Are Fairy Tales Just For Girls?

Posted June 5, 2015 by Carlisa in Fairy Tale Fridays, Features / 6 Comments

fairy tale fridayWhile thinking of ideas for this blog post, I was sitting by my 13-year-old brother Ryan and decided I should just ask him some questions. I didn’t really expect to get an answer from him…but I did. Here’s the conversation:

CARLISA: What do you think of fairy tales?
RYAN: *being sarcastic* I feel like there’s a lot of pressure on me right now.
C: Just tell me what you think about fairy tales.
R: It’s a story.
C: What kind of story?
R: It has a beginning, a middle, and end. [Again, with the sarcasm]
C: Okay…Why is a fairy tale different than any other story?
R: I mean, just look up the definition on Google.
C: *Major eye roll* Seriously.
R: Fairy tales are girly.
C: Why are they girly?
R: They’re all pink. And there’s, uh, princesses and stuff.
C: But what about the manly ones? Peter Pan and Robin Hood?
R: I don’t know. They’re just girly.

Do you see where the wheels in my brain starting turning (aka the lines that I have nicely bolded for you)? I feel like the majority of people would feel fairly confident in saying fairy tales are mostly for girls. Why is this?
Now to give a fair warning, I’m not starting a conversation on what it means to be a boy and what it means to be a girl. No one can deny that there are traits, created by society, to define what is boyish and what is girly. You understand those traits, and that’s what I’m talking about here. Nothing else, sorry.

Traditionally “Boy” Aspects That Can Be Found in Fairy Tales

  • Fairy tales, at least the originals, are filled with giants and sword fighting and gore and action…not necessarily “girly” things.
  • The majority of these fairy tales were written by males.
  • A lot of them are filled with male protagonists.
  • Dragons. Demons. Even cyborgs. You name it.
  • Humor

So why, even though there are things that can clearly be called”masculine,” are fairy tales for the most part considered girly?

Here’s my blunt answer: Marketing. For some reason companies have marketed the fairy tales directly towards girls. And I’m sure there are reasons behind that…but to me, this is the root of it. The example I’m going to use today are the covers–the first thing people will see when they see a book. The first impression they receive. And let’s be honest. We all judge books by their covers.

The Covers

I looked through fairy tale books on Goodreads and picked out some of the covers for you. It was really hard for me to find any that didn’t seem to be targeted solely to girls. I did find a few, but about 75 or 80% of them seemed to targets girls.

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Can you see the difference? The vast majority of fairy tale books and retellings look like this top row of books. With pretty girls in pretty dresses with their hair and makeup done perfectly. Often some pink (why I threw in that middle-grade Frog Princess). Loopy and beautiful cursive. This is what people think of when they think “fairy tale.”

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Now these are some of the books that are considered in the “fairy tale” genre but just by looking at them, you can tell that they’re not solely targeted for girls. And I think that’s sad. This bottom row looks way more kick-butt than the top, but you’d never know if one of those innocent/beautiful/why-is-your-make-up-so-perfect girls is actually also kick-butt and awesome. You’d never know if there’s also a kick-butt male protagonist in the story because that’s not what is focused on. But she’s beautiful and girls will like her, so that’s what matters.

Besides just the covers, most modern fairy tale retellings are written with girls in mind, at least that’s what it seems like. They’re usually written by girls and for girls, whether that is intentional or not. The main character is usually a girl, sometimes a princess, with an often hunky boy for the romance factor. And, yes, I admit to liking many of these books.

But but but. Where are the modern fairy tales written by whoever for whoever? Dual perspectives. Boy leads. Girl leads without a boy to romance her but instead as a kick-butt best friend. Just some ideas off the top of my head. I don’t know. And there are the greats out there. Neil Gaiman, my hat goes off to you. The people who designed the covers above, my hat also goes off to you. But I want to see more of it. I want my 13-year-old brother to feel okay if he wanted to sit down and read a fairy tale. To not feel like that’s too girly of a thing to do. You know?

What do you think? Why is there this stigma and how can we change it? Do you know any good fairy tales that aren’t targeted just towards girls? Let me know!

  • Ivy

    I definitely don’t think that fairy tales are only for girls. I agree that a lot of them are created by men and then remade by men. Maybe in the case of princess stories, since the protag is a female, the automatic response is to think it is for girls. Maybe it is because even in a lot of modern renditions there is usually a love story involved. With how large Disney is and how ingrained it is, it is hard to separate someone else’s retelling from the Disney version. And since a large part of their market is aimed towards the thought of “every little girl deserves to be a princess,” it worsens the idea that princesses (the fairy tales that most people think of when they hear fairy tale) are aimed towards women.

    I don’t think I know a lot of people that feel this way anymore, though. When I was younger these things seemed to apply more. It could have to do with the age of your brother because in my experience, at my age (19) a lot of people don’t care whether something is projected as feminine. Either that or I am just talking to the right people. =p

    Whatever it is that has made fairy tales out to be feminine, I wish it would go away. I want more diversity in my stories.

    Also, I apologize if this is all out of sorts. I had a lot of thoughts, but not exactly the words to write about them.

    • First of all, I’d just like to say that I so appreciate you and your comment. You really took the time to think and respond, and I love love love that. So thank you.

      And yes. I totally agree. I really like what you said about how it’s hard to separate any thing “fairy tale” from its Disney counterpart. And yes their princess side of things is a HUGE point of marketing for them. But I think they’re getting better about it. Like with the new princess movies where they are dependent on boys (like Frozen or Brave). It’d be interesting if they ever make a movie about a boy prince who is the main character (…Am I totally blanking on a movie that already exists like this? I can’t think of one).

      And yeah, I’m sure my brother’s age has a large factor in his inability to care about fairy tales because they’re “girly.” I’m 19 too so I get what you’re saying. Some of my best guy friends loves these type of things.

      Thank you again. Your comment was wonderful. YOU’RE wonderful.

      • Ivy

        I super appreciate the gushing! I love compliments! But I figure this is a discussion post, why not discuss? =D

        I agree that they are working on it, especially with it being more accepted that gender roles are a societal construct. Aladdin doesn’t count? I mean, he’s not technically a prince (without magic), but we can count it if you want. Honestly, I think Dreamworks does a better job of portraying a variety of characters throughout their movies. Also, maybe, the Pixar division of Disney does a better job at it as well. Like, I feel they have a better market towards both genders. Maybe I am imagining it, though.

        If you ever want to chat (more directly so the flow of conversation isn’t interrupted), I’m down for that. Keep up these great posts! I have a thing for fairy tales! ♥

  • Sinjon Ruesch
  • I really love this topic!
    Fairytales are not just for girls. Actually there is a really great David Levithan “You think that fairytales are only for girls? Here’s a hint– Look at who wrote them. I assure you, it wasn’t just the women. It’s the great male fantasy– all it takes is one dance to know that she’s the one…Yes, girls want their princes, but boys want their princesses just as much.”
    I agree with this whole-heartedly. Everyone wants a happily ever after, no matter which gender you are.
    I also think that boys are afraid of seeming “weak” or “unmanly” if they are caught reading anything that resembles a fairytale. The main factor is probably the prominence of romance in many fairytales, at least in the Disney adaptations.
    I also feel that the reverse of this theory is true. Some girls, myself included, are afraid to read more “boyish” books. I mean, I would not even go near a Walking Dead graphic novel just because of the weird looks I would get. I mean, why can’t a petite, girly teenager read a gory, scary, and culturally “masculine” book? There is no good reason.

    • Yes! I’ve seen that quote and I love that quote. It’s definitely something that people don’t think about as we imagine the perfect “Prince Charming.” The girls and princesses were created with the boys in mind!

      I agree with you about the “weak” appearance of fairy tales to boys and, sadly, it really is because of Disney. Despite this, I love Disney with all my heart and am really glad with the strides they have made to make the fairy tales more boy approachable.

      Thank you for the visit! I really appreciate the people who take the time to write meaningful comments like this. So thank you. You’re awesome. And if you want to read that Walking Dead novel, you’re awesome enough to do it! 😛