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Gender Roles In Fairy Tales

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Parents have always been able to teach their children about their perception of the world and society by introducing fairy tales to them. Fairy tales are filled with many symbols and themes pertaining to these specific world views and perceptions of society or gender. In modern America, the most familiar fairy tales come from Disney with some of them being a derivative of their originals written by the Grimm brothers or by other people from various cultures. Often, fairy tales are told strictly for entertainment purposes. Little Red Riding Hood, Beauty and the Beast, Snow White, and Sleeping Beauty, are all perfect examples of how fairy tales may be very entertaining but are also capable of exposing children to specific mindsets, worldviews, and stereotypes.

Little Red Riding Hood portrays the gender role that all woman, both young and old, are extremely ignorant, innocent, and naïve. With little effort, the big bad wolf is able to eat Little Red and her grandmother which symbolizes how easy it is to take advantage of women and hurt them if they are not vigilant. The hunter in the tale, who is male, is portrayed completely different when compared to Little Red and her grandmother. The hunter is extremely resourceful, smart, and comes to kill the wolf and save Red. Beauty and the Beast was created to soothe women out of their fears of arrange marriages and being sent away by their fathers to wed some unknown suitor. This comes from a time where fathers would marry off their daughters to suitors because the women were of appropriate age. The women had absolutely no idea who these men were but were told that they were responsible for providing heirs and being with them for the rest of their life. The tale is meant to teach women to never judge a book by its cover and that nothing is ever as it seems.

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All iterations of the famous tale, Snow White, all feature an evil and jealous step mother, a pristine and beautiful young woman, and the death of the young woman’s biological mother due to child birth. The evil step mother, who is also the Queen, is obsessed with becoming the most beautiful woman in the world and doing whatever she can to achieve that status. This teaches younger women that they should be beautiful but also that obsessing over beauty shows that one lacks it severely on the inside. Even though Snow White is a princess, she is expected to cook and clean for the dwarfs since they rescued her. This teaches younger women that they must always be obedient and that they are responsible for cooking and cleaning. This message is extremely detrimental to the development of younger women and allows them to become comfortable with the idea of being dependent on men. Most versions of Sleeping Beauty feature a beautiful young woman, comatose by some means, and a gallant and adventurous prince coming to her rescue. After the prince overcomes some amazing feat, he finds his princess and kisses her to wake her from her slumber. This story elicits the idea that women are fragile, delicate, and require men to solve all their problems.

In conclusion, many of the fairy tales children have heard have defined the gender roles of both men and women. Younger women are usually portrayed as innocent, pure, naïve and older women are typically portrayed as evil, ugly, and crazy. These fairy tales help enforce the hegemonic structures relating to gender. The fairy tales mentioned above show that their interpretations are capable of instilling ideas in women that shows men are superior to women and will never be equal by any means.


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