Females in Brothers Grimm
Everything we read constructs us, makes us who we are, by presenting our image of ourselves as girls and women, as boys and men. Besides being part of an important source for developing children’s language skills, books are an integral component in communicating society’s values and traditions. How women are portrayed in fairytales are good, unintelligent, content, attractive and sensitive, or they are jealous, aggressive and wicked. The Brothers Grimm oversimplification of the female character in fairytales communicates to young reader an inaccurate biased opinion of the gender while their minds are still developing.
Cinderella is the epitome of pious and evil. While her stepsisters and stepmother are characterized as deceitful and evil, Cinderella is apparently good only because she is religious and passive. She never does anything wrong nor does she release any anger towards her family, she is content. Cinderella does not do anything aside from looking beautiful to warrant the praise from the prince. In fact, nearly all heroines in Grimmis fairytales are beautiful, from Cinderella to Sleeping Beauty, Rapunzel to Little Snow White and therefore good. Specifically, Cinderella is good because she is beautiful, passive, innocent and beguiled.
Cinderella is victimized by her wicked stepmother and stepsisters, who are beautiful and fail in the face, but treacherous and wicked at heart. They force her to wear rags and act as a servant in order to break the spirit and undermine her beauty status. In making Cinderella submissive, these women are another tool of the Grimmis to serve as a medium of patriarchy. Whenever a woman in a fairytale possesses or acts with power, they act in favor of patriarchy.
Additionally, in Cinderella, the stepmother knows the only way to gain social status and succeed on the systemis terms is to marry her daughters into wealth. She believes a woman’s power directly correlates with a woman’s beauty. Due to the fact that woman can’t earn money due to society, the stepmother exploits her daughters. The stepmother even makes her daughters cut off parts of their fee for a chance to be with the prince. Consequently, he stepdaughter is a threat that must be removed. The stepmother wants the wealth and praise and the feeling of superiority but only through her own bloodline. In the Grimmis version, Cinderella is changed to demonstrate her goodness through housework and submission, no doubt a way to reinforce that a good woman is always rewarded with a wealthy marriage and unending happiness. This theme, which in turn exemplifies one of the options, the Grimm
In the Brothers Grimm’s Little Snow White, Snow White is a princess, who is taught that in order to be a good girl she must obey what she is told. This includes the traditional values of cooking and cleaning the dwarves ask of her. The other component of being a perfect woman is looking presentable at al times and ultimately looking better than everyone. The Queen has become so obsessed by the image in the mirror and being the best she becomes essentially evil. The story is giving women mixed messages, saying not to obsess about looks but to be beautiful, but it also portrays a woman as a heroine, but still saying disobedience of the woman’s roles will lead to punishment.
Within the Brothers Grimm fairy tales, the common narrative consists of an evil elder woman pitted against an innocent, younger female. It is no different in Rapunzel, she is stolen from her mother, in a deal set by her father, and is eventually locked in a tower high above the ground by an evil enchantress. This imprisonment keeps Rapunzel away from world, until the handsome Prince is lured by her locks of gold and climbs her hair to reach Rapunzel. However, this fairytale lends itself to the notion that the female is incapable of managing herself; that to be saved, she must flaunt her assets. The minor act of Rapunzel letting down her hair to the prince suggests that the female is nothing more than a mere sexual object.
When it comes to the Grimm Brothers fairy tales, one theme in these stories is not unfamiliar. This is the theme of antagonistic females who cause trouble for the heroes. In The Juniper Treell, the stepmother kills her stepson out of jealousy and cooks him into a stew to be unwittingly eaten by the father. A second story that emphasizes this theme is The Juniper Tree, also written by the Brothers Grimm. A beautiful son is born to a man and his pious wife, who dies in childbirth. The man takes a second wife, who bears a daughter. This second wife loathes her stepson, and frequently abuses him.
One day, the stepmother decapitates the boy with a pantry lid, ties the head back on with the scarf, and sits him back on the porch. She later tells her daughter to slap her stepbrother across the face, and when she does, the head rolls off; the stepmother causes her daughter to believe that she was the murderer. The two of them cook the boy into a stew, tell the father that his son is away, and feed him the stew. The boy, after his sister buries his bones under a juniper tree, is reincarnated into a bird, who drops a millstone on the stepmother, who dies instantly.
This story, like “Hansel and Gretell, emphasizes the wickedness of women who take matters into their own hands. The father, who has no idea that his son has been killed and that he has eaten him, is given no blame because of his ignorance. The wife and the daughter, however, receive all responsibility for the crime, though only the wife is punished. The father in The Juniper Treell is more blameless than the father of Hansel and Gretel, who had full knowledge of his actions, yet was redeemed in the end. The Juniper Treell puts all the blame on the wife, but the daughter is also implicated because she believes that in slapping her brother, she killed him. Although slapping her brother was not meant to kill him, the daughter still knew that such an action would hurt her brother. The stepmother is the main antagonist, though, because it was she who actually committed the crime, and ultimately receives the punishment for it.
All the stories analyzed emphasize the wickedness of women who plot and think for themselves or the women who are waiting for life to come to them, content waiting for their prince. This suggests that the Brothers Grimm wish to convey the message that women should not go outside the norms of the society at the time and should constrict themselves to the matters of the home. It also causes the male gender to appear better in character, gentler, and more qualified to act for themselves than women. There is rarely a tale in which the father figure is not redeemable when the female character is the antagonist.
These stories strongly emphasize the power of men as being ultimately good, while suggesting that giving power to women is disastrous. The Brothers Grimm assume the stereotypical roles of women dictated by society instead of creating a world of pure fantasy. It presents the point of view, which women are expected to be obedient or there will be consequences. It also presents a point about beauty saying beauty is important in order to be the winner of a situation, like in Cinderella. The oppressive idea of beauty corrupt the story by means of the evil Queen whose obsessive thoughts about beauty lead her to kill her own step daughter. These messages of female roles influence women negatively and teach them negative habits in readers to how they can be their own independent person.