Friday, October 10


I love fairy tales, of beautiful women and handsome princes. I like looking at dolls with their sweet faces, lovely clothes and perfect figures. I enjoy reading stories that start with 'Once upon a time' and end with "...and they lived happily ever after".
Correction. I used to love them all.
Now I'd think twice about buying a book like Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty and Rapunzel for my nieces. I'd think even longer before purchasing a Barbie doll for a little girl.

Cinderella. Sleeping Beauty. Rapunzel. Snow White and the seven drawfs. Characters in fairy tales from the West.
What do they have in common?
They're young and beautiful. They're kind and helpful. They're victims of evil and powerful enemies. They wait for a prince to come and rescue them from their sad existence. They end up marrying their rescuers.

Cinderella's fate and future depended on a pair of glass shoes. She depended on her fairy godmother to get her to the ball, then waited for the prince to rescue her, while doing nothing to help herself escape from her life of drudgery.
Rumpelstitskin cried her heart out each time she was left alone in a room full of straw and had to ask a dwarf to help her spin the straw into gold. Then surprise surprise, she broke her promise to him and caused his death.
Sleeping Beauty slept for 100 years, and like Cindrella, merely waited for a handsome and strong prince to wake her up from her slumber with a kiss.
Alas, Rapunzel bore the prince a pair of twins after becoming pregnant out of wedlock.
Snow White, a young woman, stayed in a hut in the middle of the forest alone with seven little men, and like Sleeping Beauty, had to wait for a handsome prince to rescue her.

Do we really want our daughters to grow up believing in these stories?
Although children read fairy tales for enjoyment, such portrayal of female characters may influence them, in particularly girls, about the social expectations of good women.
From a young impressionable age, little girls are fed such Western stories through books, television and animated movies. They learn that goodness comes in a package - beauty, a slim body and long hair (which heroine is plain-looking, fat and has short hair?); and evil comes in another package - ugliness, a loud voice and powerful spells (think witch and evil stepmother).

In fairytales, it's all right to suffer in silence because the heroine will be rescued soon, creating the beliefs that women should be patient and suffer before they achieve happiness. Also, good women are supposed to be seen and not heard, especially not to complain. They are not supposed to voice their opinions, much less be involved in decision-making. Instead, quietness and patience are desirable traits; for instance Cinderella and The Goose Girl who remain silent despite their hardships.

What's the reward for being a tall, strong and handsome prince? What's the reward for helping the king solve a problem or kill a dragon?
He'd get to marry the beautiful maiden or the princess ( never mind what she thinks of her future husband) and they live happily ever after. This eventually influences children, especially girls to believe that being married is the only way to achieve happiness. They'd wait for their knights in shining armours during their teens and twenties. Then they might end up being disillusioned and disappointed, wondering what happened to all those so-called knights?

Boys might be convinced that there will always be a beautiful girl waiting for them to rescue, thus they do not have to be respectable toward women in general. This might cause boys to grow up to be chauvinistic and deem themselves as being superior to women.
And what happens to those who disobey their father and mother? They end up dead (The Little Mermaid) or risk being eaten by a wolf (Little Red Riding Hood).

The impact of fairy tales on children is enormous, because children relate to the stories they read. Although fairy tales reflects life, as adults we should supervise and caution children that unlike the happy endings in the fantasy world, in the modern world an individual’s beliefs and actions determine one’s future. Hence happiness is the result of one’s choice, not the result of circumstances as portrayed in the fairy tales.

Interestingly, not only Western fairytales are mysogynistic in their potrayal of female characters. Malay folktales too have such traits, in stories such as Bawang Putih Bawang Merah, and Mahsuri.

On the other hand, we lack children's books with stories that portray females as strong, independent characters. Sadly Islamic books with stories of strong and pious female characters are not as widely circulated in bookshops and libraries compared to fairy tales. While we should encourage children to read, we must also choose reading materials with care and supervise their readings. Do spend time discussing the issues in fairytales with the children so that they'd have a better understanding and will not be so easily influenced by the messages contained in the fairytales.



  1. I used to read Enid Blyton's books to improve my English in my primary school time. Yet the fairy tales are all strongly about Christmas, magic, Santa etc. Jadi banyak imaginasi gitu!

  2. So did I,ummu umar. But those aren't fairy tales - just fictional characters created by Enid Blyton to teach children about moral values. My favourites used to The Malory Towers series, Famous Five and The Magic Faraway Tree :) What I mean by fairy tales are those called Grimm's Fairy Tales, Stories by Hans Christian Anderson and stories passed down through generations, which may have negative effect on girls.

  3. you are too kind, kak aliya. i have to read mine:

    hehe. cinderella. i just cant like it.