There is a scene in the Sex and the City film where Carrie is reading the fairytale of Cinderella to Charlotte’s five year old daughter Lily. She reads the last line “and the Prince and Cinderella lived happily ever”, closes the book and says “just so you know, it doesn’t always work out like that in real life”.
Most fairytales bored me to tears when I was a kid. As an active young girl who didn’t have long, blonde hair, I could never identify with the lead female characters. Nor did I want to. The girls in fairytales always seemed disempowered and way too STILL. The Prince was the hero. He got to ride horses, fight battles, have adventures and save the day. As far as I could tell from reading fairytales, girls spent most of their time imprisoned or asleep.
As a kid, I simply went about creating my own stories in my head (where I got to be the hero). It’s only as an adult that I have begun to really ponder the nature of some of the world’s most popular fairytales and have become truly concerned about the messages being transmitted through them to young girls the world over.
Take Sleeping Beauty” as an example. The tagline for this story may as well be: as long as you’re beautiful and in a coma for most of your life, you’ll get your man. Then there’s Cinderella; the tale of a girl who was happily enslaved to housework and wore the right shoes.
Don’t even get me started on Snow White: a dark haired version of Sleeping Beauty who needed 7 blokes to take care of her before she got married. Poor ole Rapunzel was stuck in a tower with nothing to do but let her hair grow long ridiculously long. Whenever a girl did venture out into the world by herself in fairytales, she ran into trouble. Little Red Riding Hood collided with the big, bad wolf and Beauty met The Beast.
Apart from the innocuous portrayal of women, fairytales also establish the dangerous premise that getting your man is the end of the story. Anybody who has ever been in a relationship knows that in reality, it’s only the beginning. In Sex and the City: The Movie, Mr Big asks Carrie what she intends to write about in her next book. Carrie replies “It’s going to be about what happens after love”. In other words: you’ve found love. Now what?
In fairytales, we don’t get to see how Snow White and the Prince are coping five years into marriage. For all we know, she could be constantly pissed off at him for leaving his dirty golf clothes on the bedroom floor and putting the milk carton back in the fridge when there’s only enough milk left in it to moisten one corn flake.
And how do we know the spark didn’t go out of Cinderella’s sex life after the second child came along. Maybe the Prince was always at work trying to expand the Kingdom and Cinderella began to resent the fact that she never got to follow her dream as a singer; (especially since she was a huge hit with the birds and mice back in the day). The Prince could have ended up having an affair with his secretary.
Cinderella may have filed for divorce and got another shot at happiness with a less attractive man who could cook and play the bongos; (although not necessarily simultaneously). Maybe Rapunzel came down from the tower and found that apart from loving her hair, the Prince didn’t get anything about her (and had terrible taste in music).
Everybody loves a happy ending. Perhaps the mistake we make, because of the fairytales we grew up listening to, is that there is only supposed to be one happy ending. Once we fall in love, aren’t we supposed to arrive in the unwavering land of happily ever after? In reality, relationships grow and change and struggle and twist and turn.
A happy ending this month doesn’t mean a down turn isn’t coming next month. One week your fella may resemble the dashing, loving Prince who first stole your heart, the next week he may resemble a beer swelling moron who can’t remember to take the garbage out.
And let’s face it – every princess can behave like a wicked witch from time to time. But if Sex and the City has taught us anything it’s that through it all, a girl should always have her friends, her sense of a humour and at least one truly outstanding pair of shoes.