Fun Fact about Carlisa: I am all about these new fairy tale remakes that’ve been exploding. They’re everywhere, and it’s fantastic. There are shows like Grimm and Once Upon a Time, which I still need to catch up on by the way. There are movies everywhere you look with Disney remakes like Maleficient and Cinderella to the the new Huntsman movie. It’s also prevalent in YA literature with so many new fairy tale retellings coming out in the past couple of years. This market is exploding, and I am a firm believer that media trends are a direct result of cultural and societal beliefs and issues of that time, as I stated in my discussion on the Dystopian genre last summer.
And, how I see it, this rings true for the Fairy Tale Remaking trend. I believe fairy tales are being remade with much stronger, independent female characters that correlate to society’s push for gender equality and feminism. So let’s talk about it.
When You Think About It…Fairy Tales Can Be Pretty Sexist
It pains me to say this…because I truly do love fairy tales, but you can’t deny that there are tons of sexist tropes that litter both the original tales and many more modern adaptations—like basically all of the original Disney princess movies. And the originals that were written back in the day, when Hans Christian Anderson and the Grimm brothers were strolling around…it’s more understandable that these have sexist ideals. I mean, it was the 1800s, and that’s just how their society worked. Not that sexism and inequality is ever justifiable…but, I mean, we can’t look at those stories with the knowledge and eyes that we have today.
The biggest way that sexism is presented in these stories is through beauty being practically the only things that gives women value. There was a study done at Purdue University that examined Grimms’ fairy tales and the results are super interesting to me:
Their analysis also showed that 94 percent of the Grimms’ fairy tales acknowledged physical appearance, and the average references per story were 13.6. In one story, there were 114 beauty references for women. In comparison, the number of beauty references for men did not exceed 35 per story.
I wish that the article said which story mentioned a woman’s beauty 114 times because I would love to analyze that further. But anyway, there’s no denying the importance of a woman’s beauty in these stories.
But besides beauty, women have other characteristics in these stories: she’s selfless, innocent, sweet, and passive. They wait to be acted upon, to be saved by their heroic and dashing prince, who falls in love with her at first sight (of course) with no thought or care whatever of her personality. So, basically, she’s a blank, oh-so-beautiful slate for the prince to act upon. And this ideal continues to creep into more-modern adaptations.
And with the classic Disney adaptations, well, it’s harder to brush off and look past as a cultural fallacy of the time. Sure, some of them were made in the early- to mid-1900s, which was a time riddled with unequal gender norms…but those movies are still so incredibly prevalent today, that these inequalities should not be ignored.
Just look at Snow White. Literally the entire premise of that movie is about beauty. And, sure, it kind of describes the fallacy that comes from caring too much about beauty…but the heroine is still beautiful and innocent and passive—everything Prince Charming wants in a woman. Or Ariel who literally cannot speak to Eric, but woos him with her big, beautiful eyes.
But Today’s Fairy Tale Remakes Are Better
So, here we are. Today. When, like I said, fairy tales are being remade and re-worked up the wazoo. And I think they do a much better job of representing women as stronger and more independent and valuable for more than their beauty.
The kiss that awakens Aurora in Maleficient is not that of a smitten-by-beauty prince, but of a dear friend who loves her. Likewise, in Frozen Anna isn’t saved by true love’s kiss, but by her loving sister. Merida in Brave decides that she is a strong, independent woman who don’t need no man (*snaps fingers in a Z-formation*). Snow White in Snow White and the Huntsman trains and fights for her kingdom instead of waiting for her prince to do it for her. Emma from Once Upon a Time is literally the “savior” of the town, a title given to her whether or not she has a man by her side.
And these are just a few examples. These women can fight and protect themselves, and if they choose to have a man by their side, then so be it! And if they don’t…well, then so be it! And it’s awesome.
To me, this rise in strong, kick-butt heroines in fairy tale retellings is telling of our society and our push for gender equality and independence for women. And I think it’s so important that these type of women are presented for children, and everyone really, in these movies. They provide strong role models for young girls and boys to show the value in their personalities and characters and strength. Wouldn’t you say that’s important?
But…these new remakes are not perfect. Beauty is still a prevalent and important part of a fairy tale. Prince Kit still falls in love with Cinderella moments after seeing her beauty in the 2015 Cinderella. Aurora in Maleficient is portrayed as a beauty and ditzy young girl who doesn’t really do much, but is still crowned queen at the end of the film. Maybe this is just a fallacy of the Hollywood system, but there really aren’t any ugly—or even normal-looking—princess figures. With the exception of Princess Fiona in Shrek (which is not a traditional fairy tale in any way whatsoever), they’re all beautiful, and valued for that.
Beautiful with a side of kick-butt, in most cases.
But, all in all, I think we’re seeing progress. And I think the reason for the huge surge in fairy tale retellings in movies, television, and books is this need for strong and independent female figures. These differences are important to everyone, whether you’re 5 or 85. Strong princesses set up role models for young children; they show that you can be much more than a beautiful face. And this is so completely necessary in today’s world. And, slowly but surely, I think we’re getting there.
What do you think? Do you see the prevalence of the sexist fairy tale…that maybe we can still see echoes of today? Why do you think fairy tale retellings are so popular right now? Let me know in the comments!