Why Women Need Better Fairy Tales

Over at The Hairpin, Renee Lupica lists “Six Fairy Tales for the Modern Woman.”  In her fairy tales, women live fulfilling lives even when they remain single or childless; they are free from violence, successful in their work, fulfill lifelong dreams, and learn to be content with their bodies.  For example, Fairy Tale IV:

Once upon a time a woman was very good at her job, and she knew she had added value to the company she worked for, so even though she was nervous, she talked to her boss, and asked for a raise, and she got it.

The End.

I read these “fairy tales” and chuckled. I’m usually in favor of turning conventions on their heads and I’m always in favor of re-writing our fairy tales to make the heroines active and vocal rather than passive and voiceless. I appreciate the way Lupica uses rhetoric to examine the things women are told to want, and the things women actually want, and I think her “fairy tales” are becoming more and more true in our world. I know women who are content while single or childless; I know men who can drink without getting violent. I know women who have successful and fulfilling careers, take exotic vacations, enjoy stimulating hobbies, and feel comfortable in their skin.

But after I chuckled in appreciation for Lupica’s wit, I felt sad.  Maybe it was just the picture of “The Princess Bride” that the site had paired with the article, but suddenly I wished for more for these heroines.  Fairy tales, after all, should be magical stories chock-full of dangerous creatures, dastardly villains, and insurmountable obstacles. They should require from their heroines bravery, perseverance, wisdom and wit.

Fairy tales have always served to impart values, but Lupica’s fairy tales name personal fulfillment as the highest value.  If that’s the best we can do, maybe we’ve become women “without chests,” as C.S. Lewis said – women who lack strong moral character, redemptive imagination, or deep values.  If modern women dream of fairy tales like Lupica’s, we’ll end up right where Betty Friedan was, asking  “Is this really all there is?”

Bring on the dragons.  I think we can dream a little higher.

photo credit: Davi Ozolin via photopin cc

About Amy Lepine Peterson

Amy Lepine Peterson teaches ESL Writing and American Pop Culture at Taylor University, but spends most of her time making a home in the cornfields for her best-friend-husband and two (frankly adorable) children. Look for her with a french press of coffee and a book or a screen, plus a little one on her lap, thinking about education, mothering, theology, tv, movies, music, and sustainable habits of living.

  • Dimitri

    Its funny that you wrote this because when I read the older versions of
    fairy tales, they were nothing like Disney or Brothers Grimm that much.
    For example, Cinderella was not always the passive and silent damsel in
    distress we know today. Her older anecdotes were feisty, cunning,
    self-determined and clever. They claimed the slipper for recognition,
    not just winning a prince. The stepfamily were not just cruel but
    sadistic and, in some versions, cannibalistic. One version had Cindy
    kill her stepmother, only to get an even crueler stepmother. Another
    version had Cindy trick her stepsisters to bathe in a pot of boiling
    water, cook their flesh, and feed them to her stepmother who later dies
    of shock after her discovery. There was no Fairy Godmother in the old
    versions, it was usually a magical talking animal with magic bones, or
    the ghost of her deceased Mother.

  • TheodoreSeeber

    Why is it the “future people” of a certain generation’s imagining look a lot like the failed people of that generation?

    It isn’t feminism alone either, my wife is reading this book for a book club at church:

    http://www.amazon.com/Tomorrows-Catholic-Understanding-Millennium-Inspirational/dp/0896227243

    And it is amazing to me how Tomorrow’s Catholic looks suspiciously like a 1960s hippie.


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