chapter  19
18 Pages

Feminism and Fairy Tales

As long as fairy tale paradigms accord closely with cultural norms, women can and have found in romantic fictions satisfying justifications for their conformity. But recent studies, such as Beauvoir's The Second Sex, Greer's The Female Eunuch, and Friedan's The Feminine Mystique, to mention only the forerunners, have exposed the historical conditions which subordinate women in all areas from the procreative to the political. With progressive suffrage and liberation movements of the twentieth century and radical redefinitions of sexual and social roles, women are challenging both previous mores and those fairy tales which inculcate romantic ideals. Although lingeringly attracted to fantasies (like Eve to the garden after the Fall), many modern women can no longer blindly accept the promise of connubial bliss with the prince. Indeed, fairy tale fantasies come to seem more deluding than problem-solving. 'Romance' glosses over the heroine's impotence: she is unable to act independently or self-assertively; she relies on external agents for rescue; she binds herself first to the father and then the prince; she restricts her ambitions to hearth and nursery. Fairy tales, therefore, no longer provide mythic validations of desirable female behavior; instead, they seem more purely escapist or nostalgic, having lost their potency because of the widening gap between social practice and romantic idealization.