Fairy tales and controversies

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“Little did we realize while reading our childhood fairy tales how controversial these seemingly simple and amusing stories were. Adults were enthusiastically engaged in determining whether such tales were damaging because of their violence or irrationality, or whether they instead furnished powerful fantasies good for developing psyches. The battle over the significance of fairy tales has been raging in various forms for some time. As early as the 1700s we find a writer of children’s stories referring to fairy tales as ‘frolicks of a distempered mind,’ a sentiment still very much alive today (Kiefer 1948: 87).

In recent times the battle has spread to a new front, where opposing forces clash over the issue of sexual stereotyping. There are those who feel that fairy tales are unsuitable because they reinforce sexist stereotyping for both boys and girls, others who feel that fairy tales challenge such stereotyping, and still others who insist that these stories have neither a negative nor a positive impact in terms of gender.” (125) (something Stone goes on to discuss)

One of the theorists she mentions, N. J. Girardot, “presents a detailed study of ‘Snow White’ in support of his view that fairy tales are essentially nonsexist. He suggests that many fairy tales echo the general outlines of rites de passage, thus offering listeners the possibility of a religious experience during which they can recognize ‘that life itself is a story, a story told by God or the gods, to accomplish the happy passage of men and women through a dark and dangerous world’ (Girardot 1977: 300). He feels that the difference between male and female acts in fairy tales is superficial and deceptive: ‘Heroes and heroines in [-129] fairy tales, more so than in epic and saga, do not ordinarily succeed because they act, but because they allow themselves to be acted upon – helped, protected, saved, or transformed – by the magic of the fairy world’ (1977: 284). In Girardot’s opinion, fairy tales reflect the struggle for maturity and enlightenment, and both hero and heroine are engaged equally in this struggle. …Both seek an awakening rather than a mate.” (128-129) 

She discusses, as well, “the possibilities of fairy tales as either problem-solving stories, as Bettelheim and Girardot suggest, or as problem-creating stories, as feminist writers insist.” (133)

Ref: Kay F. Stone‘The misuses of enchantment: controversies on the significance of fairy tales’ pp.125+ in Rosan Jordan and Susan J. Kalcik (eds.), Women’s Folklore, Women’s Culture (1985) University of Pennsylvania Press

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