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Dangerous Sexuality in Kids’ Fairy Tales

Seldom do we put together danger and sex in children’s stories but the history behind many folk and fairy tales often intertwines the two.  In fact, many old tales were used as a warning to young virginal girls and adults about guarding the innocence of girlhood. They were tales about morality and the implication that a deflowered girl wasn’t worth the same dowry, or social status, as a virgin. In ancient cultures where demons and witches were perceived as real, fairy tales merged into legends where the narrative was perceived both by teller and hearers as being grounded in historical truth. watch medieval mind

The first attempt to preserve not only the plot and characters of the tale, but also the style in which they were told, was by the Brothers Grimm, in their first edition (1812 & 1815).watch beauty and the beast alternate opening  Charles Perrault was a close second and he too altered fairy tales to make them more appetizing for prudish Victorian mothers and nannies. The Brothers Grimm concentrated mostly on eliminating sexual references.  Rapunzel, in the first edition, revealed the prince’s visits when the witch asked why her clothing had grown tight, thus letting the witch deduce that she was pregnant. In subsequent editions however, Rapunzel carelessly revealed that it was easier to pull the prince up the tower than the witch. watch tangled – mother gothel  In the original Rapunzel, she finds her desolate prince in the desert and it is discovered that she has two children by him. In cutting off Rapunzel’s hair as a punishment, the witch attempts to destroy Rapunzel’s sexual appeal. The witch, in fact, is envious of Rapunzel’s golden locks. watch animated Rapunzel

On the other hand, in many respects, violence – particularly when punishing villains – was increased. In the original Cinderella, a dove sits on the step sisters’ shoulders during Cinderella’s wedding, and pecks out each of their eyes as a punishment for their cruelty. An alternative to this is that both sisters are forced to dance in heated iron shoes until they fall down dead. watch haunt  The moralizing strain in the Victorian era altered the classical tales to teach other lessons, as when Cinderella was rewritten in 1854 to contain temperance themes. A temperance movement is a social movement urging reduced or prohibited use of alcoholic beverages. watch life in victorian britain Presumably, there wasn’t champagne at Cinderella’s wedding. watch. Feminine evil is found aplenty in fairy tales, much more so than masculine evil. Villains were almost always certainly female.  when children played at slaughter 3d

The Cinderella story itself is about a maiden’s virginity, represented by the glass slipper. In the story, Cinderella is the most sacred maiden in the land and it is clear she is a virgin. The shoe is too tight for any other girl except Cinderella to wear. When the stepmother breaks one of the slippers, it suggests the breaking of the hymen. The end of Cinderella’s virginity is in keeping with her marriage to the Prince, when she is no longer a maiden. The original Cinderella may have originated in China, where very small feet are considered socially and sexually appealing, hence the emphasis on Cinderella’s slipper. Similarly, in The Princess and the Pea, the Princess proves her maidenhood when she sleeps in a bed in the Prince’s palace and feels a tiny pea beneath several mattresses. Her lament is that, “heaven knows what was in the bed but I have been lying on something hard, so that I am black and blue all over my body.” watch the Princess and the Pea

Violence in folk and fairy tales can be understood in the context of the history of childhood. Until the Victorian Era, childhood didn’t exist and children were considered to be “little adults.” Even then, childhood was slow to develop and excluded children from the lower socioeconomic class.  Childhood began during the Industrial Revolution. watch the little girl who was forgotten. The Industrial Revolution was a period from 1750 to 1850 where changes in agriculture, manufacturing, mining, transportation, and technology had a profound effect on the social, economic and cultural conditions of the times. watch the industrial revolution in england. It began in the United Kingdom, then subsequently spread throughout Western Europe, North America, Japan, and eventually the rest of the world.  watch emily creepy animation of a creepy girl 

In terms of social structure, the Industrial Revolution witnessed the development of a middle class of industrialists and businessmen. There was still limited opportunity for education, and children were expected to work. watch kids of the coal mines Children worked alongside their parents in manufacturing plants and coal mines for less pay than adults, although they usually had the most dangerous jobs. It was only middle and upper class children who transitioned from little adults to children. Eventually middle class children would attend school, although education laws didn’t come into effect until 1880. Rich children were tutored, as had been the tradition in wealthy families for generations. Literacy and mathematics were the primary focus of education, and the market niche for children’s story books became lucrative.  watch the children who built victorian britain

In Little Red Riding Hood, the combination of sexuality and violence is unmistakable. Cannibalism is represented when the Wolf eats both the grandmother and Riding Hood. The cannibalism theme appears again in Hansel and Gretel. Riding Hood is warned by her mother not to talk to strangers (the Wolf), who is a metaphor for male sexuality. Of course, Riding Hood disobeys her mother and her punishment is being “eaten” by the Wolf, or devoured by male sexuality. watch wolf  In the original story when she mistakes him for her grandmother, she removes her clothes and climbs into bed with him. watch rick baker werewolf transformation scene The Grimm version removes the nudity and prevents Riding Hood from being devoured by the Wolf. Instead she is rescued by a woodsman, a character who is easily recognizable as a decent man, since he is without disguise and his intention is to save Riding Hood from the Wolf’s clutches. The woodsman, in fact, was added to the story later. The original version ends with Riding Hood and her granny inside the wolf’s stomach. Ouch. watch little red riding hood – the wolf scene

Female sexuality is also a theme in Red Riding Hood and many other fairy tales. It is presented during female puberty, and functions as warnings about female sexuality and its existence, as both a threat and as threatened. watch sex, blood and fairy tales Not surprisingly, it was during the ages of 12 and 14 that many girls married and had children, eons ago. It is no coincidence that childbirth mortality was very high during the era when these tales were invented. The implication that good wives and girls did not enjoy sex but saw it as their wifely duty is unmistakable. watch england, edwardian era In “Sleeping Beauty” a bitter  old fairy punishes the heroine with slumber when she pricks her finger, a symbol for menstruation, and the piercing of Beauty’s hymen (as is Red Riding Hood’s cloak). watch sleeping beauty 01 In this short clip, when Beauty asks if she may try using a spinning wheel, the old woman replies “oh I’m afraid you’re too young,” to which Beauty replies “but I’m old enough to be left alone with my father, the King.” watch the Victorian guide to women

So many fairy tales and folktales were warnings to young, virginal women, and by comparison, few centered around young men. Normally such tales reveal the initially naive and trusting male transitioning into the hero of his own misadventures, an advantage that most female heroines do not enjoy. In nearly all fairy tales that focused on male adventures, a helpless, beautiful female was the prize for his stalwart efforts in slaying dragons, ogres, nasty old women, and outsmarting any number of dangerous characters. No traditional fairy tales present a heroine rescuing a prince in distress. watch belle dressing the beast’s wound  The concept would have been socially unacceptable, in keeping with the social restrictions and expectations of women before the Edwardian era. It is only recently that a Princess or other female character has demonstrated wit and strength of character in order to come to the aid of a helpless male. watch paper bag princess

The times they are a-changing.  It’s about time, watch belle and gaston

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