Ask A Feminist is Stylist.co.uk's weekly column answering your questions on feminism, sexism and womanhood in a real-life, 21st Century context. Send your dilemmas to firstname.lastname@example.org and we'll get one of our brilliant panel of feminists to cast a discerning eye on the issue at hand.
This week's question:
Just like in fairy tales, I'm vaguely hoping for a guy to sweep me off my feet and bring me happiness. I know that kind of traditional narrative has been criticised - but isn't love and togetherness what life is all about?
Feminist Amy Everett says:
If your bus journeys are spent swiping right in the vague hope you’ll match with ‘Prince Charming, 34, 1 kilometre away’, the idea of love and togetherness is probably sounding good right now (or at least the ‘togetherness’ part).
And why wouldn’t it? Disney classics and Hollywood blockbusters do an awesome job of drilling this simple formula into our consciousness: damsel in distress + hunky prince = happy ending.
And what’s so bad about that?
Of course, it’s important to question such a simplistic notion and subvert typical gender norms. Some damsels fancy other damsels, some princes aren’t looking for a princess, and some people don’t fancy anyone at all. But why are princesses getting all the blame?
Feminism has exploded into public consciousness in the last couple of years, putting everything we held dear as children under the microscope. Most prominently, the Sleeping Beauties and Cinderellas moping around waiting for someone perfect to save them from their current existence (who they’ve never met, but sound good from the description - sounds a lot like Tinder to me).
The impact of the norms these stories set out must be considered with great care.
But there’s no reason anyone shouldn’t grow up wanting to be a princess and find happiness in a loving relationship (nothing wrong with aiming high, eh?)
What needs to change is the balance. And the good news is work’s already being done to do so.
Back in 1971, a women's liberation group on Merseyside rewrote some fairy tales, taking the emphasis away from wealth, beauty and youth. This saw Snow White opting to work in the coal mines with the dwarfs rather than wash their dishes. A novel idea, but where’s the magic in that for a six year old?
Today Disney still have far to go, but you can’t deny they’re working to level the playing field.
Merida in Brave, Toy Story’s Jessie, Tiana in The Princess and the Frog, even Fiona in Shrek - all strong, adventurous female role models who save the day (and in some cases, their men) on their own terms.
I’ll always love The Little Mermaid (and I wouldn’t blame my foibles on watching her as a child), but these new heroines are a hell of a lot stronger than a half-naked adolescent giving away her voice in exchange for a pair of legs to help her chase a man.
So with the issue of gender stereotypes in fairy tales being tackled, you're left with the love question.
If your problem lies with love being tied up in happy endings, find me someone who’s life hasn’t been enriched by a relationship with another person and we’ll talk.
Sure, there are cases where people find happiness in complete solitude. Just look at the woman who married herself this summer, following a string of bad relationships.
But, realistically, finding love (AKA Your Prince or Princess Charming) is the best shot humans have at finding happiness.
Fairy tales promote this tale as old as time, song as old as rhyme. And I’m in full support of that.
What do you think? Do you agree with Amy that finding love is the best shot humans have at finding happiness? Or is the fairy tale ending an entirely unrealistic premise that holds us back in an age of independence and gender diversity? Scroll down to join the debate in the comments section, below