Wise Women: Folk and Fairy Tales from around the World

Wise Women: Folk and Fairy Tales from around the World

Wise Women: Folk and Fairy Tales from around the World

Wise Women: Folk and Fairy Tales from around the World

Excerpt

Women have always played key roles in the folk and fairy tales of the world. However, their images often have been tainted by their popular characterizations as passive heroines in need of rescue (“Sleeping Beauty” and “Snow White”), as insipid victims (“Little Red Riding Hood” and “Rapunzel”), or as willful, spoiled princesses (“The Frog Princess” and “The Princess on the Glass Hill”).

Marcia Lieberman discusses the profound influence fairy tales have had, stating, “Millions of women must surely have formed their psychosexual self-concepts, and their ideas of what they could or could not accomplish, what sort of behavior would be rewarded, and of the nature of the reward itself, in part from their favorite fairy tales.” What little girl could resist the power of the “happily ever after” theme with its promise of beauty, wealth, and a romantic rescue by a prince? Lieberman points out that some might consider the passivity of heroines an archetypal female behavior, but critics of such tales are more likely to consider them as powerful training manuals for girls.

Often contrasted against the pretty and passive heroine is the truly powerful adult female who is vain, jealous, proud, or evil. She is Hansel and Gretel's stepmother who places a higher priority on her own full stomach than on the lives of the children; she is Cinderella's stepsister who resorts to cutting off a toe or heel to attract a prince; she is the king's mother who tries to kill her grandchildren in Perrault's “The Sleeping Beauty in the Wood.” Not only is she aggressive and commanding, she is usually ugly. “It is a psychological truth that as children, and as women, girls fear homeliness ... and this fear is a major source of anxiety, diffidence, and convictions of inadequacy and inferiority among women.”

Marcia R. Lieberman, “ 'Some Day My Prince Will Come': Female Acculturation
through the Fairy Tale,” College English 34 (December 1972): 385.

Ibid.

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