Apropos of Nothing

This entry was posted by on Friday, 29 May, 2009 at

I was lying awake last night when for some reason it dawned on me that in “well known” fairy tales in our culture, the protagonists are predominantly female.

Snow White
Sleeping Beauty
Little Red Riding Hood
Goldilocks and the Three Bears
The Little Mermaid
The Princess and the Pea
Beauty and the Beast1

Compare With:
Jack and the Beanstalk
The Frog Prince3
The Boy Who Went Forth to Learn What Fear Was4

Hansel and Gretel – Obviously, one of each.
Puss in Boots – While the cat’s master was male, I think this and any other stories in which the main characters are animals fall into a seperate category and gender tends to be largely irrelevant.

1 Depending on whether one considers the Beast to be a protagonist, in which case this would be like “Hansel and Gretel.”

2 This is technically from a different culture. In fact, the only other stories which I could name from 1001 Arabian Nights (even if I do not actually know the plot) are “Ali Baba and the 40 Thieves” and around seven or so “Voyages of Sinbad.” Since all of these feature a male protagonist, I would hypothesize that that particular culture’s folklore does not contain the female dominance that I am attempting to illustrate here.

3 This story also features a female main character, (not to mention an animal) so might not rightfully belong in the “male protagonist” category.

4 Is this story even “well known”? I was really reaching by this point. There were some other tales that I did not include because I remember nothing about them beside the name. Whereas on the other end of the spectrum, (realizing that I am presuming a lot about my audience) I suspect that most of us could probably recount the story of “Little Red Riding Hood” start to finish right off the top of our heads.

Even ignoring the above caveats in my quick list of tales, the females outnumber males two to one. If we were to throw out anything with a footnote…. well then that is simply no contest at all.

I welcome your comments and counter examples.

One Response to “Apropos of Nothing”

  1. Cousin Julie

    So, what’s the point of this contemplation? I think that it’s useful to think why they are “well-known”. If you look through the Brothers Grimm, you’ll see LOTS of tales with male protagonists (Tom Thumb, Iron John, etc.) but many of them are a bit more violent. Or, rather, the violence is unavoidable, whereas the girl tales have been Disney-fied rather effectively. Is Disney the main culprit here in promoting certain tales? Is it the storybook industry? Interesting thing to note, though.

    As a sidenote, I am trying to tell the Goldilocks tale to Janiya with Goldilocks coming off as the really intrusive, rude girl that she is, and the bears as victims to her self-absorbed sense of entitlement.

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