Fairytales in Formative Years
The other day, I got into a conversation with a friend of mine about day-to-day life. My stance was that what I would call an interesting life is not necessarily interesting for the next person. He disagreed claiming that we all have interesting lives that we lead. He went on to blame the internet for this classification we make between the supposedly interesting and the not interesting. And that statement got me thinking.
Why go so far as blaming the World Wide Web?
No, I believe that these classifications begin much before children are exposed to the internet.
Charles Perrault (1628-1703) was a famous French author. He is best known for his fairy tales collection, Contes du temps passé. A translation of this volume has been my reading material, amongst other items, for a few days now.
What stood out to me was the fact that the themes of a saviour in the form of “Prince Charming” and a survivor in the form of “The Damsel in Distress” were strongly presented. Perrault’s heroes are all strong and chivalrous while his heroines are all weak and docile. They cannot help themselves and need a good-looking prince to come along and rescue them. The heroine is almost always an extrovert. She is gentle and never really stands up for herself. The hero is, well, fitting to the classic definition of a hero. They are decked in jewels and silks and look simply splendid. Breathtaking beauty is an important factor; as important as the class structure.
An aged woman who chooses to live alone is portrayed as being bad-tempered, while the more social women are supposed to be good-natured. Being passionate is described as a negative characteristic.
As an introvert of sorts who enjoys being alone more often than not, passionate in most of my affairs, and not being exceptionally good-looking, I cannot help but wonder why this classification is made.
When you think about it, it is scary is it not? These are the stories we are reading to our children. We are slowly teaching them from a tender age that beauty and a prime position in society is important. We are teaching our baby girls that they are weak and need to always be helped for they lack female agency. We are forcing our baby boys to not be anything but strong for they need to be the saviours. They are taught to never show emotions for they cannot afford to have a moment of weakness.
Yes. Such are the morals we are teaching our children – sex role stereotypes. Whatever happened to the tales where the protagonists would just be themselves and in the process, discover their fortunes (not literal fortunes of course)?
I for one believe that we need to re-write these children’s tales. We need to teach our kids to be individuals. We need to impress on them the importance of being comfortable in one’s own skin. It is us who taught them that superficial beauty is important. Therefore, we can hardly blame the internet for the sudden spike in the graphs depicting the reported cases of eating disorders, and depression.
A number of you may argue with me on the grounds that these tales possess greater values and morals; they teach us that evil can be defeated. However, a 3-year-old child is not going to philosophise, is he/she? No, I don’t think so either.
So ladies, we have to accept that there is no “Prince Charming”. We need to save ourselves; stand up on our own and fight our battles for there is no one but us who can. Gentlemen, you do not have to adhere to these stereotypes imposed on you. You can be as expressive as you wish to. You do not always have to play saviour.
Children need to be taught the importance of courage, bravery, sacrifice, friendship and so on but are these tales the best way to go about it?
Image courtesy- Gustave Dore.