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ENGLISH REVIEW: Journal of English Education

ISSN 2301-7554
Vol.2, Issue 1, December 2013



Arisa Kochiyama
Wayo Womens University, Japan.

APA Citation: Kochiyama, A. (2013). Teaching gender awareness through Fairy tales in the EFL
classroom. English Review: Journal of English Education, 2(1), 1-7

Received: 04-09-2013 Accepted: 29-10-2013 Published: 01-12-2013

Abstract: The purpose of this study is to explore how gender has been portrayed historically
and in current times in fairy tales and then to introduce the effectiveness of using fairy tales in
language instruction. While some instructors may still believe that teaching EFL encompasses
focusing on linguistic elements only, recent trend in EFL teaching indicates the necessity of
integrating literature in the curricula because of its rich potential to provide an authentic
model of language use as well as its universal themes within human history. Traditional
fairy tales and modern ones can allow students to think critically about how men and women
are portrayed and to compare these portrayals with their own communities. It is hoped that
discussion of the topic of gender issues can help students foster critical thinking and literacy
and empower them with a further understanding of gender notions in their lives.
Keywords: intercultural communication, English as a second language, EFL classroom

INTRODUCTION and movies are extremely popular and

Childrens literature, in addition children for generations have grown
to being one of the favorite choices for up reading and watching them. Cook
reading among students as they are claims that although the stories are
growing up, is commonly used in the magical and fun they do show gender
context of reading practices in ESL/ stereotypes and send incorrect messages
EFL classrooms (Lazar 1993). While to young children concerning their
some teachers tend to employ picture ability based on their gender creating
books and fairy tales because they gender stereotypes and influencing their
think these materials provide students attitudes and behaviors.
with an authentic model of language Disney is harmful not only with
as well as the cultural information of their production of books and movies
target language, others point out that but also with their variety of products
gender bias is still prevalent in childrens consumed all over the world. Sales
literature and fairy tales (Kuo 2005). at Disney Consumer Products, which
Gender bias is evident in fairy tales and started the craze in 2000 by packaging
childrens literature as the males are nine of its female characters under one
seen as the rough, tough, adventurous, royal rubric, have shot up to $3 billion,
fighting, prince, heroic character while globally in 2006. There are now more
females are the sweet, beautiful princess, than 25000 Disney Princess items.
helpless, motherly, cleanly, damsel in Orenstein (2006) wrote how the toys and
distress. Though these roles are fun for media industries had turned girls into
story books they do not give readers a hypergendered consumers. Orenstein,
skewed perception on what their role along with her 3-year-old daughter for
should be in their real lives (Archer her experiment, had to smile politely
2008). Among fairy tales, Disney stories every time the supermarket-checkout

Teaching Gender Awareness Through Fairy Tales in the EFL Classroom

clerk greeted her with Hi, Princess, take care of a household. Secondly, a
ignored the waitress at their local modernized fairy tale by Disney, Tangled
breakfast joint who called the funny- (2010), will be analyzed and compared
face pancakes she ordered her princess with the traditional fairy tales in terms
meal. But when the dentist pointed to of the story patterns, the heroines and
the exam chair and said, Would you other characters surrounding her. And
like to sit in my special princess throne then the study will discuss how teachers
so I can sparkle your teeth?, she lost her can promote students gender awareness
temper and shouted, Come on! Its 2006, adopting traditional fairy tales and
not 1950. This is Berkley, California. modern ones in their EFL classrooms.
Does every little girl really have to be a
Fairy tales often reflect societys Traditional Fairy Tales and Gender: Snow
socially accepted value. The stories tell White, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty
us what gender scripts are accepted in Physical Appearance of Heroine
our culture and how men and women Snow White, Cinderella, Sleeping
should act. Although we tend to assume Beauty all depict the heroines as a
that we have achieved a more equalized beautiful woman wearing nice clothing
society thanks to the feminist movement in order to be marriageable. With flowing
and the society has gotten much better strawberry-blond locks, big, blue eyes,
in the perspective of gender stereotype, button nose, and tiny body, Disneys
the princess craze and the girlie-girl child-like woman sets a standard for
culture are now more prevalent than perfection that virtually no little girl can
ever all over the world. Given the above ever achieve (Pandolfo 2007).
phenomena, the present study will
firstly investigate whether the improved She was very pretty, with blue eyes
gender roles are represented in modern and long black hair. Her skin was
fairy tales and compare classic fairy delicate and fair, and so she was
tales with a modernized fairy tale, called Snow White. Everyone was
Tangled, published in 2010, with a quite sure she would become very
focus on analysis of the story patterns, beautiful. (Snow White)
the heroines and other characters
surrounding her. And then the study When Cinderella entered the ballroom
will discuss how traditional fairy tales at the palace, a hush fell. Everyone
and modern ones can allow students stopped in mid-sentence to admire
in the EFL classroom to think critically her elegance, her beauty and grace.
about gender roles both in the fairy tales (Cinderella)
and in their real lives.
For a long time he stood gazing at her
METHOD face, so full of serenity, so peaceful,
For the study, Snow White (1937), lovely and pure, and he felt spring
Cinderella (1950), and Sleeping Beauty to his heart that love he had always
(1957) will be analyzed as traditional been searching for and never found.
fairy tales. These three stories have (Sleeping Beauty)
female characters that reflect societys
socially accepted value of 1930s and In the three stories, the male
1950s. They all play similar roles of the heroes fall in love with the heroines
damsel in distress. The heroines are all because of how they look such as having
young and beautiful woman who can beautiful locks, fair skin, tiny feet, and so

ENGLISH REVIEW: Journal of English Education ISSN 2301-7554
Vol.2, Issue 1, December 2013

on. Grauerholz and Baker-Sperry (2003) floors and turn down the beds for
who examined 168 Brothers Grimm your stepsisters. They will come home
fairy tales showed that 94 percent of tired and very sleepy. (Cinderella)
the stories acknowledged physical
appearance, and the average references Inge (2004) explains that the
per story were 13.6: In one story, there story of Snow White reflects the general
were 114 beauty references for women: publics attitude of the time that women
In comparison, the number of beauty should be primarily involved with the
references for men did not exceed 35 home. While men symbolize prosperity,
per story. In these well know stories income, and sustenance to support the
good-temper and meekness are so women, the women are characterized
regularly associated with beauty, and ill as being the passive, pretty, patient,
temper with ugliness, that this in itself obedient, industrious, and quiet in the
must influence childrens expectations story. In line with Inge (2004), Archer
(Lieberman 1972). Grauerholz and Baker- (2008) points out that the heroines
Sperry (2003) worry that these powerful submissive role as a woman suggests to
messages that say women need to be viewers that girls need to be obedient
beautiful may compel some women and if girls do not have strong characters
to seek beauty at the expense of other to relate to in stories then it is unlikely
pursuits, such as careers or education. that they learn to become strong and
Grauerholz and Baker-Sperry (2003) independent women themselves.
further point out that the continued
emphasis on beauty is a way of society Good = Pretty vs. Bad = Ugly
to controls girls and women. Women The traditional fairy tales have
adopt behaviors that reflect and reinforce in common giving a message of the
their powerlessness, which can lead to dichotomy of beautiful = good / ugly =
limiting a womans personal freedom, bad; ugly people are evil and beautiful
power and control. people are good. Women have to be
either pretty or ugly and cannot be
Heroines Behavior average because women are presented
The traditional fairy tales also as either one thing or another and never
portray what is considered acceptable a mixture of both. In the article The
behavior for women. Their daily actions Dualistic Nature of Women: Witches
include singing, dancing and spending and Women in Fairy Tales, a writer
their day doing chores around the house points out that this repeated dichotomy
such as cooking, cleaning, and making is always applied to female characters
beds. in fiction in literature. As shown below
in the traditional fairy tales evil ugly
Ill make them something to eat. women who are jealous of heroines
When they come home, theyll be glad beauty try to harm or kill the beautiful
to find a meal ready. Towards dusk, heroines.
seven tiny men marched homewards
singing. But when they opened the Mirror, mirror on the wall, who is
door, to their surprise they found a the loveliest lady in the land? The
bowl of hot steaming soup on the reply was always: You are, your
table, and the whole house spick and Majesty, until the dreadful day when
span. (Snow White) she heard it say, Snow White is the
You? My dear girl, youre staying at loveliest in the land. The stepmother
home to wash the dishes, scrub the was furious and, wild with jealousy,

Teaching Gender Awareness Through Fairy Tales in the EFL Classroom

began plotting to get rid of her rival. Then one evening, they discovered a
(Snow White) strange young man admiring Snow
But her stepsisters were so jealous of Whites lovely face through the
Cinderellas beauty that they made glass. After listening to the story,
her dress in rags and treated her like a the Prince (for he was a prince!)
servant. (Cinderella) made a suggestion. If you allow me
to take her to the Castle, Ill call in
Synnott (1990) claims that famous doctors to waken her from
judgements about appearance imply their peculiar sleep. Shes so lovely.
values about good and evil and these . . Id love to kiss her. . . ! He did.,
conclusions are often false, unfair, and as though by magic, the Princes
dangerous, and silly: Yet it is perpetuated kiss broke the spell. To everyones
by our language, literature, media, many astonishment, Snow White opened
philosophers and out simple binary her eyes. She had amazingly come
perspectives. This assumption of ugly back to life! Now in love, the Prince
being bad has been labeled as uglyism asked Snow White to marry him,
(Synnott 1990). Synnott states that and the dwarfs reluctantly had to say
uglyism is the widespread discrimination good bye to Snow White. (Snow White)
experienced by people whose appearance
lies south of beauty equator mapped out At that kiss, the princess quickly
by literature and film. In her article The opened her eyes, and wakening from
Dualistic Nature of Women: Witches her long long sleep, seeing the Prince
and Women in Fairy Tales, the writer beside her, murmured: Oh, you have
points out that this binary polarization come at last! I was waiting for you
of women/men, good/bad, pretty/ugly in my dream. Ive waited so long!
must be stopped as human beings in (Sleeping Beauty)
reality are varying degrees of good and
evil, of emotional and rational of inner The most damaging Cinderella
and outer beauty. legacy of all, according to Pandolfo
(2007), is the concept of rags-to-riches
Heroine and Prince success through hard-work and patience,
In the traditional fairy tales, the which reinforces capitalism. In addition
gender line between men and women is with this someday-my-Prince-will-
stereotyped with males being portrayed as come message, it reinforces the notion
being physically and emotionally strong, that women should be passive, helpless
and as active participants in shaping their and dependent who need the assistance
lives whereas females are portrayed as of men and wait for men to save them.
dependent, physically and emotionally At the same time it offers the solution
weak, and passive participants in shaping to girls that marriage is the answer to
their lives. In addition, the men are everything (Wakakuwa 2003).
portrayed as much better off than the
women. In the stories the male characters Modernized Fairy Tale and Gender: Tangled
have higher ranking status and wealth. Tangled is a 2010 American
The three fairy tales also have in common animated musical film and story
that the male heroes who fall in love at produced and published by Walt
first sight, save the females from a lifetime Disney Animation Studios and is the
of hardship by marrying them while the 50th animated feature in the Walt Disney
females do nothing but waiti for the prince Animated Classic Series. The story is
to show up. loosely based on the Grimm fairy tale

ENGLISH REVIEW: Journal of English Education ISSN 2301-7554
Vol.2, Issue 1, December 2013

Rapunzel in the collection of folk tales took her to see the floating lights and
published by the Brothers Grimm. The returned her home safely, she would
film tells the story of a lost princess with give him the satchel. Flynn had no
long magical hair who yearns to leave choice but to agree. (Tangled)
her secluded tower. Against Mother
Gothels wish, she enlists the aid of a Rapunzel is different from the
bandit thief Flynn to take her out into the classic heroines who are passive and
world which she has never seen. obedient and described as a courageous
young woman relentlessly pursues her
Physical Appearance of Heroine goals to achieve personal fulfillment.
Rapunzel is not overly described Unlike in the classic fairy tales, cooking,
as pretty or beautiful as in the heroines doing dishes, cleaning houses, and
of Snow White, Cinderella, or Sleeping sewing are not mentioned as Rapunzels
Beauty. The only sentence that mentions behavior.
Rapunzels beauty is that she was born
as a beautiful baby. Good = Pretty vs. Bad = Ugly
The repeated dichotomy of good/
The flower made the Queen well, evil, ugly/beautiful is again applied to
and she soon gave birth to a beautiful the female character in Tangled. While
young girl. (Tangled) Rapunzel is presented as a pretty young
girl, Mother Gothel, Rapunzels evil
Heroines Behavior abductress, is described as having dark
Unlike the heroines of traditional hair and dark slant eyes and in need
fairy tales, Rapunzel is presented as a of Rapunzels magical power to stay
smart, brave, and adventurous woman young. In the last scene, as Gothel loses
who stands up for her beliefs. In the first Rapunels magical power, she becomes
scene of Tangled, it becomes clear that a an ugly old wicked witch just as seen in
new heroine has been created. Rapunzel the stepmother of Snow White.
who wishes to get out of her secluded
tower lies to Mother Gothel, Rapunzels Mother Gothel knew that if she
evil abductress. so that she leaves the wanted to stay young, she had to keep
tower for three days. the child with her always. (Tangled)

Realizing she would never get out What have you done?! Mother
of the tower unless she took matters Gothel cried. Within moments she
into her own hands, Rapunzel asked aged hundreds of years and turned to
for another birthday present. She dust. (Tangled)
requested special paint that would
require Mother to leave on a three- Thus the story keeps with the
day journey. (Tangled) tradition of association with women as
witches and the role women as the other.
Rapunzel takes charge by knocking Heroine and Prince
out a male protagonist Flynn, tying The heroine of Tangled is not a
him up and striking adeal to make prince as in the traditional fairy tales
him help her. but a bandit thief who belongs to Lower
class in society, which shows Disneys
Not wasting another second, new perspective of gender. Rapunzel is
Rapunzel dragged Flynn out of the not a princess waiting for a man to wake
closet and offered him a deal. If Flynn her up, untie her from the train tracks,

Teaching Gender Awareness Through Fairy Tales in the EFL Classroom

and so on. Although the story loosely Traditional fairy tales and modernized
follows the traditional Rapunzel story, ones allow students not only to learn
Disney makes some changes which the target language but also to think
balance out the value of genders. critically about how men and women are
portrayed and compare these portrayals
Meanwhile, in another part of the to their own lives.
forest, a thief named Flynn Rider was Kuo (2005) claims the importance
on the run with his partner in of teachers role by pointing out that
crime, the Stabbington brothers. teachers need to be extremely aware of
(Tangled) the fact that dominant reading practices
will make students accustomed to
Rapunzel is anything but passive and mainstream texts and as a result students
is routinely the one who takes charge will passively identify themselves
and gets them out of tough situations. with the characters in the stories. Kuo
suggests that teachers should equip
Rapunzel banged her frying pan on a students with a certain stance that
giant pot to get the thugs attention. deliberately challenges the text and help
She asked them to let Flynn go so that students uncover the gender inequalities
she could make her dream come true. present in the text, in doing so, it is
(Tangled) useful for teachers to adopt resistant or
oppositional reading practices rather
Tangled doesnt end with the than dominant and conventional reading
traditional someday-my-Prince-will- practices. According to the BC Teachers
come message but with the suggestion Federation, a familiar starting point for
that Rapunzel eventually becomes the students would be to read traditional
leader of her kingdom, which makes fairy tales and identify the elements that
her the only princess who eventually make it different from a non-fiction story
becomes a true queen. by asking open-ended questions as in the
The King and Queen were there, 1) How are princesses usually
along with Flynn, Pascal, Maximus portrayed at the start of a story?
and the pub thugs. The people of the 2) Is she waiting around for something
kingdom released floating lanterns or someone to come to her rescue or
into the sky. Their light had guided make her happy? If so, whom?
their princess home at last. (Tangled) 3) Towards the end of a story what
makes Cinderella and Snow White
Disney has developed a strong happy? Why do you think that
female character because that is what might be? (BC Teachers Federation)
modern culture and society have After reading a variety of
demanded. The modernized fairy tale traditional and modernized fairy
Tangled is a step forward for Disney tales and analyzing components of
because it has given the heroine her each style of fairy tale, teachers can
independence and attempted to give us ask students:
an empowered three-dimensional female 4) In you world, who is a more
character differing from her predecessors realistic character? Why do you
who wait for a prince to rescue them think that? Who does each princess
and marry them. Given these findings, remind you of in real life?
how can we teach gender awareness in 5) Can a prince or princess be single
the EFL classroom using the fairy tales? and live happily ever after? Why

ENGLISH REVIEW: Journal of English Education ISSN 2301-7554
Vol.2, Issue 1, December 2013

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