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How Disney Destroyed The Fairy Tales And Paved Way For Gender Stereotypes

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By Pooja Salvi:

“And thus, they lived happily ever after” – the obvious ending to any fairy-tale. I still remember mother getting me a whole set of fairy tale books to read over the summer. It all started there. When you are a kid, you can’t escape the fairy tales. We have been reading fairy tales for as long as we can remember. They are everywhere.

Picture Credits: Juska Wendland
Picture Credits: Juska Wendland

Originally, fairy tales were not supposed to be the feel-good bedtime stories that they are today. They were supposed to be dark, grim, creepy and scary. The Grimm brothers (Wilhelm and Jacob Grimm) originally collected and chronicled the famous fairy tales to scare children into living ‘moral’ lives – to teach moral values to children and young adults, and to living the right way.

Let me tell you how the original fairy tales were different, prior to undergoing the Disney treatment:

1. The Little Mermaid, originally, is over looked by the prince, and he ends up marrying someone else (surprise!). She is then advised by her sisters to stab the prince and his new bride. But she can’t because she loves him too much. So, she stabs herself instead, and becomes sea foam.

2. The very famous ‘Cinderella’ was way too gory than what Disney showed us. Cinderella was not invited to a one-night ball, but to a full-fledged three day festival; and she manages to visit the festival all three days, wearing magnificent dresses. Secondly, her step sisters force the tiny shoe in their feet by chopping off their toes and heels (bloody? yes!). Also, there was no fairy godmother. Sorry.

3. Now ‘Sleeping Beauty’ is on a completely different level of gore. Aurora was impregnated by the Prince when she was still under the spell. She wakes up to having kids she has no memory of, and they still go on to ‘live happily ever after’.

4. ‘Rapunzel’ is another fairy tale character who was impregnated by the prince. But she didn’t know it. It was only when she complained to her witch-captor that her clothes had gotten too tight, and her belly was swelling, that it was revealed to her.

See? At one time, such stories were considered okay for children. But as time passed, Disney started meddling with the original Grimm Brothers’ fairy tale collection, and over sanitised it to how we know them today. Today, children and young adults look at fairy tales from a glamorized perspective. Of course, that is the perspective which is fed to them. The ‘moral’ factor that was originally intended by the Grimm Brothers to be the only prevalent factor in the stories, has over the years been amalgamated with glamour and fed to the masses.

It was Disney’s treatment of the fairy tales that changed everything.

In due course of time, the ‘morals‘ got compromised with, and made way for stereotypes. When asked what was the first thing that came to her mind when she heard ‘Cinderella’, Insiyah Pereira, 17, says, “Beautiful, elegant and righteous.” Conversely, when asked about the stepmother and stepsisters, Insiyah liberally uses the words, “cruel, evil and ugly.”

It is uncomfortably funny how easily one relates ‘good’ with beauty and evil with ugliness. When you are making children and young adults read (or watch for that matter) these fairy tales, they indirectly form a perception of characters in their brains. Given the way the characters are portrayed in the books and movies, children find it okay to associate ‘goodness’ with ‘beauty’ and ‘cruelty’ with ‘ugliness’, which means that a dark-skinned 1st grader is disliked in school because, well, she is ugly. No, don’t pay attention to her helping and giving nature, but the colour of her skin speaks volumes.

Slowly and steadily, these fairy tales end up giving children and young adults a completely wrong perspective. These stories have stereotypes that are as harmful as the lurid sexual images shown in pop music videos and movies today.

The manipulated stories of Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty, for instance, concentrate on looks and beauty, particularly the female beauty. These stories go ahead to let girls believe that beauty eventually wins everything – that it pays to be pretty and it is entirely okay to compromise on other more important and valuable ideals of valour, kindness, vanity and intelligence.

In the story, the princess will marry a young and handsome prince, and eventually gain vast riches as a result of her beauty. Her character, goodness and righteousness is still a secondary aspect. On the other hand, the antagonist in the story is always portrayed as a physically ugly character, their cruelty and evil intentions are a part of them throughout.

Does this subconsciously program children to value looks over ‘moral values’?

“Sadly, in such a case, we can’t blame the children because this is what they read and get to know”, says Liz Grauerholz, associate professor of Sociology at Purdue University in Indiana, “Parents should not throw the books away, but discuss plots and characters with their children and consider whether they are telling their daughters to seek beauty at the expense of their education and careers.”

When asked if she will let her children read the fairy tale book despite all the controversial stereotyping, Drishti Mistry, 21, said, “Of course, I will. It is necessary that they read and explore. But I will make sure that I sit with them and have a discussion to know what it is exactly that they have absorbed from the story. Such stereotyping is way too necessary to be discussed.”

On a similar note, Kartikey Rai, 24, says, “I will not want my daughter thinking that she is ugly and eventually a bad person. She should feel beautiful about herself and not any less than any other girl.”

You know what the problem with the society today is? They want to believe in a certain set of ‘rules’ set for beauty. They want to believe that beauty is not a product of an individual’s perspective and comfort in his/her own body, but that of guidelines set by propagation. Propagation by whom, you ask? By years and years of beauty standards piling on. The fact that young girls and women are supposed to be a certain way to be beautiful, and to feel beautiful, is simply saddening.

It is so easy to believe in a kind of a story where the good wins over the evil, where the prince fights against every villain to get his princess, where the princess is an ideally “good” person, where there is an evil witch or an equally evil step-mother, where, sadly, beauty ideals are set.

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  1. balayogi

    Even as adults especially the many characters like mayank of Youthki awaaz free from stereotyped ,stagnated and silly perceptions influenced more by his sickening ideological and doctrinal bias [worse still of the Indian leftist brand -meant to be consigned to the attics of a museum-seeing victimhood or projecting one in every situation]and neglecting or nicely nudging facts with Youthki Awaaz brand of opinions. So when grown ups are cocooned in their cozy and money spinning ideological and identity cages what right do anyone writing on any subject have to pass judgments on Disney. We can neither defy nor deny the importance ,relevance or existence of anything or anyone .Everyone and everything is a piece in the jigsaw puzzle called life . Life is not a mere biological accident it is boon to be enjoyed, enriched ,experienced and enlightened by every individual with a sense of gratitude for everything that happens and towards everyone that we encounter. ] MORALITY

  2. Babar

    Beauty ideals are being set by feminists with their “I will wear what I want” slogans. Apparently it is liberating for women to wear miniskirts and cleavage revealing tops, while they constantly keep tugging at their skirts to cover up a bit more, and pull at their tops from the neck to hide their cleavage. Today, women are told by feminists to sexualize themselves in the name of liberation. They are told that in order to be seen as progressive and emancipated, they must dress a certain way. Women today are so systematically and strategically being brainwashed that they don’t even realize it. You must wear ‘whatever you want’, in other words, miniskirts, short shorts, backless dresses, tight jeans, low neck tops, spandex pants, etc. Men only have to bother with shirts and trousers but there are innumerable clothes, designs, colours, accessories, etc, for women, and women’s fashion is always changing. Needess to day, it is a marketing gimmick to sell. Fashion industries thrive on women’s constant urge to shop – hence the term shopaholic. Furthermore, women have to have an abundance of clothes, a dozen sandals, manicures, pedicures, constant visits to hair saloons, gyms, spa, dieting – to the point of anorexia, and it has even reached the point of cosmetic surgery for girls who are absolutely in no need of it – spending billions in the process and falling prey to feminist theories. Women today are so used to visual images of scantily dressed women that they don’t even feel it anymore. Of course, you can sell women anything, from lies about liberation to Torches of Freedom, and they will buy it. Women have been told by feminists, repeatedly, that by dressing sexy, they will be seen as intellectual and liberated, and these notions are repeatedly emphasized in blogs, movies, music videos, magazines, and advertisements.

    1. Shahin Nisha Abdul Salam

      Beautifully said! Applause!!!

  3. Yasha

    Though I liked your article. There is one thing I want to point out.

    You accuse Disney of associating Beauty with goodness and ugliness with cruelty. Yet your first example of ugly is a dark-skinned girl. Since when did ugly refer to a skin colour.
    I accuse you of painting the picture of ugly as dark skinned in the minds of readers. Please be careful with your choice of words. These articles are read by hundreds, if not thousands of people. Aim to condition them to be open- minded, not conformists.

    1. balayogi

      well said. Youthkiawaaz has a bunch of leftist ideology indoctrinated comrades whose main agenda is clear to resort to Modi bashing , Hindu bashing, India degrading and create as much divisions as possible wherever they can in whatever issue they can and the best way is to inject their myopic views and half baked knowledge in very sutler ways and subtle nuances creating a sense of victimhood on some section of the society . This has become their pattern starting mainly from Mayank Jain and followed by the rest

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

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MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

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A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

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