My four-year-old daughter, Millie, is at a stage right now where it is all about the princesses – she is completely besotted.
You will frequently see her walking around our house dressed as either Rapunzel or Cinderella (donning a pair of my high heels). For her birthday this year, we had to have a princess-themed party. From this, she was gifted a lovely collection of fairytales from her Nanna and now, when she is getting ready for bed, she will choose one of these to be her bedtime story.
I should point out at this stage that when I was a little girl I also loved these stories (I think Sleeping Beauty was my favourite). However, when I started sitting down to read them to her I realised that, as an adult, I was not enjoying them in the same way I did when I was a child. In fact, they were now reading very differently to me.
I felt a bit alarmed because all I could see in each story was that the princess eventually found herself in a difficult situation and needed to be rescued by the handsome prince. On his noble steed of course (let’s face it, you’re not much of a prince without a horse).
But as I read them I started asking myself, "do I really want her forming this image of women, that whenever they encounter trouble they need to be rescued by a strong man?"
On top of that these women don’t seem to have an awful lot to offer. And I quickly realised that no, I really don’t want her to think that way. So I had to do something…
As we sat each night reading a different story, I found myself constantly reading ahead to see what was on the next page and I began to change bits and pieces along the way.
For instance, Snow White was only cleaning the house for the seven dwarves because they were a bit bold and wouldn’t do it themselves. And she didn’t need to be kissed by a prince to waken up - she was only having a rest because she had eaten a bad apple and had a pain in her tummy.
Cinderella’s sisters weren’t very nice to her and didn’t want her to go to the prince’s birthday party but she went anyway and had a great time. When she lost her shoe, the prince was a very nice boy who brought it back to her. They then became best friends and she went to visit him every day in his castle.
I know it sounds ridiculous doesn’t it? But I couldn’t stop myself from doing it – I just did not have it within me to read these stories aloud to my own daughter. So what has changed? Have I just become cynical with age? Or really are these stories now completely out-dated and a totally unrealistic representation of men, women and relationships today?
I started considering my own relationship with my husband and how does it compare to the way relationships are portrayed in these books. Were they much different or was I being a bit naïve? But I realised instantly that yes, of course, they are different.
I love my husband; I loved marrying him and I often regard him as someone who protects and takes care of me. But I equally protect and take care of him. We take care of each other.
Yes, in times of trouble, he would do anything within his means to ‘rescue’ me, but I would equally rescue him wherever I could – we rescue each other. And that, I realised is what was really bothering me about these fairytales.
The women in these books don’t seem to have a lot to offer; they don’t come across as being very able. They mostly just stand there and look pretty – in Snow White’s case she does some light housework and cooking for seven dwarves, Cinderella is a maid and Sleeping Beauty goes out for walks in the woods to pick berries.
That’s not enough for me though. I want my daughter to know just how capable she is and that anything is possible if she sets her mind to. I know that I can’t ‘edit’ these stories forever; soon enough she will go to school and begin to learn how to read - we will deal with that when the time comes.
Right now this feels like the right thing to do though. One thing that I have learned from this little girl is that she is paying attention to every single thing that is going on around her.
We will continue to read our fairytales (with slight twists along the way) because my daughter absolutely loves princesses and I don’t want to take that away from her.
One thing I know for sure though, is that I want her to grow up knowing that all women have a lot more to offer than the protagonists in these fables. We all deserve to be loved and in the best possible way, but we don’t have to be rescued in order to be loved.
The truth is that if we are in a really wonderful relationship, we save each other whenever it is needed. And that, as far as I am concerned, is the modern-day fairytale.