Time to refurbish the fantasy
By Maria Amir
“The wolf said, “You know, my dear, it isn’t safe for a little girl to walk through these woods alone.” Red Riding Hood said, “I find your sexist remark offensive in the extreme, but I will ignore it because of your traditional status as an outcast from society, the stress of which has caused you to develop your own, entirely valid, worldview.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I must be on my way.”
~ James Finn Garner, Politically Correct Bedtime Stories
Once upon a time in a land where people still read books and did not possess ready access to the internet, children were naïve and innocent. The children of this land grew up listening to bed-time stories about princesses, evil stepmothers, goblins and faraway kingdoms where good always triumphed over evil and princes always rode their women — only somewhat sexistly — off into the sunset.
Women were almost always rescued from the dastardly fates that only they were forced to endure, with a single, all-powerful true love’s kiss. Many of these children grew up to search for similar princes in their lives. But as time passed and grand kingdoms gave way to much more boring democracies, many found that princes were becoming a bit of a rarity, so they settled for doctors, lawyers and investment bankers.
Most of these children grew up to be little girls and some of them even grew further up to become women. Alas, most of the ones who grew up to be women, were severely disappointed by what their fairy tales had turned into. You see, ‘Handsome and Charming’ was somehow never handsome enough or charming enough and nobody warned these ‘women’ that HEA, was really just an acronym for Hyper Enchantment Aftermath. Some of these women took to admiring the wicked stepsisters and evil queens in the tales far more than the sweepresses of cinders and the beauties that slept. They grew up a little disappointed and a lot angry. This meant that the very few little boys who ever loved fairy tales and grew up into big boys and the even fewer ones who grew into men had to pay. And pay they did.
Once Upon a Time, the world was slightly less jaded and filled with atrocities that permeate childhood early, and fairy tales anchored children to innocence and positivity for much longer than they manage to today. The same stories also stunted little girls in ways that continue to spark feminist rage all over the world. One can easily agree that most notions of romance stem from fairy tales and that this is what makes them endure.
Today’s children tend to be slightly more skeptical of one dimensional narratives but this has not diminished the importance of fairy tales, if anything, the need for them seems to be increasing. The present narrative and the resurgence of a ‘Happily Ever after’ has re-emerged in a big way where the only twist seems to be that female protagonists in these narratives tend to be presented quite differently than they were previously. Characters like Rapunzel in Disney’s Tangled (2010) are frequently depicted comfortably battling bandits and Tiana in Disney’s Princess and the Frog (2009) has the dubious, dual privilege of being the first black animated princess as well as an independent career woman struggling for her place in the world. The fact that both characters are victims of circumstance and eventually require a man to help them escape their problems is downplayed in these modern depictions, as opposed to Snow White and Cinderella (produced by the same studio) who were portrayed as one-dimensional as they are in writing. The interesting part is that fairy tales are not only being picked up by Disney, where the subject matter tends to be somewhat of an occupational hazard, but also by Hollywood. Red Riding Hood, Snow White and the Huntsman and the ABC TV series Once Upon a Time are now attempting to refurbish the trend for adult audiences. One reason for branching out may involve society’s growing disillusionment with the status quo and that single women everywhere are ever hungrier for an happily-ever-after. However in order for these narratives to be palatable to adult audiences the protagonists need to be ‘feminized’ and so far the results in this department aren’t too promising.