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Feminist Fairytales: A Guide to Empowering Retellings of Classic Stories

As a lover of fairytales, I have always been fascinated by the magical worlds and captivating characters they offer. However, as I grew older, I couldn’t help but notice the problematic gender roles that are often present in these stories. From damsels in distress waiting for their prince to save them to evil stepmothers who are punished for their ambition, fairytales can perpetuate harmful stereotypes.

That’s why I decided to write this article about feminist fairytales. I wanted to explore how modern authors have been retelling classic stories to create empowering and inclusive narratives that challenge traditional gender roles.

Before we dive into some of these amazing feminist fairytales, let’s take a brief look at the history of fairytales and the problematic depictions of gender roles that they often contain. It’s important to understand this context so that we can fully appreciate the significance of the retellings we will discuss.

So, let’s get started!

Snow White

As a feminist, it’s important for me to acknowledge the problematic depictions of gender roles in traditional fairytales. For centuries, fairytales have been a part of human culture, captivating audiences with their magical and often cautionary tales. However, the majority of these stories perpetuated harmful gender stereotypes and reinforced the idea that women were passive, dependent, and in need of rescue by male characters.

Many popular fairytales originated in Europe during the 17th and 18th centuries, such as Cinderella, Snow White, and Sleeping Beauty. In these stories, female characters were often portrayed as passive and submissive, waiting for a male character to rescue them from their troubles. They were also portrayed as being beautiful, delicate, and in need of protection. Male characters, on the other hand, were depicted as strong, brave, and the ones who could solve problems and save the day.

These gender stereotypes reinforced harmful ideas about women’s capabilities and roles in society, leading to a lack of representation and opportunities for women. However, in recent years, feminist authors and creators have been retelling these classic stories with a modern, empowering twist, creating a new genre of literature known as feminist fairytales.

As a society, we have come a long way in recognizing the importance of gender equality. The need to challenge gender norms and promote equal opportunities has never been more pressing. In this context, feminist fairytales have emerged as a powerful tool to promote gender equality in children and adults alike.

Feminist fairytales offer a refreshing alternative to traditional stories by presenting female characters who are strong, independent, and capable of saving themselves. They offer a nuanced perspective on gender issues, encouraging readers to question traditional gender roles and stereotypes. These stories can inspire readers to take action and create a more equal and just society.

Feminist fairytales are particularly important for children, who are still developing their understanding of gender roles and norms. By reading feminist fairytales, children can see strong female characters who are not defined by traditional gender roles. This can help shape their views on gender and promote greater gender equality in their future lives.

Moreover, feminist fairytales are not just for children. They can also be empowering for adults, offering a different perspective on familiar stories and challenging our preconceptions. As adults, we can benefit from the diverse perspectives and ideas presented in feminist fairytales, broadening our understanding of gender issues and inspiring us to work towards greater gender equality.

Cinderella ( yes she got 3 hands)

Fairytales and their Issues

Classic fairytales have entertained generations, but they have also perpetuated harmful gender stereotypes. Here are some examples of classic fairytales and their problematic depictions of gender roles:

Cinderella: This classic story portrays Cinderella as a passive and helpless victim, relying on the intervention of a prince to save her from a life of misery.

Sleeping Beauty: This story features a passive and helpless princess who must be saved by a prince. The story reinforces the idea that women are helpless and need men to protect them.

Snow White: This tale presents a female character who is beautiful but naive, easily tricked by a jealous queen. The story reinforces the idea that women should be judged by their appearance rather than their character.

Beauty and the Beast: This story portrays the male character as a beast who is transformed by the love of a woman. The story reinforces the idea that women can change men through their love and that men are in control of the relationship.

Little Red Riding Hood: This story presents the female character as a naive and vulnerable victim who is easily preyed upon by a wolf. The story reinforces the idea that women are helpless and need to be protected by men.

The Little Mermaid: This story portrays the female character as giving up her voice for the love of a prince, reinforcing the idea that women should sacrifice their identity for the sake of a man.

Rapunzel: This story presents the female character as a damsel in distress, trapped in a tower and relying on a prince to rescue her. The story reinforces the idea that women need men to save them.

The Princess and the Frog: This story features a passive and helpless princess who is saved by a male frog. The story reinforces the idea that women are helpless and need men to protect them.

These classic fairytales have been criticized for their problematic depictions of gender roles, but there are retellings that challenge these stereotypes and offer more empowering narratives.

Sleeping Beauty

Feminist Fairytales Retellings

Feminist retellings of classic fairytales have gained popularity in recent years as a way to challenge traditional gender roles and provide more empowering narratives for readers. Here are some notable examples:

“Hunted” by Meagan Spooner: A retelling of “Beauty and the Beast” with a more active and capable Belle who must save her family and herself from a terrifying monster.

“Bitter Greens” by Kate Forsyth: A retelling of “Rapunzel” that weaves together the stories of three different women from different time periods.

“Princess Ben” by Catherine Gilbert Murdock: A retelling of “Sleeping Beauty” where the protagonist, a rebellious princess, must save her kingdom from an evil sorcerer.

“The Stepsister’s Tale” by Tracy Barrett: A retelling of “Cinderella” from the perspective of one of the stepsisters, who is more complex and sympathetic than in the original story.

“The Wild Girl” by Kate Forsyth: A retelling of the lesser-known fairy tale “The Singing, Springing Lark” that explores the power of storytelling and the agency of female characters.

“Cinder” by Marissa Meyer: A science-fiction retelling of Cinderella where the protagonist is a cyborg mechanic who becomes entangled in a political conspiracy.

“Spinning Silver” by Naomi Novik: A retelling of “Rumpelstiltskin” with a female protagonist who uses her wit and cunning to outsmart a dangerous supernatural being.

“The Bloody Chamber” by Angela Carter: A collection of dark and sensual retellings of classic fairytales, including “Little Red Riding Hood” and “Beauty and the Beast.”

“Ash” by Malinda Lo: A retelling of “Cinderella” with a lesbian protagonist who falls in love with the king’s huntress.

“Beastly” by Alex Flinn: A modern retelling of “Beauty and the Beast” set in a New York City high school.

These feminist retellings offer a refreshing take on classic tales, presenting female characters who are more complex, active, and empowered than in traditional stories.

One of the most significant benefits of feminist fairytales is the empowering messages they provide to readers. These stories often feature strong, independent female characters who overcome challenges and obstacles on their own, rather than waiting for a male character to rescue them. These messages can help readers, particularly young girls, to build self-esteem and confidence in their own abilities.

Another critical aspect of feminist fairytales is their representation of diverse characters. Traditional fairytales often feature only white, able-bodied, and cisgender characters, reinforcing the idea that these are the only types of people who are worthy of being protagonists. In contrast, feminist fairytales showcase characters from different ethnicities, sexualities, abilities, and gender identities, allowing readers to see themselves represented in these stories.

 Feminist fairytales also play a vital role in countering harmful stereotypes about gender and other marginalized groups. By presenting diverse characters in non-stereotypical ways, these stories can help readers to challenge and question their assumptions and biases about different types of people.

Finally, feminist fairytales encourage critical thinking about traditional fairytales and their problematic messages. By subverting and retelling classic stories, feminist authors encourage readers to think about the messages and values that are being conveyed and to question whether these messages are harmful or helpful.

In conclusion, feminist fairytales have a significant impact on promoting gender equality and challenging harmful stereotypes. Through their empowering messages, diverse characters, and encouragement of critical thinking, these stories offer a powerful alternative to traditional fairytales. As readers, we have the power to seek out and support feminist retellings and to share our favorite fairytale retellings with others. Together, we can help to create a more inclusive and just world for all.

As readers, we have the power to support and promote feminist fairytales by seeking out and reading these empowering retellings. By actively choosing to read and support diverse and inclusive stories, we can help to shift the narrative and promote positive representations of women and marginalized groups.

I encourage you to seek out and share your favorite feminist fairytale retellings with friends, family, and on social media. Let’s continue to promote stories that empower and inspire us to create a more equal and just society for all. Happy reading!

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