We all have grown up listening to various fairy tales. Our childhood has been full of them: Cinderella, Alice in the wonderland, the little matchstick, snow white, little red riding hood, sleeping beauty and so many more. As a child, we were engulfed by such stories, dreamt about such lives, were mystified by the events and episodes of these tales. Enchanted by the beauty of the princess and fairies, we wanted to be like them and feel the beauty; the idea of love and the prince throttled deep in our hearts; the heroic acts of the prince emancipated our own self esteem in ways. As grown-ups, we may perceive ourselves to be away from such magical world, submerged in the waters of logic and reasoning but in reality we carry these very stories within us. The very fact that we wish to narrate these magical stories to our own children somewhere show the centrality of these stories as still persistent in our lives. Not only this, we even are affected by the implicit characteristics of these stories which are stored in the unconscious of our mind and contribute to our being. Recently, in an assignment we were asked to revive the unconscious identifications between our life and the stories of our childhood. It was through that, that I began to find some themes resting on common grounds between my life story and the story of “the propeller” that I heard once in my childhood. I was unaware that a story which I once heard in my childhood was alive in me so vividly. It was only after analyzing it, I began to see the links and the paths. These stories of our childhood place upon us various notions about innumerable things, silently and carefully that we remain least informed about them. Thus, even though, as grown-ups, we claim to be unaffected and uninfluenced by fairy tales and other myths, we actually are living them in unconscious ways.
Most of us even today fantasize often the idea of being a beautiful princess, who one day will meet and fall in love with her prince charming, and then together shall live a happily ever after life. Perhaps this makes the fairy tales; Snow White, Cinderella or Sleeping Beauty still popular right now as they were many generations ago. The majority of us falls deeply in love with the image that each princess from these fairy tales portrays; an ideal beauty with long golden hair, luscious red lips, and soft white skin. “Once upon a time, there lived a beautiful princess ..” and “ … they lived happily after” this is the trademark of a fairy tale and we still aren’t able to move beyond this utopian idea. Each one of us, atleast I can say about myself have secretly wished for the longest time to have a life as half as beautiful and romantic as the characters in tales live. When we dissect deeper into the fairy tales as my endeavor would to be, I would want to locate the multiple concerns that we often fail to acknowledge, such as issues of gender roles, prejudices, and stereotypes of this so called happily ever after world.
In most fairy tales, females character fall into a dichotomy. The heroine is the ideal good girl. She is endlessly beautiful, kind and compassionate. She does not complain or get angry. Instead, she takes her burden as it comes. And in the end, the heroine is saved by a noble Prince who gets her because she is good and beautiful and a princess. Ironically, the villain is also generally female. She is cunning and ambitious and, in most cases she is jealous and malicious. She will go to any means to achieve her end. As good as the heroine is, the villain is just as evil. These characters suggest if a woman shows agency and takes action, she is automatically evil. To be good, one must be docile.
The heroes on the other hand are the rich, powerful, handsome men ideal in every way. Yet they have simple needs and emotions. They fall in love, generally at first sight, and are devastated if their lady love is ‘dead’. Even when their actions are interpreted as controversial, they are never wrong. The prince of the fairy tale is always right and always wins in the end. He gets his bride and a happy ending, regardless of the plot.
Besides these stereotypes, fairy tales also deal with biased matters relating to gender roles. There seems to be a pattern within most of the fairy tales: the wealthy man who remarries after his wife passed away due to child birth, the daughter who grows up to be the most beautiful yet lives the most tragic life and the prince charming who comes to rescue the beautiful princess in the end. In each situation, there is a sense of bias because the male characters are given chances, and yet along with that he has the burden of being strong always. I have never come across a fairy tale which has described man to be meek or fragile and this also takes me further to ask why we all imagine and aspire to have a man who is strong, handsome, intelligent individual. Probably our desires trace from these stories and also how culture is embedded in us. The man has a choice to remarry, to choose his bride, and to be hero in the woman’s eyes. The woman, on the other hand, has none of those choices. She is left to deal with hardships alone, until being rescued by the man. It seems gender roles are more lenient toward men than women when it comes to love and relationships, which then gives men more power, as one can see described in the fairy tales. However, one may not agree with such a gender division and one may argue women today are as equal as men and women are certainly qualified to perform any tasks that men would perform. Can we imagine Snow White being the one who goes out and works for the food while the dwarfs stay at home and take care of the house? It will certainly be difficult to locate this scenario, even though we know in contemporary times women have taken a leap and went ahead to work outside and redefine themselves through the work and position in society. The gender blur between men and women that we see today does exist, but it has yet to exist in fairy tales because fairy tales often show stereotypes. The notion of males being dominant and females being subordinate has been deeply embedded into our culture’s view of the gender roles. The princess is not smart, clever, or ambitious. She doesnot find her way out of situations with the use of her wit, but waits for others to save her. If one goes by Freudian theory it clearly makes males dominate because of their sexual advantage. Bringing this back to the gender roles within the fairy tales, males seem to have more power than females when it comes to love because males had what it takes to satisfy females, which somewhat put them in charge. Love mainly revolves around sexual acts between a male and a female and power lies in the hands of the male because he holds the key to sexual acts. One of the ways the politics of power and gender in the fairy tales can be understood through Freudian analysis of psycho sexual stages. However, as patriarchy defines women to be submissive and meek it also compels the man to seek out a woman of a particular kind, in a way his domination and power is defined by woman. His roles are too fixed and he is expected to fulfill the responsibility of a man. If princess’s only aim is to find the prince of her life, the story of prince also remains incomplete without his search for the princess. In a way, I personally could also locate the inter-play of power roles apart from the stereotypical definitions of man and woman.
I am amazed myself to view the fairy tales through this lens but such a picture of tales is what we have been living all through our childhood and desire to bring this up to our kids as well!
Undoubtedly, Fairy Tales are the lived unconsciously!!