How Children’s Rhymes And Fairy Tales Cultivate Stereotypes

Posted by Nikon Naimisha in Society
December 22, 2017

“Cobbler, cobbler mend my shoe,” is one of the first rhymes a child learns, probably before entering the doors of formal education. Now after stepping into university, I stand in front of a cobbler and ask myself: why were my nursery rhymes so arrogant that they didn’t use the word ‘please’ while requesting the cobbler to mend the shoe?

Poems, rhymes, fables and fairy tales are the beginning of a child’s learning phase, and at the same time these things that we learn, also become the roads of a stereotypical mindset, that we often ignorantly walk on. As it is rightly said, books do often become a child’s best friend. So, it is high time we take a break and ask ourselves if we want our children to befriend the roots of discriminatory behaviour. We must look back and analyse the impact children have when they read or get inspired by something.

For instance, in “Cinderella”, it is a prince who brings her out of her misery. This not only focuses on the dependency of women on men, but the story also revolves around the aspiration of women being limited to marriage. “Cinderella” portrays that the ultimate life goal for a woman is to get married.

Another example is from this nursery rhyme:

‘’Peter Peter pumpkin eater,
Had a wife but couldn’t keep her;
He put her in a pumpkin shell
And there he kept her very well.”

So, what may my younger brother learn from this rhyme? Probably that women are too hard to keep and locking them up in a prison of a domesticated life is the best option.

If we flip through the pages of fairy tales, we can find that the female characters are often portrayed as weak, domesticated slaves who are dependent on men to ‘rescue’ them. While women are portrayed this way, the male character holds the key to power, wealth and strength.

I think this, in later life stages, becomes the stepping stone for domestic violence and gender violence.

Also, I believe that it would be extremely partial to blame women for being not courageous enough to voice their opinions, when books teach them to act like sensitive weak dolls.

For example, in “The Little Mermaid”, Ariel gives up on everything to win the love of her life. She even loses her voice. Here, the voice symbolically stands for the ability of a woman to stand for herself. Why do we need to teach our girls that love can be won by giving up on self-love?

A pen is the most civilised weapon to fight a war. In a time when we are battling for our rights to freedom of speech, we must pause and introspect on the kind of freedom, love and power we are teaching our children.

Children are the seeds of a better tomorrow and we must be careful of what they’re learning and take up some responsibility for the lessons that they’re learning. So, let’s pick our pens up and ask ourselves what we want to create for the world.