4 Popular Stories That Used To Be Way Less Offensive
Female characters in fairy tales are usually either princesses or witches, tasked with needing rescue or meddling in the process of someone getting rescued. But we're only talking about our modern versions of fairy tales. The original versions, which hail from notoriously more sexist eras, often feature women as actual characters. Occasionally, even awesome ones.
The Little Mermaid Became A Superhero
Disney's The Little Mermaid features the titular character as a goofy mer-teen who falls for a human prince and sells her voice to a sea witch for a shot at bangin' something with legs for a change. Fortunately, the prince later solves all her problems by stabbing said sea witch with a ship, and everyone lives happily ever after. Except the sea witch. But fuck sea witches, anyway.
"Listen to this song, in which I clearly and unambiguously lay out the terms of the contract that you'll later murder me for."
But In The Original:
The original version, by fairy tale legend and noted masturbation enthusiast Hans Christian Andersen, features no villains at all, and comes with a much better character arc for the mermaid than "dumb teen to damsel in distress." In the Andersen version, the mermaid rescues the prince and falls for him, like in the movie, but that's just one of her motivations. As a water creature, she can't really interact with the human world, which she's intensely fascinated by. She also doesn't have a soul, and therefore doesn't get an afterlife when she dies, which seems sorta harsh. So she sets about to change all that.
Her grandmother tells her this can all be achieved by making a human man love her more than anything, so she sets out to do just that, going to see the sea witch of her own free will (instead of being tricked by a pair of eels like in the movie). The witch in this version isn't evil. She's very matter-of-fact about the commercial interaction they're about to undertake and its side effects, which are naturally a lot worse than in the movie: The mermaid will not only lose her voice and tongue to the witch, but she can never return to the sea. Every step with her new legs will hurt like walking on blades (though she'll weirdly also gain the ability to dance like no one's watching). Oh, and if the prince decides to marry someone other than her, she'll die.
"Did you have to call it a 'sudden death' clause?"
The mermaid looks at these obstacles and doesn't give a single damn. She drinks the potion, enters the world of humans, and ... everything goes to shit, because otherwise we wouldn't have a compelling story. The prince falls for her for a while, but he wanders off to marry a random princess, having ironically mistaken her for the woman who rescued him from the sea.
Right as it seems that the game is over, the mermaid's sisters enter the fray. They too have visited the sea witch, and negotiated a deal in which they sold their hair for a magic knife that can return the mermaid back to, uh, a mermaid. All she has to do is kill the prince who broke her heart, and she can go back to living her life.
So be thankful all your ex does is make passive-aggressive Facebook posts.
She can't do it. Instead she accepts her loss gracefully, and decides to go in peace. She jumps in the ocean and dissolves into foam ... only to immediately resurrect as an air spirit. Other air spirits inform her that she's too awesome to die, so she now gets a chance to gain a soul and an afterlife the hard way: performing 300 years' worth of selfless acts and good deeds as an unseen "daughter of the air."
It's weird. A little convoluted. Suuuper Danish. But it's a solid story, and the OG Mermaid always decides her own fate, never once losing her own values or sight of her target. Plus, she's aided by a number of other strong female characters along the way. And all that's before she joins a band of ethereal ladies zipping about Earth's atmosphere and helping people in secret.
Which would kind of render "Under The Sea" moot.
Maybe it's time for a reboot. She'd fit right in with the other superhero flicks.
Beauty And The Beast Was A Guidebook To Healthy Marriage
Beauty And The Beast is a timeless Disney tale of sorcery, Stockholm Syndrome, and sentient candlesticks: A smart and independent village woman allows herself to be taken hostage by a were-buffalo with anger issues. She somehow falls in love with him and is turned into yet another generic Disney princess.
Yeah, but, he has a lot of books.
But In The Original:
"Marriage is all about compromise."
De Beaumont's entire deal was to teach kids with her stories, and her Beauty And The Beast was meant for girls who (this being the 18th century) would likely have their marriages arranged. Everything is a metaphor: Beauty is a "beauty" not only because she's hot (in this version, she has a large family, and all her sisters are gorgeous, but vain and selfish), but also because she's into good and selfless actions (see: voluntarily entering the Beast's castle so her dad wouldn't have to go there). The scariness of the Beast symbolizes the fear of the unknown. But unlike the Disney beast, who is an abrasive dick for the first part of his relationship with Belle, this Beast is a courtly gentleman right from the start. He specifically states that Beauty must come of her own free will. The Beast also states he wants no flattery, and refuses to sit down to dinner with Beauty until she asks him to. He takes great care to do nothing against Beauty's personal comfort, and ultimately wins her love with vigilant attentiveness and respect.
"Have I also mentioned how very, very, rich I am? Very."
It's all an idealized scenario for a forced marriage, of course: Even though the lady is contractually obligated to be there, the man still respects her space and waits for consent before doing anything. Beauty, although her own woman, is a heroine because she sacrifices her own wants and desires for the benefit of other people, and in the end, she is rewarded in with a handsome and respectful prince. But at least she follows through on her own initiative in this version.
Goldilocks And The Three Bears Didn't Always Star The Worst Woman Ever
A little girl gets lost in the woods, camps out in a house, and finds out it's inhabited by three bears after she's already sabotaged both their food and lodgings. The moral of the story is that the little girl ... didn't get chased down and mauled, somehow? What was the point of all that? Don't trust women?
The majority of porridge sucks?
But in the Original:
In the older versions of the tale, there is no girl. Everyone's an animal. How does that make it less sexist? Well, pretty much everything Goldilocks does is an old-timey misogynist's idea of how women behave. She's spoiled, ignorant, unrepentant -- all she does is take. And she doesn't even give it up to the bears after they inadvertently wine and dine her. (By "give it up," we of course mean "allow them to devour her screaming flesh.") Goldilocks was only ever put in there to criticize women, so her absence is nothing but an improvement.
The older version of the fable is called Scrapefoot, and the "Goldilocks" role is played by a male fox. Even the bears have no specific genders, and are simply called 'Huge-bear', 'Middle-Sized Bear' and 'Small-Bear.' Much like Goldilocks, Scrapefoot trespasses in the bears' residence (which is a castle, because bears used to roll deep back in the day), but he does it largely out of curiosity. Once the bears come home and find him, they begin a hearty debate on how to best murder Scrapefoot. Hanging and drowning are speculated, but they ultimately throw him out of a window. By sheer luck, Scrapefoot survives, and he never harasses the bears again. Another, similar version saw an old woman in the trespasser's role, and it was implied she was trying to rob the house. It's unclear which of those came first, but at some point a translation error -- wherein someone confused the meaning of the word "Harridan," a term for both a female fox and an old woman -- was probably involved.
"Oh shit, we could have just eaten him, huh?"
The blonde girl didn't show up until 1849, when writer Joseph Cundall felt that "there were too many stories with old women," and inadvertently started the "young women do stupid shit" trope that stains the genre to this day.
Little Red Riding Hood Didn't Need Any Damn Hunters To Save Her
Little Red Riding Hood is the ultimate "helpless girl" story. Red is so clueless she can't even figure out that the strange creature in her grandmother's bed is the huge flippin' wolf she just encountered, and the grandmother herself lives bed-bound in a hut in the middle of dangerous woods, basically asking to be devoured. Luckily, a big strong hunter/woodcutter bothers to turn up and swing his ax until everyone's saved.
Most of life's problems can be solved this way.
But In The Original:
"A wolf ruining everyone's day with its bullshit" is a surprisingly ageless setup, so there are a whole bunch of Red Riding Hood-style stories, all with vastly different morals and endings. Common to many of them: a complete lack of anyone needing a man to save them.
The Charles Perrault version, from 1891, ends with Red being devoured, and no one comes to the rescue at all. In others, the grandmother gets eaten, but the Hood herself escapes with her cunning. In one particularly memorable French version, the wolf asks the girl to lie with her in the bed. But after the big reveal, the girl essentially threatens to shit the bed and escapes when the wolf allows her to go poop outside. If that's not proactive, we don't know what is.
"No, seriously, like two pots of coffee and a Chipotle burrito bad."
Even when the wolf gets his ass handed to him, men are not necessarily present. The True History Of Little Golden-Hood equips the girl with a magic hood which allows her to keep the wolf at bay until the grandmother returns home and throws the wolf in a well. Hell, even the most well-known version of the huntsman-rescue variation, by the Brothers Grimm, has a second wolf attack later down the line. This time, the girl and the grandmother lock themselves in the house, and when the wolf starts stalking them on the roof, they MacGyver a trap for him with some sausages, and drown him in a trough so hard that no one ever dares to attack Red again.
Moral of the story: Crazy hermit women who live all alone in the woods will murder you if you fuck with them. That's a solid lesson.
And if they offer you candy, run.
Step up your fairy tale knowledge game with 5 Grimms' Fairy Tales Way Too Dark to Read to Kids and The Gruesome Origins of 5 Popular Fairy Tales.
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