My answers to an interesting Fairy Tale Princess Survey.

Pallid Regina (grin) at has a fascinating questionnaire related to her thesis. I strongly encourage everyone who reads this to help her out with your thoughts. Here are mine.

1. Describe a fairy tale princess: what does she look like, what are her primary personality traits?

A fairy tale princess is always stunningly beautiful, with skin as pale as milk, petite and slender build, and evident extreme youth (barely pubertal, usually). Her primary personality traits are focused on a tabula rasa ideal - she is a blank slate without experience or opinions of her own. She is completely "innocent and ignorant." (Jane Austen phrase that I love - if you haven't already read it, check out _Northanger Abbey_'s first chapter for a brilliant mockery of the gothic "princess" ideal, which continues throughout this funny and charming novel.)

The fairy tale princess is perpetually sweet and obedient, even to those who abuse her, she is completely passive. She does not think for herself, but must be guided by others even in completely plain circumstances (think Snow White needing to be told by the pitying servant that she is an assassination target, although she is too beautiful for him to kill her directly as ordered). She is usually a single child and typically wealthy with a few exceptions, so she has minimal exposure to other people (siblings, and especially *male* siblings who might familiarize her with men destroying her innocence) and "real life" (the need to work for a living and ability to gain knowledge). She is a blissfully ignorant sexual commodity.

However, sometimes fairy tale princesses DO develop character. Cinderella is honorable. Snow White is actively kind and helpful. Beauty becomes non-judgmental and accepting of difference.

2. Describe any connection you feel, positively or negatively, to a fairy tale princess or fairy tale princesses in general.

As a very little girl I remember being impressed with the bling surrounding a princess. As a skeptical 10 year old I liked the Little Mermaid because she decided walking on knives for the sake of someone who didn't love her was bullshit, and sensibly returned to the sea where people DID love her. (In fact, when the Disney version that changed the ending came out I was FURIOUS, because it destroyed the entire point of the story.) Mostly I was a tomboy though and didn't have much interest. As a teen I fell in love with Robin McKinley's retelling of Beauty and the Beast, and as an adult with her Deerskin.

3. Which fairy tale princess do you relate to the most?

Cinderella - I was from a working class family and abused by my grandmother. I'm a slob and hate housework. I thought her fairy Godmother was awesome and wished I could have one.

4. Please describe why/how you relate to this princess the most.

I couldn't imagine wealth. Cinderella was actively turning the other cheek and not stooping to her stepmother's level. So she wasn't passive. She was trapped in abusive circumstances she had no power to escape, like I was.

5. What book versions of fairy tale princess stories did you/do you own?

I own Robin McKinley's _Beauty_ and _Deerskin_.

6. What movie versions of fairy tale princess stories did you see in the theatre?

Snow White, when I was very little. I enjoy both Cinderella and Beauty and the Beast as an adult. I hated the Little Mermaid movie.

7. What movie versions of fairy tale princesses did you/do you own?

Beauty and the Beast.

8. In what ways do fairy tale princesses represent positive female role models?

Cinderella, the Little Mermaid and Beauty, even in the original stories, represented honor, kindness, determination, recognizing and learning from mistakes, loving herself, overcoming adversity, accepting others as they are and prizing character over looks to the extent that she could choose a partner that others unjustly rejected.

9. In what ways do fairy tale princesses represent negative female stereotypes?

Where do I even begin?! Beauty = good, not beautiful = evil, dark skinned = ugly AND evil, mature woman = evil. Ignorance and passivity. Greed. Reinforcement of women as a sexual commodity rather than an independent beings. Real or pretended stupidity so as not to outshine the Prince, who is seldom an intellectual giant himself. Women as tricksters. Young = good, old = evil.

10. Would you/do you read fairy tale princess stories to your child?

I read my 7 year old twin daughter and son Cinderella sometimes when they were younger. I plan to introduce them to Mckinley when they are young adults.

11. Would you/do you take your child to see fairy tale princess movies in the theatre?

There aren't any, but we have a dvd of Beauty and the Beast that Katie likes to watch with me once a year or so. She's been too young for the jokes in "Cinderelly" but might be growing into them. I'll consider Ever After when she's a young adult. Teddy isn't really interested in any kind of fiction and never really has been. Even as a preschooler when he would make believe play he would stop in the middle to clarify that he was not REALLY a dragon or puppy or whatever, he was really still himself.

He stopped believing in Santa Claus when he was 4, and showed doubts even at age 3. We feared this would ruin his twin's Christmas, but Katie blithely disregarded his opinion about Santa ("You're just wrong, Teddy.") and continued to believe with all her heart until this year, when she made a smooth transition from Santa as a real person to Santa as a metaphor of generosity and love, which she believes in with all her heart.

12. Would you/do you allow your child to own fairy tale princess movies for repeated viewing?

I let my kids watch the ones I approve of with discussions of the ideas in the movies and how they compare to real life. They don't happen to want to see them more than once every six months to a year. They're at the slapstick age.

13. Describe your first memory of Cinderella.

I think Cinderella was my first introduction to social injustice, I remember being enraged by the treatment she got and loved the idea of a fairy godmother who could make everything right.

14. Describe your current opinion of Cinderella.

Overall I believe that Cinderella is a good portrayal of an honorable and hard working woman who overcomes adversity, both internally and externally. Traditional portrayals of Cinderella as good and deserving due to her sexual attractiveness and the Ugly Steps as evil and undeserving due to their lack of it piss me off, naturally. I emphasize the behavior and not the physique as "ugly" to my kids.

15. Describe your first memory of Snow White.

Loved her red cheeks and brown hair and primary colors dress - I was probably 3 or 4, so that's pretty much it. Oh, she liked to sing like I did. And the dwarves were amusing.

16. Describe your current opinion of Snow White.

She's an idiot who can't recognize danger when it's right in her face. Her calling is to be a servant to dwarves and reform them in a creepy way. Wouldn't actively introduce it to my twins and if they saw it I'd want to talk about the assumptions and implications in the movie.

17. Describe your first memory of Sleeping Beauty.

It's vague I think I only read it once in first or second grade. There was nothing in it to appeal to me at that age.

18. Describe your current opinion of Sleeping Beauty.

This is a straight up sexual allegory involving "malevolent old woman curses baby" and a conquering/hunting/possessing man "saving" the ultimate passive child-bride. Repulsive. I don't think I know anyone who would show this to my kids, but it would piss me off and prompt a discussion that I could probably not resist turning it into a lecture. With the friend first. :)

19. In what ways do you think fairy tale princesses are still relevant in today’s society?

They accurately reflect the patriarchy that still exists, with women as a sexual commodity and men as owners/buyers/determiners of which women go for the highest price. See also racism, ageism, looksism, classism... They're an excellent introduction to what is wrong with that kind of thinking.

20. What else would you like to say about fairy tale princesses?

They are typically nasty, petite and brutish representations of racism, sexism, classism, ageism, pedophilia and a host of other social ills.

On the other hand, several of the traditional princesses appeal to me precisely because they break the mold (albeit not completely), providing important and positive lessons, and/or modern retellings turn them to good account.

Little Mermaid - don't sacrifice or change yourself trying to make someone love you because it's a self betrayal and won't work anyway, choose the people who DO love you over romance.

Cinderella - mean people can imprison your body, treat you harshly, and force you to work for them, but they can never own your spirit and dignity if you don't let them, and good people exist who will love you as you are.

Beauty - form your own opinions of others based on character and not appearance or reputation, choose partners to your own liking and ignore prejudice against those partners.

21. Would it be OK if I asked you follow up questions on your responses?


Sub-questionnaire (optional)

1. Do you identify as male or female?


2. What is your age range (under 18; 19-25; 26-30; 31-39; 40-50; 51 & older)?

I'm 41.

3. What is your ethnicity?

White mutt - obviously our families immigrated here at some point, but nobody keeps track of who, where, or when. At a guess based on the degree of generational knowledge loss and the Irish, Dutch, English and German surnames involved I'd say some time after the Civil War but before the 1880's. My dad's dad was born in 1898 and his parents weren't first generation immigrants. My mom's grandpa was an American WWI fighter pilot and barn stormer after the war, which was kind of the James Dean of the Twenties. Great grandma Ruth's parents did NOT approve and they essentially had a shotgun marriage after she came home after ten o'clock one night. Their wedding photo is one of the most beautiful, happy pictures I've ever seen and they were lovebirds right up to my great grandpa Charlie's last breath.

4. What social class do you identify with (poor, middle class, upper class, etc.)?

Both working class and middle class.

5. What country do you live in?

The US.


LynAnne Smucker said...

Interesting survey. I know you like McKindley's Deerskin, you might also like her retelling of the sleeping beauty story, Spindle's End in which the princess becomes a blacksmith due to her ability to talk to animals. Also, I think you would love Patricia McKillip's Alphabet of Thorn.

Carito said...

thaks for the survey is good for girls who are defining their identity. fairy tales are models which can be bad or good. the survey helps to focus on euther both parts to help girls/boys define their personality