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Gender in Fairy Tales.


During a literary stylistics class, we were in the midst of conducting a transitivity analysis when my mind travelled to the construction of fairy tales and their conscious characterisation and fabrication of an explicit formula that is embedded within each story. Whilst studying for my undergraduate degree, I took two linguistic modules which heightened my awareness of the techniques that are used to manipulate us through the use of language. These modules enriched my reading experiences and were beneficial to my comprehension of information, I chose to take a linguistic module for my Masters, in hope of exploring this further.

The class that I am currently taking focuses on language in a literary context. We were conducting a transitivity analysis of an extract from a romance novel. Upon completing this, we observed our findings which demonstrated that the male used more behavioural and material processes whereas the woman demonstrated more verbal and relational processes. In this case, a material process is physically ‘doing’ something. The representation of gender was stereotypical. The man does, whilst the woman talks. My mind wandered to other pieces of literature and whether they adhered to this.

Think about the fairy tales that were read to you as a child, most of which were constructed on a formulaic basis. The girl is in trouble and the boy is the hero that saves her. She is expected to sit around and wait to be saved; she is helpless. The boy fights the battles and is her savour; he earns the glory. He almost has a higher status. Again he uses material processes whilst the girl uses mental processes. Most fairy tales follow this premise and are the stories that are read to us during our early ages of learning, discovering and coming to comprehend what the world is all about. They also form our understanding of genders. Beliefs are rooted within us at this crucial age, these principles will be embedded within us for the rest of our lives. We live in accordance to them through time.

These stories form the basis of our expectations and perceptions of the world. They shape a specification by which a male and female are measured. Women grow up with the conviction of being saved by their Prince Charming. A man is expected to ‘make the first move’ and take charge whereas the role of the woman is to be courted. They justify any vulnerable behaviour simply by claiming that they are women. It is as if a woman is expected to be helpless and emotional, whilst a man must be muscular and tough. Men are often reprimanded for not being manly enough. If a man is to cry, it is taken as a sign of weakness, whereas it is expected by a woman.

These fairy tales provide a criteria for female and male behaviour. They provide society with a model which is able to ascertain whether specific behaviour is appropriate for a gender. For example, if a woman does something that is considered to be a male job such as being a mechanic, she is frowned upon and it becomes difficult for her to find a job. However society seems to be more lenient towards men. There has been a rise of men working in the make-up industry or as fashion designers; it has become almost customary. Fairy tales allocate men with power, which in turn provide them with the freedom to do as they please. Women are still expected to be reliant on men and their sole purpose in life should be to find the ‘right one.’ Men tend to be more career-orientated, their lives are about status and supremacy. This again arises from fairy tales, which dictate our future behaviours.

Women dress up to attract the attention of men and society emphasises this to be proper etiquette. Make-up and perfume are marketed to enhance our beauty and everything is about the female looking beautiful for the male. Women are objectified. By analysing the structure of fairy tales, it is evident that the objectification of women stems from this.

Fairy tales teach us about morality, and implicitly about our own behaviour. We subconsciously believe that it is improper for us to act in a certain manner, which if questioned, resonates from fictitious stories that were read to us through our childhood. These are stories that were also read to our parents, which travelled through time, cultures and generations. They are tangible. Although writers have taken it upon themselves to revise and subvert fairy tales, it is essentially the classics that continue to be distributed.

(Image Source: here)

5 comments

  1. Interesting post. I like the comparison you made. Thank you for sharing.

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  5. Beautiful post.

    I remember studying the SAME exact thing in my Nature of Narrative's course.

    I look forward to exploring your blog. :)

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