Fairy tales are viewed as stories that are told to children in order to entertain them. Many of these fairy tales are well known since many of them have been made into movies. However, these fairy tales are more than just various forms of entertainment. On the surface these fairy tales provide basic lessons to young children. These lessons include, do not talk to strangers, do not judge other based on appearance, and be kind.
Additionally, these fairy tales can be analyzed further in order to uncover deeper meanings. Many of these fairy tales shed light on different topics, one of these many topics is the issue of gender roles. Gender roles are how people are expected to act based on their gender.
In many of these fairy tales, specifically Snow White and Cinderella by Brothers Grimm, it is clear that men and women are expected to act a certain way. The men in these stories are expected to be strong and heroic while women are supposed to care about looks and are expected to cook and clean. These expectations lead to stereotypes of how men and women should act in society. Many of the gender stereotypes observed in Snow White and Cinderella are still present today.
Snow White by Brothers Grimm is one version of the fairy tale where gender roles are very noticeable. The entire story is about beauty and appearances. The Queen in this story is obsessed with her appearance and wants to be the “fairest of all” (Tatar 95). As Snow White ages she starts becoming more and more beautiful and eventually surpasses the beauty of the Queen. The Queen becomes jealous and tries to have Snow White killed.
This shows the competitive nature of beauty in society. The idea that women are supposed to only care about beauty is also seen here. This idea is implanted into women at an early age and teaches them that looks are everything. Later on, in the story the seven dwarfs are introduced. They offer to protect and help Snow White if she does household chores like cooking for them and cleaning the house.
This old-fashioned idea shows that women are expected to stay at home doing common household chores like cooking and cleaning. In some cultures, today, women are still expected to stay at home and take care of the house and kids. Gender roles for men are also present in Snow White. For example, the seven dwarfs show that men are expected to work from mornings to evenings every day.
This teaches men that they need to be the ones who work and bring in money in order to support their family. The current issue of the wage gap is based on two expectations seen in this story. The first expectation is women are supposed to be housewives and the second expectation is that men are supposed to be the only ones working. The dwarfs also show that men are expected to be heroic and protective.
The dwarfs offer and provide Snow White with shelter and they save her life twice when she was fooled by the evil Queen. Furthermore, the Prince shows that men are shallow and only care about appearance. In the story the Prince immediately fell in love with the unconscious Snow White the moment he laid his eyes on her. Many gender stereotypes in Snow White are widely seen and discussed today, however this is only one fairy tale. There are many more that relate to these stereotypes.
Brother Grimm’s Cinderella, contains similar gender roles as Snow White, but it does introduce some different ones. Cinderella’s, father remarries after his wife passes away. The name Cinderella in this version of the fairy tale is a nickname for a rich man’s daughter. The daughter receives the nickname because she “she always looked so dusty and dirty” after sleeping in ashes from the fireplace (148). His new wife has two daughters who are described as beautiful but their hearts are “foul and black” (148).
They made Cinderella’s life difficult because they constantly abused and belittled her. The father is aware that his stepdaughters constantly bully his daughter since he refers to her as Cinderella when he asks what she wants from the fair. However, he does nothing to stop the abuse. This shows that men are viewed secondary parents that do not have as much parenting power as women. Women today are seen as the main caretakers of children in today’s society while men are seen as distant or absent.
This partially relates to the stereotypes seen in Snow White, where women are supposed to be housewives and men are supposed to work. Later on, in the story the king announces a festival and invites all the beautiful women so his son can choose a wife. The stepsisters were invited and are excited to go. Cinderella wants to go but she is not permitted to go. Once the stepmother and stepsisters leave, Cinderella gets ready to sneak off to the festival. She gets help from a magical dove that provides her with clothes. This dove is seen as her fairy god mother and his the only positive female role model in Cinderella’s life.
Cinderella is able to meet the Prince and he falls in love with her but he does not know who she is. On the last day of the festival Cinderella leaves her shoe. The Prince tries to find who the shoe belongs to by asking women to try on the shoes. The stepsister, who are desperate to marry the prince, slice of part of their feet in order to fit into the shoe. This brings up the stereotype that women value money and will change their looks for money.
This can be seen today with plastic surgery. Women alter their appearance as they age to keep a youthful, more attractive look. Also, the stepsisters try to be nice to Cinderella at the wedding in order to get part of the wealth. They hide their true colors so they can get some of the Princes money. The Prince, similar to Snow White, represents the hero stereotype since he saved Cinderella from her awful living conditions. Children are exposed to these stereotypes at an early age which causes them to carry these stereotypical views into adulthood.
Research has been conducted to see the effect of gender stereotypes in fairytales. Aleah E. Steinzeig conducted a study and published the results in her dissertation “Waiting for Prince Charming: Gender Expectations in the European Fairy Tale”. This experiment involved interviewing 12 Pacific University undergraduate students. Seven were male and five were female. When the male students were asked about femininity “they all gave stereotypical views of femininity” (Steinzeig 22) and one of them says femininity is the dependence of others. (Steinzeig 22).
This is seen in both Snow White and Cinderella. Snow White is dependent on the dwarfs for shelter and Cinderella is dependent on the magic dove. These fairytales are responsible for these stereotypical views. Itzel E. Garduno-Jaramillo found in her dissertation “Once Upon a Gender Role:Re-Envisioning the Strength of Females in Fairy Tales” that females in fairy tales were not equal to men. “The males are the heroes and the women are simply beautiful and naive” (Garduno-Jaramillo 23). This is a common observation, Snow White and Cinderella are seen as extremely beautiful and the Princes in both stories are seen as heroic for saving them.
Gender roles and stereotypes are very easily imprinted in the brains of children because of fairy tales. These fairy tales contain expectations of how men and women should behave. Children carry these expectations as they grow older. Women today are expected to work “full-time within the home rather than taking employment outside of the home” while men “men should be the heads of their households by providing financially for the family and making important family decisions.” (Blackstone 337). These expectations can be seen in Brothers Grimm’s Snow White and Cinderella. Snow White and Cinderella are both expected do household chores which supports the stereotype that women should be homemakers. The seven dwarfs back up the stereotype that men should be the ones that work and make money for the family.