Beware of fairy tales. They do more harm to our kids than good.

Fairy tales

The bibliophile that I always was, my favorite activity would always be curling up in bed with a book. I grew up in a virtual world of the dark woods, enchanted castles, beautiful princesses and handsome knights in shining armor who would come riding on a white horse and rescue the damsel in distress, the wicked ugly witch who tortured the princess and met a horrible end.

I was always an avid reader, thanks to my mom, who inculcated this hobby in me when I was young. This is a rare and priceless gift she gave me which has stayed for life. I can’t thank her enough for it. I was drawn into the enchanting world of books, where the characters danced before my eyes, it seemed so real. 

Little did I realise these books were sub-consciously feeding me with stereotypes, which would become such an integral part of my thinking and personality that shaking them off would not be easy. Have you realised that most of these fairy tales of our times are so deeply flawed, gender biased and scarily possess the ability to influence young minds in a very powerful way? 

Snow White, for instance, talks about an evil stepmom and a beautiful princess who is dumb, for she blindly obeys her stepmom. She escapes finally from her clutches and ends up with the dwarfs, but due to her docile nature, the dwarfs are always seen ordering her around while she mutely follows their instructions. Then she dies by eating the poison-laden apple; enter the handsome prince, who is spellbound by her beauty - he kisses her, the spell is broken and they live happily ever after.

Notice how deeply flawed this story is. First, the step mom is evil, a common trope in fairy tales (Hansel and Gretel propagated the same). Second, the heroine's supreme quality is her physical beauty - other qualities are not at all spoken about - which is what the prince is drawn to. Third, she meekly refuses to stand up for herself. The prince is portrayed as someone who rescues her, rather than she being her own rescuer and master of her fate.

Take any other fairy tale - Red Riding Hood, Cinderella, Rapunzel - the themes are the same. When young children grow up reading these, it is obvious how badly skewed and stereotypical their thinking would be. It’s time to rewrite these tales to show our young girls and boys that hey - the heroine is someone who is bold, compassionate, has dreams for herself and the courage to chase them. She writes her own destiny, she is not a damsel in distress who awaits the prince to rescue and marry her. She creates her own happily ever after. The prince is not a supernatural guy but the boy next door who plays with his sister, helps his mommy in the kitchen, a friend and companion who dreams just like her.

Recently, I read an article about Scandinavian schools that have decided to completely do away with these old fairy tales because of their gender stereotypes and skewed theories. I was impressed. They want kids to be in sync with the reality of our times to whatever extent possible. Their stories depict different types of heroes and diverse family models like adopted children, adoptive parents, single moms and dads and same sex parents. 

We always talk about how divorce is a taboo in India, and while it is difficult for the adults in question, it is always tough for the kids. They are looked upon as an outcasts by others in their schools, people whisper about them and chances are that few befriend them. This behavior comes to a great extent from the experiences our children are subject to - through books, conversations etc. Imagine if they read stories that spoke about single parents, adoptive parents etc - it would just seem a normal thing to them when they heard that someone's parents did not live together. 

You may argue that these are just fairy tales and we will eventually grow up and move on, but we often fail to recognise the damage these stories cause. They will grow up, see the world and learn the reality eventually, but how many of them will be able to shake free of these notions and carve their own destiny?