Fairytales are not a friend of feminism.
Most of them spend more than half of the story focused exclusively on the journey of its heroine, with a Royal Prince thrown into the mix by pure happenstance. If you’ve read one ending, you’ve read them all: The Prince shows up with a happy ending in hand and the distressed damsel gets to live happily ever after. The Grimm Brothers’ Snow White (and the Disney retelling) is no exception to the hard and fast rules of fairytales. More often than not, Fairytales are a shallow depiction of women and an altogether negative representation of femininity.
Using Snow White as one example, here’s a quick list of why:
1. JEALOUSY is the root of the Evil Queen’s wickedness.
She didn’t steal her boyfriend. Snow didn’t let her dog pee on the Royal lawn. She didn’t accidentally step on the back of her Royal Highness’s Ruby slipper.
The Evil Queen sentences Snow White to death because she’s prettier than her for fucksake! Look no further than the bedtime stories you read your children to see a perfect example of women viewing other women as competition instead of, I don’t know ALLIES in a society that’s just as patriarchal in its views and treatment of women as it was before women’s suffrage. The Evil Queen represents the ideal that women are crabs in a barrel who won’t support each other because being the fairest is what’s most important.
2. The Huntsman spares Snow White’s life because she’s BEAUTIFUL
Yes, the Evil Queen’s actions portray femininity as a hardship, in that it’s Snow White’s superior beauty that makes her a target….But the Huntsman’s motivation for sparing Snow’s life is just as problematic as the Queen’s reasons for wanting her dead. “She was so beautiful the huntsman had pity on her,” according to the original story. The Disney movie version mirrors this sentiment. Being the fairest of them all is what saved her bacon, Y’all. Snow White is afforded a means of escape because of her looks, an act that doesn’t just reinforce the notion that men are inherently shallow. The huntsman’s inaction equates beauty with deliverance. It suggests that sexuality or striving to be the most attractive is an effective way for a woman to survive.
FALSE advertising. Being attractive will not keep you safe…unless you’re in a fairytale.
(But then there’s always the original version of Little Red Riding Hood…)
3. Snow White was OVERJOYED to be a live-in maid.
According to Snow White, women are ornamental in every way except two. Women are the bearers of children, a unique purpose that served as Snow White’s mother’s final act in the story. (I don’t even remember her mother being a part of the Disney movie)
Women also make themselves useful by keeping house.
So, judging by the story, when women aren’t seething with envy of another (and plotting murder because of it), they’re either fitted for some man’s trophy case…
… or an apron.
“If you will take care of our house, cook, make the beds, wash, sew, and knit, and you will keep everything neat and clean you can stay with us and you shall want for nothing” <– *a direct quote from the original story.
The Seven Dwarves offer Snow White shelter in exchange for a live-in maid/short-order cook. And Little Miss Fairest of them all is overjoyed with this arrangement. She even whistles while she works, Yo!
Subtle it may be, Snow White and her relationship with the dwarves is an endorsement of the patriarchal bargain—a woman’s willingness to submit to being the lesser when it comes to gender roles. The evil Queen’s example as a woman in power being evil dovetails with her younger and fairer nemesis, Snow, being the picture happiness while waiting hand and foot on a house full of men.
4. Prince Charming Put a ring on it because she’s SNOW WHITE (fairest of them all)
If I’m being honest, the Evil Queen’s jealousy is merely a symptom of a disease otherwise known as the fairytale prince archetype. In Grimm Brothers’ Snow White, the Prince proclaims, “I will honor and prize her as my dearest possession,” when he takes a presumed dead Snow White’s glass coffin. Dearest Snow doesn’t wake up until one of his servants trips over a rock, dropping the casket—a happy accident that results in that lethal bit of poison apple dislodging from Snow White’s throat. In the Disney version, the Prince kisses her awake. In either scenario Snow White wakes up to find a prince who’s eager to marry her, the girl he met two seconds ago because he loves more than everything in the world… (READ: because she beautiful.)
If Snow White was a fable, the moral of the story would be that true femininity and the power it wields is contingent upon the beauty a woman possesses.
I won’t even get into how problematic it is that Snow White depicts skin “white as snow”, lips “red as blood”, and hair “black as ebony” as the ideal features of a beautiful woman. Instead I want to bring my point home by recapping the infinite value placed on a woman’s attraction…and why this is a terribly unfavorable depiction of femininity.
Women are more than their skin-deep attributes!
And given the hardships of living in a patriarchal society, most women value friendships with other women—people who understand their plight of being demeaned and objectified. Please don’t be swayed by the social media frenzy surrounding makeup tutorials & the unrealistic beauty expectations incited by your teenage daughter’s celeb-idol. YAAAS, us women do love to look our best, however:
A) Most of us do for our damn selves (thank you very much!)
AND MOST IMPORTANTLY (!!!)
B) As my She-Ro Judith Sheindlin says, “Beauty Fades, Dumb is forever”, which is a sobering truth that motivates us to be—on our own—more than just pretty faces.
You’d never be able to deduce any of the above when reading (or watching) fairytales.