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Deconstructing flawed gender norms in fairy tales

Deconstructing flawed gender norms in fairy tales

On a fine Sunday morning, as I sat braiding the hair of my five-year-old sister, she looked up at me with big, hopeful eyes and asked if I could give her a makeover to make her look as beautiful as Cinderella. I asked: Why? Still a cute little baby, she said: “So that I could find a prince who will make me a queen.”

This seemingly witty response of my sister made me ponder upon how these fairy tales have been shaping highly flawed and toxic gender norms and standards for beauty even in today’s society. That a woman’s goal is only to be “accepted” by a man, as someone who cannot ever stand on her own. She is in a perpetual struggle for the mercy of a man—somebody must take control of her. In fact, she has been learning so much before she would start her formal education, which hardly enables young brains like hers to question any such conventional norms.

As a child, anyone would be captivated by the story of a young Cinderella who overcomes difficulty and finds her prince and lives happily ever after. Every child, even in today’s modern society, does yearn for his or her own fairytale ending, just like Cinderella’s. But as one grows up and gains a deeper understanding of the surrounding, one starts questioning the underlying messages embedded within Cinderella’s story — only if the education system develops in them a faculty for critical thinking. The realization that Cinderella is a narrative that conserves the notion that a woman’s identity is shaped solely by societal expectations and the acceptance of a man. It fails to embrace the concept of female independence and empowerment.

For real empowerment, there is a need for instilling a thought in our young generation to discern the inconsistencies that exist within Cinderella’s story. Why did Cinderella feel the need to adapt and change herself to fit into those stunning glass slippers? Why was her worth so closely tied to a prince’s recognition and validation? These questions should also be naturally popped up among growing young minds, in order to prompt a deep introspection and a desire to challenge the limiting beliefs imposed upon women.

One aspect that troubles child psychologists is Cinderella’s physical transformation, which plays a key role in her story. It emphasizes the significance placed on external beauty and continues to nurture the harmful notion that a woman’s worth is determined solely by her physical appearance. This narrative supports society’s pressures to adhere to narrow beauty standards, hindering the worth of a woman’s inherent value beyond her looks. It is high time we beat these restrictions and let both boys and girls embrace their true identities.

Cinderella’s story propagated the belief that a woman’s happiness and fulfillment revolve solely around finding a prince to save her. However, authentic relationships are built on mutual respect, equality, and the acceptance of one another’s true selves. Let a free mind of the 21st century, of whatever sex or gender, seek partnerships that celebrate their individuality, cherishing themselves for who they are rather than who they are expected to be. The flawed fairy tales should be deconstructed to let our new generation no longer wait for someone to hand them the key to their dreams. Instead, we should take charge of our own destiny. True empowerment originates from within—it comes from believing in our own abilities and trusting our intuition.

We, as women, are the authors of our own stories. We possess the capability to achieve greatness and create our own happily ever after on our own terms. So, let us free ourselves from the confines of Cinderella’s story and rewrite our own narratives that celebrate our strength, resilience and unwavering independence.