Gender Bias and Sexual Stereotyping in Fairytales
I wrote a paper in 2001 titled the above title and it foreshadowed this class. I wrote this paper for my Psychology class and here is a synopsis of what I said:
I compared three fariytales Cinderella, Rapunzel and Sleeping Beauty and basically what I believe is that gender bias and sexual stereotyping is inappropriate as depicted in these three tales and many others. Gender stereotypes are characterizations involving personality attributes, physical traits, ambitions, occupations, and life styles ascribed to an individual, because of his or her sex. Gender bias exists in the content, language, and illustrations of a large number of children's fairytales. This may be seen in the extent of gender representation in the main characters, and how that gender is depicted. Gender stereotypical roles are constraining to both genders. these stereotypes limit boys and girls freedom to express themselves ,and pressure them to behave in ways that are deemed appropriate.
Freud believed that children adopted the characteristics, beliefs, attitudes, values, and behaviors of the same sex parent. Freud and other psychoananalysis theorists considered identification an important personality development of early childhood. In addition, Kohlberg's cognitive approach suggests that children do their own gender stereotyping. They classify themselves male or female and then organize their behavior around that classification. They do this by adopting behaviors they percieve as consistent with their gender.
Now if we consider these theories to be true, or at least hold some value, then when children are exposed to fairytales they then may believe the stereotypical roles of male and female to be true. Therefore, the manner in which genders are represented in children's literature and fairy tales can have a significant impact on children's attitudes, and perceptions of gender appropriate behavior within society.
Consequently, when looking at children's literature and fairytales such as Cinderella, Rapunzel, and Sleeping Beauty we, the reader, come to see the same theme occur repeatedly which is, beautiful girl with an evil spell cast on her which only the prince can break. Although, with Rapunzel the girl has beautiful long hair which leads to her lose her virginity and then is cast about as a single mother, somewhat furturistic, and eventually the prince finds her and the children who live happily everafter. Each story has a beautiful girl, a prince and an evil fairy or stepmother.
These types of stories only set children up for unreal expectations, and girls to believe false hopes, and not to empower themselves through their own strenth's and intellects. This exemplifies how girls are acted upon rather than active. Beauty seems to be the key factor for girls compared to power, strength, and wit as the key factors for boys.
Studies indicate that not only are girls portrayed less often, but also both genders are frequently presented in sterotypical terms. Sexism in literature can be so insidious that it quietly conditions children to accept the way they see and read the world; thus, reinforcing gender images. This reinforcemnt predioposes children to not question social relaitonships. Numerous studies analyzing children's literature show the majority of books are dominated by male figures. In fact, male names were represented twice as often as females. Boys are typically described as adventureous, rescurers, fighters,and capable. Males symbolize ingenuity, and perseverance in many stories. Surprisingly, female characters in children's literature typically are represented as victims, and seldom triumph if not for beauty. Characteristically, females are represented as passive, submissive, and dependent on male figures. The female character is shown as acheiving "her" goals because of the male's help. Rarely are female characters represented active or assertive. Clearly, strong girl roles are an exception.
On the other hand, some may say that most of the fairy tales we continue to tell children today were written in the late seventeenth century. Modified still further from thier original form by the ninteenth century authors Brother Grim. The message of these tales was intended for the peasant children of that era, and are not to be teken seriously by children of main stream society. However, we do still tell these stories and pass them to our children today, and they do relate to gender roles.
The aspect of gender roles, sexual stereotyping, and gender bias is still being taught to our culture by children's literature and fairy tales. In today's society the rules and expectaitons for men and women are distinclty different. New members of society must learn what is the appropriate way for them to behave, and what to expect of themselves and others; and it must be in childhood and adolescence that they are taught excellent methods to achieve this. Therefore, gender bias and secual stereotyping in children's literature and fairy tales is inappropriate.
This hopefully will be adequate fuel for further discussion. I did not site my references or quotes, I just wanted to put this out there and it should be interesting to see who agrees and disagrees, and also to see if we find some of this as truth or not in class. Cindy