September 21, 2015

F for 'Flawed Fairy tales'

Honestly, narrowing down to one sole topic for the letter 'F' was one hell of a struggle. My mind was choc-blocked with ideas, and the creative needle swung from one extreme end of the spectrum to the other. To add to the horror, the family was also coming up with ridiculous suggestions and getting all hostile when I refused them. (I now know why Ch for 'Chunni Babu' had a drinking problem...sigh!).

A friend suggested I write about fairy tales.

"What's to write about them?" I snorted.

"Oh c'mon, don't be such a prude. Who doesn't love a good fairy tale?" she cooed.

"Err...ME!!" I wanted to say, but decided against it.
After all, it was just a matter of choice. The dreamer in her preferred to see the beauty. The skeptic in me was bound to spot the flaws.

Yes, you read it. I don't like fairy tales. I find them creepy.
Well, don't get me wrong. I grew up on my fair share of stories that started with Once-upon-a-time's and ended with happily-ever-after's, and like every other gullible brat believed in the Easter bunny, Santa Claus, the tooth fairy, and all the glitter that wishing wells and magic far-away trees are made of.
I was in love with that ethereal world, the world of glass slippers, and fairy godmothers, of beautiful princesses and their charming princes. But then something changed. It's almost magical how life transforms you into a skeptic. There is no one moment or incident that you can point at and say 'Yeah, that's it. That was the point of no return. That's where I got disillusioned." It just happens slowly and gradually, and before you know it, Bam! You are there! Somewhat like a bar of Snickers a day and the end-of-the-month surprise on the weight scale. (You get the drift? Good! Let us not digress, please.)

So like I was saying, fairy tales are creepy. I can assure you almost every freaking fairy tale we have heard during our childhood has a twisted element to it, something that we failed to notice and which is subtly responsible for our distorted perceptions (on an individual and societal psyche basis.) Allow me to explain with examples.

Case 1---Imagine you are comfortably seated, hair tied neatly in a top knot pony tail, flipping through a magazine when some stranger comes behind you and tugs at your hair. What would you do? If you are a modern day woman and say anything short of  'turn around and smack him hard in his face' then, you either have a serious mental problem or are wearing a wig. I mean, do you know how much it hurts to have your hair tugged at; leave aside the effort to braid it, the fear of hair fall, the bad-hair days etc. Now imagine you standing on the terrace of a tower, and a stranger asking you to let down your tresses so that he can tug at them while you pull him up. So what if he is a Goddamn prince? He didn't care about Rapunzel (who might have died of a cervical fracture in the process--unless of course he was as light as a wisp) when he tugged at her golden braid. The poor princess (with the super strong neck) was meant to endure in silence. I an literally imagine her going 'Ow, Ow, Ow' as he convenienty used her hair as a rope-ladder to climb his way up.

Case 2---Who doesn't know Cinderella? How I hate this fairy tale. We seriously need to consider banning this one from story-hour time slots all over the world, kick it out of syllabus, thrash it, fling it out of the window, and make sure no child reads the traditional version ever. Every girl needs to know the meaning of self worth, and the sooner she realizes this the better, so that when she grows up to be a woman, she, like her favorite 'Disney' princess, can walk away with the guy who loves and respects her for who she is.
Every girl should hope for a love that does not need her to be decked up in a shimmering gown, diamond tiara and glass slippers, to fall in love. 
Sooner or later, we are bound to grow old and fat anyway--age, however, is a number that can change only appearances but not the heart. So if someone manages to fall for us in just a few hours of silent ballroom dancing---then we have something to worry about, don't we? Every kid reading 'Cinderella' should be told that compatibility is not judged on the basis of a few hours nor on good looks or financial status. So ideally, we ought to go out there in our rags, our dusty slippers...our simple yet clean pair of jeans and a tee thrown on top---sans makeup and jewellery and see who we can relate to in mental wavelength, kind spirit and honest attitude, instead of letting a rich dude (who has the audacity to call for a beauty pagent to select a partner for life) choose us like a piece of china in an antique showroom.
As for the original tale, it's unbelievable how the twit of a prince needs a glass slipper to recognize the love of his life. Yea, like no one else could have the same shoe size. Oh, and in case you going to fight me saying she produced the other slipper as evidence, then all I can say is that she's lucky there were no Christian Louboutin's around to emulate those custom made beauties (I'm talking of the glass slippers here, you perverts) back then. See, I told you. Flawed at so many levels.

One more creepy point worthy of mention is how almost every fairy tale has the female protagonist playing damsel in distress. She is either tortured, humiliated, put to sleep for a hundred years, abandoned into the forests, made to kiss a frog, or sent with a basket of fruit to her grandmother's house. Nobody asks her whether she is okay with being kissed (Remember, that was totally non consensual. What if sleeping beauty wanted to sleep longer? What if the prince suffered from halitosis and forgot to carry mints? What if she just didn't feel like it? But hey, wait a minute...we'd never know because she was never asked. We as kids were supposed to believe she woke up to the power of love from that kiss, and all was well once again. Happys endings, right? Wrong!!

That is not how it works in real life. A strange man you don't even know kissing you in your sleep is plain creepy. They just never told us.

On a somewhat related note, a girl kissing a frog and expecting him to be a prince is equally creepy. But let's stick to the point.
Notice how the female is always chosen to be portrayed as the hapless victim in most fairy tales. The prince got to kiss a sleeping princess who would be forever indebted him for saving her life. On the flip side, if the princess wanted to be the hero and restore a handsome prince to his original state, she was made to kiss a (*hold your breath---pun unintentional* ) FROG!
I am sure a lot of frogs got lucky thanks to this one.

That brings me smoothly to Case 3---Poor little Snow white, for instance, is another example. The seven little dwarfs she lived with had cute names but selfish hearts. (But see how cleverly their names proved to be a distraction.) Snow White didn't pay them any rent, but how can we overlook the fact that the dwarfs welcomed her in their house only after they learned that she could cook and clean beautifully? Apparently, the rule, 'In life, there are no free lunches' applies even in fairy tales.
Snow White stayed at home looking after the house, cooking meals, making beds, while the dwarfs mined for jewels all day. So what do you find wrong in this picture?
No? Can't you see it? Unfair distribution of work. Not once did the dwarves exchange responsibilities. Not once did anyone mention or ask Snow if she wanted to go mining while they cooked, cleaned and made the beds. She was given no choice, No! It must have been a 'cook or leave' scenario. She didn't have any option. She had to scrub the dishes till they shone.
Thinking back, perhaps it was a male chauvinistic attitude that people in the West possessed back then (Heck! The story was written somewhere in the 1930's, long before women's liberation.).
But if you are an Indian kid, you'd be still listening to the version of 'Snow White and the seven dwarfs' which has Snow White cooking 'Butter chicken & Round rotis' or 'Thayeer Sadham' (depending on whether she is North or South Indian) for those tired little gold diggers. Why? Because we in India like to keep our 'fairy tales' as close to reality as possible (not the other way around, mind ya).

But that aside, do not call this a feminist rant (or call it one, what-ever!) I feel for the poor dwarfs too. You all know how the story goes. Just when they begin to think they have found themselves a friend, the wicked step mother intervenes again. This is followed by the same old drill; apple, poison, slumber, prince and finally, the non-consensual (not again!) kiss. This is where I feel bad for the dwarves. Snow White, upon finding the prince, conveniently forgets these little friends, never as much to look at them again. Oh well, I know the animation shows a teary farewell with polite nods and friendly waves. But seriously, I think the reason people (especially women) in relationships hardly stay in touch with friends stems loosely from these fairy tales. I think I should cut Snow White some slack. They didn't have Facebook back then. Or else you would have seen her liking status messages Grumpy, Bashful, or Sleepy posted.

Case 4---Goldilocks. What about 'Goldilocks and the three bears'. This story takes 'creepy' to a whole new level. In times where we keep warning our kids against strangers, here is a pretty little girl entering an unknown house, eating porridge and sleeping in their bed. I mean how misleading would that be to a kid? Entering unfamiliar territory is no adventure, in fact far from it. What if the house belonged to Ted Bundy or Jack the Ripper? What if that steaming hot porridge was bait? What if there was a serial killer waiting to saw Goldilocks in half as she dozed off comfortably in that bed after having consumed the spiked porridge? No, nobody tells your kid all this. As she listens attentively to how Goldilocks sneaked in and had an adventure of her life, there is a part of her that wants to have such an adventure too. I know because I have been there. Luckily, mine was a boring neighborhood. Nobody ate porridge.

Maybe I am over reacting. Perhaps you will call me a kill joy. Kids should grow up on a fair dose of magic and fairy dust. But times are unsafe, my friend. Besides, what good did these fairy tales do us anyway?
You keep chiding your kids from receiving gifts and sweets from strangers.  I read somewhere that a child was kidnapped from a department store. Cc tv footage showed a big bearded man in a Santa suit handing him candy which the child readily accepted. The weeping mother confessed that she had never suspected 'Santa'. Honestly, I find Easter egg hunts creepy for exactly the same reason. We keep instructing our children to stay away from objects lying around carelessly, and then we go ahead and organize treasure hunts in random parks where they are expected to look over, under, across and through all sorts of things to discover the carefully concealed goodies. I mean how strange is that, really. I was okay with the idea of a tooth fairy until 'Sharp objects' by Gillian Flynn happened. Now I think she (the tooth fairy) is creepy too.

Too much of a skeptic, you say?
Well, what to do, we are like that only...


F for 'Flawed Fairy tales' is the sixth post in the 'A-Z Series' of posts, a chain of articles written by me on topics starting with each alphabet of the English language. Read back and forth for the other posts, and please feel free to contribute your thoughts on the subject :)


Tanuja said...

Well written Priyanka

On the other hand, the world goes on trust alone.
No matter how protective you get, you cannot fool proof yourself against all eventualities. A few incidents and we get it into our sub conscious mind that the world is an unsafe place.

Can we fight against nature? We trust our children to go to school - do we plan against all nature's calamities when we do that .. No - We send them expecting them to be back home safe ... Same with humans ... Trust alone makes the world go round I guess ...

Your opinions? :)
- Tanuja

Pri said...

@ Tanuja
Thanks for dropping by and sharing your views, Tanuja. I especially liked your point about trusting the intangibles to be in our favour---have always admired that positive outlook towards life.
As for me, I guess trust and mistrust are two sides of the same coin. A skeptic is very often a person who once believed, perhaps a bit too much :)

sri said...

hahha very true fairly tales are creepy as coo...

It does wear of naturally when you grow up, but at times we all want a fairy god mother to take care of us and give us a portion ;)

Pri said...

@ Srivats
I have to agree with you there. It's going to take much more than a pessimist mood rant to get us to stop wishing for one. We NEED magic...good magic, and LOTS of it! ;)

It's great seeing you around. Been ages...