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Feeling uncomfortable with traditional fairy stories

(45 Posts)
Poofus Wed 29-Oct-14 11:54:20

My DS has just turned 3. He has finally given up breastfeeding so we've instituted an extra story before bed instead, and I've bought two "special" big books of traditional fairy stories which we use for this. I was really looking forward to him learning all the traditional tales, but my god they are overwhelmingly and depressingly sexist! Especially in their abbreviated versions for small children, which lose quite a bit of the nuance anyway.

I'd previously made a real effort to ensure his books were gender neutral, and had renamed a few characters as "she" when obvious instances of sexism arose (Dear Zoo, anyone? Brave Firemen?). But it's a lot harder to do that with traditional tales, without mangling the story beyond recognition. Does anyone have any suggestions for fairy stories which aren't full of princesses waited to be married, or men doing fighty things and rescuing damsels? Or do I just give up on these and go back to modern stuff?

Mitchy1nge Wed 29-Oct-14 11:58:12

is he still a bit young for Angela Carter then? grin

Poofus Wed 29-Oct-14 12:05:52

I suspect so, sadly!

Zazzles007 Wed 29-Oct-14 12:06:59

How about using your imagination to change the story so that it is a bit more feministy? Eg princess rescues the prince, valiantly fighting an army to get to him, the royal parents are overjoyed, and they all live happily ever after? At his age he can't read, and won't know... grin

Or how about the princess kissing the frog... who turns into a goat, who then turns into a bat, and who then turns into her beloved dog who ran away when the nasty neighbour had fireworks. And they lived happily ever after... grin


Cherrypi Wed 29-Oct-14 12:09:59

I has this the other day when reading snow white. What a dodgy story.

Oakmaiden Wed 29-Oct-14 12:12:21

The problem with fairy tales is that the are a window onto an oral tradition of a society with values very different from ours. They were to a great extent used as teaching tales to show members of that society how they were supposed to behave, and the consequences of stepping out of line (the original versions of Red Riding Hood and Sleeping Beauty are hair raising). So if you are looking for stories which reflect and encourage today's values, the I really would step away from fairy tales, at least until your child is old enough to discuss them.

Poofus Wed 29-Oct-14 12:16:04

Yes, I think my problem is that I love the traditional stories, as a fascinating historical sort of source, and I love the idea that children have been hearing these same stories for centuries. I feel the same about all sorts of folk songs - it's the sense of historical continuity that I like. All of which would be fine if DS was old enough to discuss them with me, but of course he's not, so he just absorbs the whole princess=useless and man=hero bit. Which seems nuts after going to great lengths to avoid that kind of influence over the past there years...

worldgonecrazy Wed 29-Oct-14 12:16:06

I just rewrote them for DD - Red Riding Hood has to kill the wolf herself as the woodsman got scared and ran off, so she ends up with a new fur coat. You may prefer a softer rewrite. For Cinderella I made it into a story about two people who believe in hard work finding each other. The Three Bears is about treating other people's things with respect, Sleeping Beauty about personal space and why we shouldn't kiss another person if they don't want us to. Princess and the Pea is about being a polite guest, etc.

Have fun with it.

Mitchy1nge Wed 29-Oct-14 12:17:59

Roald Dahl's take on some of these was very popular with my children

Mitchy1nge Wed 29-Oct-14 12:18:32

'revolting rhymes'

Poofus Wed 29-Oct-14 12:20:49

I like the sound of some of your re-writes! How on earth do you get Snow White to be about personal space, though? grin

And any suggestions for Rapunzel, the Mouse Bridegroom or Beauty and the Beast (current favourites)?

Poofus Wed 29-Oct-14 12:21:39

Sorry, sleeping beauty about personal space, not Snow White. Still don't get it though - does she not get woken up in your version?!

Poofus Wed 29-Oct-14 12:22:27

Revolting Rhymes is a great idea! It kind of relies in knowing the originals first though.

LeBearPolar Wed 29-Oct-14 12:22:27

Roald Dahl's Revolting Rhymes is a good place to start. But I think you can enjoy telling him the stories as part of a wider experience of reading with him - after all, they won't be the only things you read to him. Mix them in with lots of other stories from other cultures and other eras so that he absorbs the rich world of stories there is out there. And look for a whole variety of traditional tales: not just the really familiar ones. The Little Red Hen may do all the work, but she gets all the reward for that.

Poofus Wed 29-Oct-14 12:23:48

Little Red Hen has a good moral, but it's so dull!

Takver Wed 29-Oct-14 12:29:50

Could you stick with a mix of harmless traditional tales (Magic Porridge Pot, Stone Soup, Three Little Pigs and the like) and new books for bedtime right now, and keep the more dodgy ones for a bit older when you can discuss them a bit more?

Takver Wed 29-Oct-14 12:35:24

The Enormous Turnip is another good one!

Takver Wed 29-Oct-14 12:37:47

Actually, the more I think about it, plenty of the traditional tales are really not that sexist - I think you've just got a dodgy book and need a different selection . . .

tywysogesgymraeg Wed 29-Oct-14 12:39:46

The Hare and the Tortoise and other non-people stories would be a better idea OP. The Emperor's New Clothes is another one that springs to mind, as does Pinochio. I could probably think of loads more if put my mind to it.

halfdrunkcoffee Wed 29-Oct-14 12:40:44

I have a book called Politically Correct Bedtime Stories - aimed at adults but could be adapted for children.

You could just ad lib and adapt the endings now and again, I suppose.

BertieBotts Wed 29-Oct-14 12:43:38

I think you can think too much about it TBH. You don't have to read traditional tales, but if you do like them, just be more conscious about other books/stories that you buy to ensure a bit of balance. Look on A Mighty Girl for book recommendations.

The problem with subversions of the genre is that they don't work so well if you don't know the originals.

Just enjoy the stories for what they are - a lot of them talk about cannibalism and murder and impersonating people in order to trick someone like it's just a normal thing, too, we don't worry about that and children don't grow up believing these things are okay.

joanofarchitrave Wed 29-Oct-14 12:46:13

Try Puss in Boots. No morals of any kind at all, except that 'clever, convincing liars get to do the easy jobs and at all costs suck up to the elite' which at least reflects some kind of reality. DS loved it.

FloraFox Wed 29-Oct-14 13:11:50

Aesops Fables? I think they're generally quite good. Dr Seuss books are great "new" traditions (for me anyway as I had them as a child).

I love the idea that children have been hearing these same stories for centuries - I know what you mean but these stories are part of how we socialise our children. If we want our children to be different from the past, we need to change the socialisation.

I started to do fairy tales with my DCs though I dropped them for the same reason you are uncomfortable. When they were old enough to hear the stories elsewhere they were shock

mipmop Wed 29-Oct-14 13:22:55

I thought "Aesop's fables" too! I have a children's edition. I bought Dr Seuss and Mr Men because I enjoyed them as a child, and my 3yo really likes those. It is a lovely thing to share your childhood with your child through books. I also liked the Brothers Grimm stories and other fairy stories. I would hope that some modern children's editions of fairy tales could be rewritten in a way to keep the moral message (don't run off if your parents say the woods are dangerous) without the nonsense about girls waiting around passively for others to direct her life, and boys taking action / being saviours.

As a positive note though, even in the 70s I noticed those themes and decided they were silly.

NakedFamilyFightClub Wed 29-Oct-14 13:30:05

It's not traditional but "The Practical Princess and other liberated fairy stories" was one of my favourites when I was little. It's out of print now but there's some copies floating around the secondhand market.

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