ers. I’m sure we can all agree that they will obtain their full immersion of war, crime and heartbreaks as they grow, as did we all.
No amount of fairytale fabrication is going to prepare them for the “grown-up” world, so let the beautiful maidens be saved by their Prince Charming’s… I’m sure it’ll provide a better night’s sleep than a reading of the events of 9/11 or the Battle of the Somme. As Albert Einstein once said: “If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read more fairy tales”. Could the E=mc2 mastermind really be that far wrong?
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