Sexism and Classism in Fairytales? - Mothering Forums

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#1 of 5 Old 10-04-2010, 07:31 PM - Thread Starter
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So I have searched the this forum (to the best of my ability) and I know that this subject has been addressed some before, but I would like to revisit it in hopefully in a bit more detail. As we all know Waldorf teaches folk and fairytales. I believe these stories have a lot of value and I am in in no way against their use in the classroom, however I have concerns. Many fairytales have problematic elements, the first two that pop up for me are sexism and classism. Besides rigid and archaic gender roles fairytales also tend to base a woman's value on beauty and servitude. Many fairytales also require great wealth to make a happy ending or sometimes wealth is even used as the sole characteristic that makes someone honorable/respectable. My daughter and I read Grimm's Fairytales together and we enjoy them but we always discuss them afterward and some I choose to skip altogether (Bluebeard for example).

I am wondering what others have experienced. What kinds of stories do/did your child's teachers choose? Do you think it is balanced? Does your child hear stories that cast female characters in a desirable (other than physically) or substantial light? Is there discussion in the classroom about the more problematic themes these stories present. My daughter is in her fourth week of kindergarten and I am just wondering what others have experienced. Tell me your thoughts and experiences...please!
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#2 of 5 Old 10-05-2010, 03:22 AM
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I know that my dds' teacher is thoughtful and intentional with her choice of fairytales and stories. And as I understand the thinking, children take something much different and less literal from the stories than we as adults do; in some way they identify with all of the characters rather than just the one we as adults would assign to them. It's hard for me to take that entirely to heart but we do, indiscriminately, read all sorts of fairy tales at home and the more I read the less concerned I am about gender roles and the rewards of riches, for different reasons though. Even in traditional stories I see a lot of women who are strong, brave, persistent, caring, etc (The Wild Swans, Donkey Skin, The Serpent Slayer, off the top of my head). I can even give the Disney versions a little benefit of the doubt; even though the princesses are "beautiful" it's their other attributes that allows their triumph in the end (ok, so maybe their triumph is marrying the prince, but it's also getting what they want).
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#3 of 5 Old 10-05-2010, 04:07 AM
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#4 of 5 Old 10-05-2010, 05:21 AM
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Reading Starhawk's the twelve wild swans really changed how I look at fairytales. She breaks down the fairytale of the twelve wild swans as an archtypal journey. It is a pagan book, however even as a non pagan (though I was once upon a time when I read the book), I find some things of great value in it. (mainly looking at the archtypal journey stuff rather than the ritual/pagan stuff.)

I'm not sure it contradicts sexism in fairy tales, and certainly most fairy tales have strong "male" and "female" roles, but there are plenty of fairy tales (the wild swans included) where it is the princess rescueing the princes.

no experience with waldorf

Caroline, partner to J, post partum doula, kitchen manager, aspiring midwife, soon to be nursing student, mama to my furbaby, someday a mama to not so furry munchkins, G-d willing
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#5 of 5 Old 10-05-2010, 11:24 AM
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I went to high school at an alternative school, and many of my teachers were feminist-types with strong principles of equality. In college I took Women's Studies classes for fun. So with this in my brain, and a life-long quest for understanding gender roles, I find fairy tales to be somewhat tough. I also have two boys, and I do my best to expose them to balanced gender identities. I would probably be more adamant if I had girls, I think. Anyway, I see the importance of fairytales, and as we tell them, and afterwards, I reinforce the most positive attributes. Also, b/c my oldest 4.5, its not a huge concern, and we don't do stories like Snow White, yet, which is way too hardcore for me.
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