It has been a long time since you’ve been looking for alternative fairy tales without finding anything worthwhile? If this is your case (and if it not as well) I invite you to have a look at the fairy tales’ anthology collected in the essay ‘Don’t bet on the prince’. The anthology was edited by Jack Zipes in the 1960s and includes also critical essays about fairy tales analysis and meaning from a gender perspective. Although being a bit old it is still very actual nowadays. Here’s a good summary that may enthuse you to read it:
“This anthology of feminist fairy tales and critical essays acts as an example of how the literature of fantasy and imagination can be harnessed to create a new view of the world. It demonstrates how recent writers have changed the aesthetic constructs and social content of fairy tales to reflect cultural change since the 1960s in area of gender roles, socialization and education. It includes selected works from such writers as Angela Carter, Margaret Atwood and Jay Williams, and critical essays from Marcia Lieberman and Sandra Gilbert.”
All the fairy tales contained in the book are fascinating and in many cases consist in alternative feminist versions of old and well-known fairy tales, e.g. ‘Cinderella’ or ‘The donkey princess’. The added value of these versions stays in the fact that they provide for unconventional feminine and masculine roles and characteristics that are attached to important learning and life lessons.
One of my favourites is ‘The moon ribbon’ which deep teachings are connected with women’s and girls’ empowerment through the discovery of the capacity to sort out life problems by themselves (not necessarily being dependent on the ‘prince’ who will come to save them). Another important learning that can be harnessed to the story is the importance of women’s legacy inside the family. This may happen especially through the transmission of wisdom, by being supportive towards each other and especially towards the younger girls and women in the family.
In many of the fairy tales contained in the book, the idea of ‘the prince who will come one day to save the girl from the cruelty of a stepmother’ is deconstructed. In this sense the tales offer interesting options to this unhealthy model of relationship. The new models proposed are based on active girls who take positive and courageous actions for themselves and the others, showing commitment towards social problems, for example.
And, as the ‘cruel stepmother’ was mentioned, let me put forward a provoking question: what does women learn about the way to relate with each other through this kind of stories (i.e., traditional fairy tales), where women characters are almost never portrayed as friends and supportive towards each other, and most often are in competition or engaged in mean behaviours towards each other? And, what kind of impact may these representations have in real life?
Another relevant feature of the anthology is that it does not contain any picture or draw, providing the space for imagination and creativity to flow. Often the images associated with stories are stereotypical or representative of majority groups. This may limit the room for identification with the main character and, even worse, may create the feeling of inadequacy and exclusion.
On this regard I remember a story a friend told me about a couple of months ago. The niece of this friend started to have feelings of inadequacy because all the stories and fairy tales she was used to read portrayed images of blond white girls. As she was not blond and she hadn’t white skin, the regular exposure to images and ideals that evidently were not reachable to her were causing this kind of feelings. In the long run this might lead to low self-esteem and lack of confidence, which are both key aspects of a healthy life. Therefore, in order to prevent this type of discrimination, it is better that books and tales avoid the use of images and pictures. Or either they should consider a dimension of diversity that covers a wide range of features associated with human beings.
To conclude I believe it is important to highlight the necessity for women to ‘don’t bet on the prince’ and rather bet on themselves. I don’t mean with this to be individualistic or live in solitude for the sake of being independent, instead I want to stress the importance to cultivating a wide network of friendships and loves (i.e., love in its various forms and possibilities) in which a woman can rely in different moments of her life. As well, it is essential to always keep in mind that all women (as well as men) have infinite resources inside themselves that they can use to overcome problems and live a fulfilling life. There is nothing innate saying women (and men) need to be one way or another, all human beings should be free to choose and define themselves and the way they want to live their lives.