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The Need To Rewrite Fairy Tales And Children’s Stories

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By Sayendri Panchadhyayi:

It is a prevalent reality for mothers to concoct stories for their children to ensure that the latter have their meals or sleep peacefully without causing much trouble! Once a woman bears her offspring she is shelled with a plethora of welcome and unwelcome suggestions about dealing with motherhood, how to bathe the baby, what to feed the baby, and what the baby should wear amongst others. She is basically handed down an invisible list of prescriptions and proscriptions for the child. But what she is never advised is about mastering the art of storytelling and its contents.


Ironically, storytelling is an indispensable feature of motherhood but for which the woman is never prepared. It is assumed that anybody and everybody can come up with some kind of stories or dig deeper into the memory basket and synthesize the spattered pieces of a faintly remembered fairy tale! The stories mainly comprising of fairy tales, larger than life characters, wish fulfillment, scary incidents become the ingredients to produce that perfect recipe to win over the pestering child. In this process what is often forgotten is that the content of the stories are not revised or reflected upon. It is attributing to this lack of reflection that entails to the generation of stories that goes on to reiterate the gender stereotypes, racial hegemony, superstitions and infliction of violence.

Let us consider the example of Cindrella. The romanticization of a step mother as evil personified and the dependence on a prince charming who rescues the female protagonist from the pall of distress is a done to death compendium of every fairy tale. Cindrella remains no exception. In addition, the story with its sexist overtone certifies the passive role of a woman who is better off at shedding tears devoid of individual agency to forge reform in her life. The scheduled time for her to return home before the strike of 12 can be construed as the ubiquitous warning on women in the society to confirm to normative standards the failure to which is penalty. The patriarchal ploy is at its ultimatum as Cinderella’s key to happiness lies with marrying the prince. A girl right from her childhood is taught that you may attain as much education you want or establish a career but marriage is your destiny!

There are stories like frog and the prince and beauty and the beast which injects in the child the notions of the binary of beauty and ugliness although both are subjective. The stories circumscribing around witches where a single, non-conformist woman is caricatured as a petrifying figure or stories that project animals like snakes as vehement the donkey as imbecile, the fox as cunning and so on sending a prejudiced message across the children. There are stories that celebrate the fair complexion and laments at dark complexion. The worst of all is the ghost stories that inaugurate superstitions since the inception of childhood.

These stories, in the guise of catering to children, inject the poison of social evil in every child. There is a need to rethink about what one is feeding in the mind of the child. It is not the responsibility of the mother but of every family member in contact with the child as each of them contributes overtly or covertly in shaping the personality of a child.

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  1. Raj

    You are right in talking about sexism but you left out the sexism against young boys. A lot of stories involve the male as the risk taker and the provider who sacrifices himself for his love , his family and his country. Such suicidal tendencies should not be encouraged in young boys

  2. LemonTeaLover

    Stories are always a reflection of society. The stories you have mentioned above and probably had in mind as well while writing this piece, were a result of the European patriarchal society of the 1700s . Although, I think, the idea of sexism in fairy tales only comes out when you look deep within. The main intention behind reading a fairy tale to a child is to teach moral values and important lessons i.e., to look before you leap, not to lie(pinnochhio), not to talk to strangers( little red riding hood) nor accept gifts from them(cinderella), not to be vain( snow white), things may not be what they seem( princess and the pea), to be happy with who you are ( thumbelina).

    But note that, these were all stories of a past century. Today, we have a completely different set of fairy tales that children adore.Pocahontas( the dark skinned princess), Mulan, Merida are depicted as free-spirited, forward thinking, brave young women who are not binded by their circumstances and take up a path of adventure and stand up for what they believe in. These are stories spun out that talk about the world we live in today where the lead protagonist can be an independent woman as well..

    As far as the idea of setting personalities to animals is concerned, it is not just fairy tales but even the jataka tales that bring animals to life and assign each one a character and a personality. We don’t need to rewrite fairy tales, we need new ones altogether and we have them, but that doesn’t even mean that we do away with the old ones, because they deal with human nature, and human nature hasn’t really changed.

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