The Alterna-Fairy Tales — Does pro-girl always = anti-boy?

“I guess Knuffle Bunny Too won’t do. Nor, apparently, will the stacks of revisionist, modern-day princess books I had checked out of the library. Anyway, most of them seem to equate “pro-girl” with “anti-boy”, which does not strike me as an improvement. Take The Paperbag Princess, a staple of kindergarten classrooms everywhere. The heroine outwits a dragon that has kidnapped her prince, but not before the beast’s fiery breath frizzles her hair and destroys her dress, forcing her to don a paper bag. The ungrateful prince then rejects her, telling her to come back when she is “dressed like a real princess”. She summarily dumps him and skips off into the sunset happily ever after, alone.

To me, that is Thelma & Louise all over again. Step out of line, and you end up solo or, worse, sailing crazily over a cliff to your doom. I may want my girl to do and be whatever she dreams of as an adult, but I also hope she will find her Prince (or Princess) Charming and make me a grandma. I do not want her to be a fish without a bicycle; I want her to be a fish with another fish. Preferably a fish who loves and respects her and also does the dishes, his share of the laundry, and half the child care. Yet the typical “feminist alternative” to the marry-the-prince ending either portrays men as simpletons or implies that the roles traditionally ascribed to women are worthless. Thus you get Princess Smartypants, in which our heroine, uninterested in marriage, bestows a chaste smooch on the prince who has won her hand in a contest sponsored by her father, the king; the prince prompltly turns into a frog, and she is freed to live contentedly with her pets. To me, that’s not progress; it’s payback.”

–Peggy Orenstein, Cinderella Ate My Daughter

So I was all about this quote until Meerchi pointed out to me that the standard alterna-fairy tale storyline teaches girls that it’s ok to say, “Uh, no, you’re a dick, see ya.” — It doesn’t have to be a forever after, but it’s a pretty important intermediary lesson, right? I just wish there was more out there in the way of equitably AND happily ever after, without foresaking companionship…



  1. Meerchi

    I suppose it could be a problem if all alternative fairy tales portrayed strong girls as rejecting boys or on the flip side, all male characters as jerks. That being said, I find that there is too much emphasis on marriage as the only way for a girl to live happy ever after. I want my daughter to feel like her happily-ever-after scenario need not be dependent on her finding a husband/life partner. She should have the freedom to decide what happiness means for her without being bound by societal pressures to find everlasting romantic love. The alternative fairy tale I wrote at age 13 was about an adventurous princess who had a problem and solved it herself. There was no prince in the story. She may have found a prince (or princess) to live happily ever after with down the road, but it was not crucial to the story line.

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