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Confining Women In Fairy Tales: The Double Standard
The Double Standards Confining Women In Fairy Tales

Fairy tales are often confining women with double standards. Join Anne and Jane Gillmore as they discuss how fairy tales often vilify women's anger, undermine their pursuit of financial independence, and set unrealistic expectations.

Fairy tales showcase the double standards confining women. Fairy tales often vilify women’s anger, undermine their pursuit of financial independence, and set unrealistic expectations.

These biases shift the focus from abusers to women, making them see themselves as the problem. Join Anne and Jane Gillmore as they continue their discussion about misogyny and fairy tales.

This episode is Part Two of Anne’s interview with Jane Gilmore

Part One: 5 Ways Fairy Tales Brainwashed Women Not To Recognize Abuse

Part Two: The Double Standards Confining Women In Fairy Tales (This Episode)

Vilification of Women’s Anger: 

Society often labels women’s anger as overreacting, in stark contrast to men’s anger, which is seen as justified. This double standard shifts the focus from the abusers to the women, conditioning them to see themselves as the problem rather than addressing the root cause of their frustration, thus confining women.

Fairy Tale Double Standards that Confine Women

Confining Women- Financial Independence Double Standard: 

Women are often condemned for seeking financial independence, a desire that is celebrated in men. This contradiction highlights the gender bias in societal expectations, undermining women’s right to financial security and autonomy.

Absurd Societal Expectations: 

The expectation for women to set boundaries calmly is unrealistic and unfair. It parallels the absurdity of asking women to call the police without anger if they witness a crime, illustrating how these societal scripts demand unrealistic levels of composure from women, even in distressing situations, thereby confining women.

Confining Women- Misogyny in Cultural Narratives: 

Stories like “Beauty and the Beast” perpetuate misogynistic tropes by suggesting that men need women to become better people. This harmful narrative places undue responsibility on women for men’s behavior and personal growth, reinforcing gender roles that confine women to supportive and transformative roles without considering their own needs for autonomy and respect.

Telling Women They Were Made For Service To Others

Anne (00:00): Last week, Jane and I wrapped up our talk discussing the Little Mermaid and how, in the Disney remake, they don’t rush into marriage right away. Instead, they use a black screen saying “a few years later” to imply they’ve been dating and getting to know each other. 

My thought on this? They’re skipping the peaceful part because peace isn’t as entertaining as conflict. They don’t want to show a calm courtship where people genuinely connect, preferring to skip right past it. That’s where we’re picking up today.

Jane (00:46): Getting to know someone, building a relationship based on trust, respect, happiness, and support isn’t the story.

Anne (00:54): It’s boring. And you cover that with a “years later” black screen in two seconds.

Jane (01:01): Going through Disney’s catalog, one that is genuinely delightful is Encanto. I really liked that one. It was cute and real. The characters didn’t look like tiny, skinny, white stick figures. The women had diverse stories, reflecting that we’re not all the same. 

I genuinely liked that one. But others, not so much, even Frozen, which is Disney’s nod to feminism, doesn’t quite hit the mark. Yes, it features two sisters not focused solely on men, but Ana turns out to be a Disney version of the manic pixie dream girl. She’s funny, clumsy, chatty, charming, and essentially there to ‘fix’ him. He starts off angry, violent, and mean.

Frozen’s Manic Pixie Dream Girl Doesn’t Overcome Misogynistic Foundation

Anne (02:07): Christophe starts out really violent and mean.

Jane (02:09): He’s angry with her, doesn’t like her, and treats her meanly.

Anne (02:14): Oh, yeah, I see what you mean. But it’s not excessively mean.

Jane (02:18): He’s not beastly mean, but he is mean to her. He doesn’t like, respect, or think she can do anything. He doesn’t share anything with her, just dismissive and rude. So no, he’s not the beast. Disney’s moved past that, but scratch the surface, and you find a man who doesn’t look at her, take her seriously, or think she’s anything but stupid and incapable.  Thus confining women to a set of certain characteristics.

Yet, she tumbles along happily. And slowly, he becomes a better person because of her. That’s the manic pixie dream girl’s role, to fix men. Meanwhile, Elsa has a different story. She doesn’t focus on a man, which seems feminist because for the first time, a Disney princess doesn’t need marriage for a happy ending. 

Her story revolves around her dangerous power. She learns to use her power for others, not for herself, because using it for her own dreams is cruel and wrong, making her wicked. Using it for others lets her live a life of service and become a hero.

Confining Women: How Discounting Women’s Anger Confines Women

Anne (03:41): This reminds me of the advice women often get about setting boundaries without anger. Men do terrible things, emotional and psychological abuse, and sexual coercion, confining women. In therapy, it’s, 

“Yes, set boundaries because his behavior is unhealthy, but do you need to be so angry?” 

We’re told to set boundaries with compassion. If someone is hijacking a car and you call the police, would anyone say, “Make sure you’re not angry when you call”? Thus confining women to only being pleasant even in an emergency.

Jane (04:43): Because it’s particularly women being angry with men. That is so reprehensible that women anger immediately means they’re crazy, oversensitive, or overreacting. When men get angry, they’re just reacting. But when women get angry, they’re seen as overreacting and unreasonable just by being angry. 

This myth essentially tells women that when someone’s cruel to them, they’re the problem if they’re angry, traumatized, or show visible signs of trauma. It’s not about the abuse or the man who did it; it’s about them needing to fix themselves, and then maybe they can fix him. 

These structural institutions are designed to make women believe that when they’re abused, they’re the problem. So they continue to submit to the abuse, telling themselves they just need to try harder, instead of getting rightfully angry and furious, thus confining women.

Childhood Fairytales Often Have Themes That Present Double Standards that Confine Women

Societal Expectations Oppress Women

Anne (5:51): Abuse is one thing. Then there’s the overall societal system of oppression that supports these ideas, keeping women from being true equals to men, from being taken seriously, expressing valid views, taking up space, and not being exploited for domestic labor. Once again confining women to a set of certain actions.

Jane (6:21): Absolutely. For instance, the fairytale princesses reinforce the idea that women wanting money is avaricious, while it’s admirable for men. But wanting money is about security. Having my own money means I don’t need a man; I might choose one, but I also might not. This idea is threatening because it means women can be independent and make their own choices, challenging all the myths that perpetuate abuse.

Anne (07:21): Exactly, exploitation and oppression continue.

Jane (07:24): One way systemic issues work is by making women do all the unpaid or domestic labor. There’s no joy in it like white singing while she works, because domestic labor is so much fun, and I love it, making me a good woman that a handsome principal would want to marry. 

Cinderella does what the evil stepsisters want, seeking a handsome prince because he’s wealthy. They’re after the jewels and beautiful dresses, which supposedly makes them evil. But Cinderella, by not wanting those things, proves she deserves them by actively not wanting them. That’s the setup for women.

Challenging The Notion That Women Are The Problem

Anne (08:05): It’s like when an abuser says, “Well, if you wouldn’t have said something, I would’ve done it.”

Jane (08:10): Yes, exactly.

Anne (08:11): And you’re like, “Well, you didn’t do it. So then I said something. What are you talking about? If I wouldn’t have said something, you would’ve done it, so it should be done. But now that I said it, you’re not going to do it. So what?” It’s this circular insanity.

Jane (08:24): Yep, yep. But if you point that out, you’re being oversensitive and hysterical. So, you just get stuck in this logic loop that you can’t escape from until you’re able to step back and look at the myths and say, well, this is the story you’re trying to tell me. 

And that story is just rubbish. It’s like beauty standards. They’re completely impossible to meet, designed to be impossible. You’re too skinny or not skinny enough. Too white or not white enough, too busty or not busty enough, too pretty or not pretty enough, too submissive or not submissive enough. You’re trying too hard or you’re not trying hard enough. 

The point is, those standards are impossible to meet so that it can always be your fault if something goes wrong. And those fairytale princesses are part of that myth, but they’re everywhere. And you said before, your kids, my kids used to do this too. “Oh, why do we have to talk about feminism again, mom? Can’t we just watch a movie?” And I get it, but these ideas are most dangerous when we don’t see them.

Recognizing Dangerous Ideas About Confining Women in Storytelling

Anne (09:33): I say it’s fine if you watch it, as long as we deconstruct it so you can start seeing this everywhere. But watching it without deconstructing it is dangerous, and I’m not going to allow that.

Jane (09:45): Absolutely. The most dangerous ideas are the ones we don’t realize we have. So, if they’re floating around in the back of your mind and you’re not able to look at them and see what they are and where they come from, that’s when people can use them against you. 

And we all have them. I can’t remember if I said this the last time I was on with you, but I talk about this a lot because I’m such a feminist and I write about this and do this as my work, study, and play all the time. And still, when my kids were seven and nine, 

My daughter had to say to me, “Hey, why is it my job to unload the dishwasher and my brother’s job to take the rubbish out?” 

And I’m like, “Oh, darling, that’s the patriarchy.” 

But I didn’t realize I was the one assigning the tasks and I didn’t see it. that. And if you don’t know what to look for, how can you fix it?

Playing the “What Would Make This Okay” Game

Anne (10:39): You’re a woman after my own heart because I do those same things where I want to rewrite or redo something. So, I just want to play this game for a second, if you don’t mind. I want everyone to buy this book. It’s incredible. It’s called Fairytale Princesses Will Kill Your Children, so please get this book.

The game I want to play really quick is one I play with my kids, which is, what would make this appropriate? What would make this okay? And for Beauty and the Beast, my kids didn’t want to watch the new one. They hate the old one. And I said, “Let’s watch it.” I wanted to watch it with them. And of course, they’ve changed it.

(11:24): They didn’t, so we were all horrified. But then we played the game of what would’ve made it okay. She’s in the woods, her dad is sick and injured, and 

He comes along saying, “Look, I know you think I’m scary, I have this castle here. We can take your dad there and hopefully get him better.” 

She takes him there, it’s super nice, no problems. He looks scary but he’s fine, and lets her go. She comes back and he’s super nice. How hard can it be? And you know what changed him? It wasn’t her, but the spell. He was a jerk. The evil witch cast a spell on him to be a nice person. Take out the part where he’s confining women by by imprisoning her.

That’s when he realized, “Wait a minute, I’ve been a jerk. I need to be nice.” 

Confining Women: The Gender Dynamics In Decision Making and Storytelling

It was that realization that changed him, which I know sounds like a woman changing him, but let’s overlook that. But really, how hard is it? Just think about it for two seconds. So the fact that producers aren’t aware of this blows my mind. It’s baffling why these issues still arise in mainstream movies from companies that should care but obviously don’t.

Jane (14:57): The issue might stem from the predominance of men in decision-making roles. It’s not that all these men are abusive or misogynistic, but there’s a common experience among women. When there’s a guy that just seems off, most women immediately understand when you mention it. But men?

 They often don’t see it, making you feel silly for bringing it up. This lack of understanding can make it challenging for them to tell stories that resonate with these experiences. Most stories are told from a male perspective because most writers, showrunners, directors, and producers are men, thus confining women.

They simply don’t grasp what it’s like to feel threatened by someone just giving off bad vibes.

Going back to your game, I absolutely agree it would be a great game. What I’d like to see is not the Beast being the beast because an evil woman made him that way, but because he chose to be that way. What saves him is his own decision to change, without needing a woman to do it for him.

 He shouldn’t rely on therapy as a manipulation tool but decide to be different on his own, without making the women in his life responsible for his improvement. Confining women to the role of saving men.

Anne: This is a common topic in our daily, online Betrayal Trauma Recovery Support Group.

Fairy Tale Themes That Are Double Standards Confining Women

Discussing The Beauty And The Beast Narrative

Anne (15:19): Or even the evil witch in Beauty and the Beast, she shouldn’t be responsible for casting a spell to make him a better person.

Jane (14:57): I could talk about this for hours. The evil witch myth in fairy tales often portrays women with power as the villains, whether it’s through wisdom, experience, magic, or beauty.

Anne (15:19): Or even money, like an evil stepmother, right? She has the money.

Jane (15:25): Yeah, and what makes her evil is age or power. Age is a form of power, although we don’t usually acknowledge that in women. But that’s what makes an evil witch: a woman with power. In reality, when they used to burn witches, tens of thousands of women were killed and tortured for being witches. 

Any woman with knowledge or power could be accused of being a witch and killed for it. That was reality. In those stories, any powerful woman becomes responsible for what a man does. That’s wrong. So, in Beauty and the Beast, a good man is cursed by a powerful woman into being a bad man, and it’s his fault. Then Beauty comes along and saves him.

Anne (16:12): Wait, was he originally a good man who got turned into a bad man? Because in the Disney movie, she puts the spell on him for being terrible and not nice to her.

Jane (16:23): What’s interesting about Beauty and the Beast is the many versions of the story. Almost every culture has one, and the similarities are amazing. In some versions, he’s a good man cursed by an evil witch. In others, he’s not bad, just a typical, spoiled young man from a wealthy family, and then he’s turned into a violent, abusive man.

Unpacking The Evil Witch Trope In Fairy Tales

Anne (16:56): So, in the Disney version, when she needs help and he doesn’t help her, not knowing she’s an evil witch, it’s almost her fault he becomes so angry and bitter.

Jane (17:14): Because it’s always a woman’s fault when a man is angry and bitter. The number of women I’ve talked to about their abusive partners often say, “It’s not his fault. His mother was awful to him, or his ex did terrible things to him, and now he can’t trust a woman, except for me.” She’s got to prove she’s not like other girls.

Anne (17:39): That’s such a bad thing, that she’s not like other girls. Like what? That she has a voice and that she expects not to be exploited.

Jane (17:47): Or she’s not like the woman who turned him into this because she’s a good woman. She’s going to be nice to him, love him better, unlike the evil woman who made him this bitter, angry, misogynistic mess. This trope runs through so many stories, and it’s not just the Disney Princess stories. 

When you start looking, all those romance movies, rom coms, and books from hundreds of years ago to tomorrow’s romance content, those tropes are woven into them. They’re sanitized now, so they’re not immediately recognizable, and you have to dig a bit deeper. 

But underneath is always the same thing: a beautiful unselfish woman will save a hopeless or bad man from himself by being beautiful and unselfish, and then they get their happily ever after.

Fairy Tales Often Have Themes That Present Double Standards Normalize Confining Women

Jane Gilmore’s Plan To Interview Men Convicted of Rape

(18:47): I also want to mention “Happily Ever After” as a goal. What is that? What does “Happily Ever After” actually look like? Thinking about what makes me happy, I’m planning to do a doctorate this year. I’ll be talking to men convicted of rape about their perceptions of women, sex, and sexual violence. 

There’s nothing happy about this topic, but achieving it and hopefully discovering something we can use to reach boys and men before they end up in prison for such crimes will give me a sense of achievement like nothing else. If “Happily Ever After” means just sitting back like some Stepford wife, pretending everything’s perfect, that’s not happiness. 

Happiness is so much more, and women have so much more they can do and achieve. Sometimes, it can come from having a beautiful home and happy children, which can bring pride and happiness. There’s nothing wrong with that at all.

Of course, having a beautiful home and family can bring peace and happiness, but that’s not abuse. It’s not about doing it to serve someone else because you’re scared of their reaction if it’s not done right, constantly trying to make them happy. 

Acknowledging Women’s Strength To Rebuild After Abuse

That’s not for your happiness; it’s because you’re being controlled by someone else. But choosing to do that because it genuinely brings you pride, joy, and a feeling of fulfillment, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. In fact, it’s a sign you’re living your best life. But “Happily Ever After” isn’t about never facing problems or not having to work hard. It’s not expecting everything to be fine forever. That’s not happiness; it’s an illusion.

It’s interesting that many women don’t know what they want. Many want to be wives and mothers, which is awesome. But then, some think about working after their kids are out of the house because they feel they need something else, and they’re not sure what steps to take next. And that’s okay. Not knowing exactly what you want to do is alright. It doesn’t mean you can’t start with something.

A lot of this comes from being trained from babyhood that it’s wrong to think about what you want. We do a lot of awful things to boys and men in the name of gender roles, but one thing we tell them is to consider what they want and pursue it. But we tell girls and women that doing so makes them selfish, which is seen as bad. 

So, it’s often really hard for women to think about what they want, what makes them happy, and their place in the world. We have to unlearn a lot just to learn that about ourselves. No one should underestimate how difficult that can be, how much work it takes, and how much you have to overcome.

Confining Women From Financial Independence

(22:43): At a recent conference discussing my book, I had to remind myself to encourage people to purchase it. It’s challenging for a woman to stand in front of hundreds and assert, “Buy my book. The effort I’ve invested deserves your financial support.” As a writer, that’s your purpose. 

You’re there because they’re interested in your book; naturally, you should prompt them to buy it. For him, this comes naturally, but for me, it doesn’t, and I have to work on it. I openly admit I’m being deliberately selfish in asking this because I’m rejecting the fairytale princess role. 

Instead, I’m actively pursuing my ambitions, seeking financial security, and asking for support. This approach may make you uncomfortable, but it’s crucial to question why. I understand it’s hard to shake off these ingrained lessons, but dismantling these restrictive structures is essential. We’re not here solely to serve others.

At BTR, our six coaches work tirelessly as their full-time job, contributing to their household income. As a single mom of three with no financial support from child support or alimony, I rely entirely on my income. It’s surprising when we receive messages criticizing us for charging for our services.

 However, to provide these services, I need financial independence. This criticism often stems from women who, due to financial control by an abusive partner, can’t access the help they need.

Exploring How Money Can Help Stop Confining Women

This situation highlights the deeper issue of women’s financial independence and the ability to use their resources freely. It’s more than just the frustration of not being able to work for free; it’s about women lacking autonomy over their resources. 

The notion that your role is to unconditionally serve and depend on a man is daunting to overcome. Yet, achieving emotional and psychological safety is a journey worth embarking on for many abuse victims, introducing them to a world of independence they hadn’t considered before.

The transition to viewing oneself as deserving of compensation for services, rather than serving without reward, is challenging yet necessary. Like many, I face questions about my fees for speaking engagements, but I remind others that my work sustains my basic needs allows me to continue my advocacy.

 This question of compensation, surprisingly, is seldom directed at men in similar situations. Who would expect a father, solely responsible for his family’s financial well-being, to offer his services for free?

Anne (26:47): Full-time, eight hours a day, right? Yep. Full-time. 

Overcoming Internalized Beliefs About Confining Women To Achieve True Strength

Jane (26:50): You know, if a guy’s a single father, he’s often hailed as a hero. The bar for men is so low sometimes, I swear it’s in hell, and they still can’t meet it. But when a man says the service he provides, whether it’s my job, your job, or anything else, is valuable and that he works hard at it, it’s totally fair for him to ask for support to continue providing that service. 

I get that many women, because of what we do, might not have the money. I try to work with that as much as I can, but offering my services for free would leave me homeless and unable to provide them. It would also feed into the myth I’m fighting against: that women shouldn’t want things like financial independence from a man or a decent house that’s theirs alone. 

Anne (28:13): When we talk about physical safety, like in the Living Free workshop, it’s not just about being hit. Physical safety means having shelter, food, and being able to afford basic needs. If worrying about affording an apartment, food, or childcare makes you question your safety, then his actions are indeed a threat to your physical safety.

Jane (29:40): The myth starts when a relationship heads towards marriage, suggesting a woman’s role is to serve him rather than the relationship serving both. Being in that unsafe situation, wondering where you’ll live or how you’ll eat, is terrifying. Many of these situations are actively confining women.

 

The Importance Of Learning To Live Free From Abuse

I’ve worked in domestic violence and seen women face the choice between violence or homelessness. It’s hard to climb out, but possible with work and self-belief. Some amazing women do it; it’s astounding that many do, showing incredible strength and courage. These women, overcoming beliefs of incapability, try and most succeed. 

Watching women rebuild from abuse shows their immense strength. I wish I could show women who doubt their ability the strength of those who’ve rebuilt their lives, starting from thinking they couldn’t and proving they could.

Anne (32:05): Yeah, it’s incredible. Our Living Free workshop focuses on thinking a little differently about situations to make progress toward living free and feeling peace. It’s not just about escaping psychologically or emotionally abusive relationships at BTR. We also focus on post-divorce issues, dealing with emotional and psychological abuse due to co-parenting. 

Every domestic violence shelter says divorce is the answer. I say it might be one step on your journey to safety. But for those of us who suffered severe emotional and psychological abuse post-divorce, like my eight years of post-divorce abuse, knowing how to live free from this is crucial. 

So, check out The BTR.ORG Living Free Workshop. To learn more about Jane’s book, Fairytale Princesses Will Kill Your Children, go to janegilmore.com. You can also find it on Amazon. Jane, I’ve loved talking with you. Thank you so much for joining the podcast again.

Jane (33:16): Oh, thank you. It was so nice to be here. I love talking with you too. I always really enjoy our conversations. Thank you so much for inviting me.

1 Comment

  1. Dana

    This was great 👍 loved the references and societal correlations to misogyny.

    Reply

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