Gender Impact on Fairy Tales

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Jasleen Mann

Writing 01

Professor Samper

December 7, 2012

“Gender Impact on Fairy Tales”

Traditional and folk tales [as opposed to Grimm’s and the Disney versions] were as one of the few sorts of classic children’s literature of which a radical feminist would approve…. These stories suggest a society in which women are as competent and active as men, at every age and in every class.

(Allison Lurie qtd. Lieberman 383).
Gender roles have an impact on fairy tales whether for good or bad. Many critics argue that both The Brothers Grimm version “Rapunzel” and the Disney movie version “Tangled” are similar, in terms of the representation of patriarchal traditional gender roles; however, I disagree. I don’t think this is the case because there are concrete examples on the differences between the gender roles: the Disney version is in fact a positive representation of women. I agree that both fairy tales have an enormous impact on children; many girls and boys rely on the various fairy tales out there and pay close attention to the different actions that the characters take in the fairy tales and relate them to themselves. Fairy tales exemplify how to be masculine or feminine. The problem is that many fairy tales are sexist. For example, one of the fairy tales by the Brothers’ Grimm, “Rapunzel,” portrays sexist gender roles, which has a negative impact on the way children grow up. However there are fairy tales such as Disney’s version of Rapunzel, “Tangled,” in which gender roles are portrayed in a positive manor. Although Rapunzel is sexist, Tangled does not articulate patriarchal gender ideology and in fact is a positive portrayal of femininity.

Within the Brothers Grimm version “Rapunzel” and the Disney movie version “Tangled”, there has been an issue with The Brothers Grimm version “Rapunzel” being sexist. Within these two fairy tales there is a new time and place that reflects the changing attitudes toward gender and sexuality. The two different versions translate the tales into a deeper meaning. They help shift cultural attitudes and engage the issues of gender identity. While comparing The Brothers Grimm version “Rapunzel” and the Disney’s version “Tangled”, there were numerous differences between the two. In the Disney’s version “Tangled”, Rapunzel is as a strong character. She tries her best to get out of the tower and do whatever she felt is right. Alternatively, in The Brothers Grimm version of “Rapunzel”, Rapunzel is a weak character. She stays the same and obeys her so-called mothers’ demands.

In The Brothers Grimm version, women were treated without respect. For example, Rapunzel wasn’t allowed to do whatever she felt like doing. Moreover, she had to ask for permission before taking any type of step. In the same way children are manipulated. They are forced to see this disrespect in a positive way. Children rely on these examples and relate them to themselves and conclude whatever the fairy tales say is what we will believe. As Cristina Bacchilega aggress that fairy tales convince us to accept negative gender roles: “This shift from assuming sexual identity to analyzing its construction in narrative implies, on the other hand, the question of how ‘women’ are seduced into consenting to “femininity” and, on the other hand, the need not to limit that struggle to sexuality, reproduction, or, for that matter, gender alone” (4). Woman didn’t seem to have much confidence to stand up for their rights. They didn’t see the importance of living life on their own; alternatively they relied on men to help support them. Knowing the fact that men were going to bring home food and shelter everyday, women didn’t worry much. They were not treated equally as men. Women never got the chance to work nor support their own families. Instead they would stay at home and feed the children and do housework.

Whereas In the Disney movie version, women seem to be characterized with a different approach. In the Disney movie version, the women are more confident of their actions and dare to do certain things. In the Disney movie version, Rapunzel was characterized as a male character in a way where she would take actions that would resemble something a male would do. She was strong and active. She knew what to do in order to get her way out of the tower. She seemed like a character that actually thought in a smart way rather than putting up with her so-called mother and not able to go out like in The Brothers Grimm version.

With the above comparisons, we can conclude that Rapunzel was far off more superior and stronger in the Disney version rather than The Brothers Grimms’ version. These ideas challenge traditional gender roles. With this comparison, gender role applies. “Rapunzel” and “Tangled” are great examples of Tysons reading about how patriarchy defines a ‘good girl’ versus ‘bad girl’. Tyson argues that in fairy tales “the main [female] characters are stereotyped as either “good girls” (gentle, submissive, virginal, angelic) or “bad girl” (violent, aggressive, worldly, monstrous). These characterizations imply that if a women does not accept her patriarchal gender role, then the only role left her is that of a monster” (88). With these examples of what the roles of a “good girl” or a “bad girl” are, we can categorize both versions of Rapunzel. In The Brothers Grimm version Rapunzel is characterized as a “good girl” because she is portrayed to be “gentle, submissive, virginal, angelic” (Tyson 88). Rather in the Disney version, Rapunzel is a “bad girl” because she is portrayed to be “violent, aggressive, worldly, monstrous” (Tyson 88). With these ideas, patriarchy defines women, whether she is characterized as a “good girl” or a “bad girl”.

Within The Brothers Grimm version, Rapunzel was weak. She never thought the fact that she would ever exchange a conversation with a male character. For example, when she first met the prince she was apprehensive: “At first Rapunzel was terribly frightened when a man, such as her eyes had never yet beheld, came to her; but the king's son began to talk to her quite like a friend, and told her that his heart had been so stirred that it had let him have no rest, and he had been forced to see her” (Grimm 4). It took Rapunzel a while to befriend the male character because she wasn’t used to associating herself with males in any shape or form. Unlike The Brothers Grimm version, Rapunzel in the Disney movie version had no fear of males in general. She didn’t seem like she cared much. She was stronger than the male character. She found a way out of the different obstacles she faced. She was portrayed as a “bad girl”.

One of the obstacles she faced was when she was trapped inside the tower. She did whatever she could do to flee the tower. Even though she had an evil so-called mother (the witch), she was not discouraged. She knew the right thing to do was to run away from the tower after finding the truth. Another example of femininity is portrayed within Mother Gothel. She takes care of Rapunzel till she grows old. Mother Gothel isn’t characterized as an old person. She is rather young and revealing. She isn’t seen as a witch in the Disney movie version. Rather in The Brothers Grimm version she is characterized as an evil person. She uses her evil ways to trap Rapunzel under her spell.

Adequately in both of the versions of Rapunzel, there are many concrete differences. From the gender impact to the good and bad characteristics, there have been various issues that have risen. In the Disney version, Rapunzel shows her strength when her and Flynn (Rapunzel’s crush) were trapped in a flooding cave. Rapunzel admits that her hair glows when she sings. She uses her glowing hair to heal Flynn’s injured hand. With the help of her hair she was able to make so many changes in such little time. She knew in order to help heal her friend’s hand she would have to make a move and stand up to help someone in need. With this example, we can classify Rapunzel as a strong and independent woman. She is seen in a “good girl” perspective. Rather in The Brothers Grimm version, Rapunzel isn’t shown as a strong character, rather she is described as a character without strengths. She is always in the tower and doesn’t try to do anything to get herself out of there to flee. On the other hand in “Tangled”, Rapunzel uses a frying pan to defend herself in many cases. The idea of a frying pan symbolizes toughness and it challenges the ideas. The frying pan is seen as a utensil that is used in the kitchen rather than as a weapon. The pan is a powerful symbol in this case. It shows the masculine powers that a girl can have in the kitchen or outside of the kitchen.

In the Disney’s version of Rapunzel, “Tangled”, Rapunzel is shown as a strong and a masculine character. She has masculine abilities to get through the obstacles she faced. In The Brothers Grimm version of Rapunzel, she is a weak character that just obeys the rules that are thrown at her. Within the two different versions of Rapunzel, there are also similarities. The story line is about the same but with the gender impacts they become different. The impact is always aimed towards the youth and how they will be raised whether it’s for the good or bad.

Works Cited

Bacchilega, Cristina. "An Introduction to the "Innocent Persecuted Heroine" Fairy Tale. Western Folklore. 1st ed. Vol. 52. N.p.: Western States Folklore Society, JSTOR. Western States Folklore Society. Web. 26 Nov. 2012. .

Brothers', Grimm. "Short Stories: Rapunzel by Brothers Grimm." Short Stories:

Rapunzel by Brothers Grimm. N.p., n.d. Web. 20 Nov. 2012. .

Lieberman, Marcia R. “‘Some Day My Prince Will Come’: Female Acculturation

through the Fairy Tale." College English. 3rd ed. Vol. 34. N.p.: National Council of Teachers of English, n.d. 383. Web. .

Tyson, Lois. "Feminist Criticism." Critical Theory Today: A User-friendly Guide.

New York: Garland Pub., 1999. 81-102. Print.

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