LIT 4334: The Golden Age of Children's Literature

Women in Fairy Tales: Heroines or Damsels in Distress?

on January 15, 2013 6:14pm

A simple story can tell us much about life long ago. Fairy tales are often looked at as a source for histories of several cultures. In folklore, one can see societal views, rituals, common practices, as well as gender roles and the appointment of duties or qualities to a certain sex. Snow White tales are prime examples of a fairy tale that tells us much about gender roles and what is expected of women embedded in the tales’ plots. These tales remain popular despite their implications and are often referenced in popular culture, often in movies and shows such as those made by Disney and the TV series Once Upon A Time.

Though there are many versions of the Snow White tale, such as “The Young Slave” and “Lasair Gheug”, the tale depicts Snow White as the ideal woman: innocent and kind. The queen, though malicious, should be admired because of her cunning and plotting. If one puts her thirst for revenge aside, the queen can be seen as having an extraordinary mind, in direct contrast with Snow White who is described as a “dumb bunny” by Anne Sexton. .In the story, Snow White is still revered as perfect despite her blind trust and disobeying of the dwarfs’ orders of not opening the door. In addition, in some variations of the tale, upon arriving at the dwarfs’ house, Snow White is allowed to stay as long as she cleans up after them. Due to the implied thoughts on women in the tales, it surprises me that such a tale remains popular (i.e. the famous Disney movie Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs). In an age where a woman’s rights are emphasized and gender roles defied, it is interesting to see such archaic views still popularized. Despite Snow White’s weak character, in the series Once Upon A Time, Mary Margaret who is Snow White, acts as the protagonist and perhaps strongest character on the show. In the series, she slays dragons and rescues her husband Prince Charming on several occasions. Perhaps this is a modernized variation Snow White, in which she rescues herself and depends on no one, thus reflecting contemporary views on women.

Disney’s Snow White clearly embracing her helplessness.

Once Upon A Time’s Mary Margaret (Snow White) with a bow & arrow obviously taking things into her own hands.
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2 responses to “Women in Fairy Tales: Heroines or Damsels in Distress?

  1. Rebekah says:

    It might help ease your mind about the archaic nature of the gender roles in Disney’s version if you remember that the film was put out in 1937 and is considered a classic, in part, because it was the very first full-length animated feature. However, that doesn’t mean “Snow White” isn’t a huge part of the Disney “princess culture” which emphasizes docile, domestic femininity. Just wanted to make sure you were taking more recent history into account!

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