University of Michigan Sociologist Warns that Preschools in the US Still Use Traditional Fairy Tales

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University of Michigan Sociologist Warns that Preschools in the US Still Use Traditional Fairy Tales

Photo by: sciencefreak via pixabay


Are the traditional fairy tales we grew up with as childen so bad when it comes to gender equality that some parents and a sociologist want to banish the stories about Cinderella and Snow White from pre-schools? They claim that the fairy tales assume being straight, or the main characters always belong to the opposite gender. Being regular males and females is expected, ordinary, and privileged in preschool classrooms in the US.

Heide Gansen, an instructor at the University of Michigan, used data from 10 months of observation of gendered socialization that preschool children received from practices of teachers and repeated through interaction with fellow students. Being normal heterosexual boys and girls, or gendered sexuality, is felt across the classrooms, said Hansen's study published on July 14 in the Volume 90, Issue 3 of the Sage Journals.

Teachers' approach

Although the teacher's approach to gendered socializarion were expressed in different ways in the nine schools where Hansen observed for 10 months, when the kids took part in school plays,  the boys learned they have gender powers over the bodies of their girl classmates. Although the children have noticeable gender identities of their own, they start to make sense of being heteronormal and rules associated with genders when they have interaction with their teachers and fellow students at such a young age.

Heteronormativity means people are not gay and they do not cross dress. Girls wear skirts and dresses, while boys wear pants and shirts, not the other way around, explained. The emphasis on heterosexual behavior is produced and enforced by the teachers and eventually the school children themselves.  When preschool girls play house, they imitate their mothers' behavior. The boys are allowed to play house, but they act like fathers.

Because of the emphasis on proper male and female roles, the preschool children will find it weird if a girl would attempt to act like a father in a game of play house. Boys are not allowed to perform the role of girls in school plays, and girls are also not allowed to play boy roles. The heteronormative play is further perpetuated when the teacher says a boy has a crush on a girl or when the teacher reads a traditional fairy tale.

Gansen said it is also a mistake when preschool teachers assume that when preschool boys show affection toward other boys, or preschool girls also express affection toward other girls, they dismiss it as being friendly only. They do not consider it as an expression of same-gender signs or affection. The sociologist suggested that preschool teachers must begin at that age to disrupt the kids' heteronormative behavior and begin to also tell the preschool children that gay marriages are also great. Unless teachers make that active disruption, heteronormativity would become ingrained in children as young as when they are between 3 and 5 years old.


Common even with the most progressive teachers

According to Gansen, such push for heteronormativepractices with peers is common even in schools that have a reputation for having progressive teachers, Campus Reform reported. The push to ban traditional fairy tales is now also felt in homes. reported that a young mother complained of such stories being full of harmful gender stereotypes. The mother who wanted to ban the fairy tales explained that she did not want her little girls to grow up with the idea that a prince in shining armor will free her from a life full of drudgery while looking beautiful as the only condition to keep.

However, Mary Schneider, the writer, said it seems to be taking political correctness to an extreme. Schneider pointed out that she grew up with those fairy tales, but she did not grow up entertaining the idea a real person would rescue her from her imperfect life. She was aware that to reach her goals in life, she must work real hard for it. 

Schneider recalled that she read those fairy tales to her children when they were young. She noted that the heart of most fairy tales was the struggle between good and evil because the hero would eventually overcome the blocks that lay ahead until they reach the "they live happily ever after" part of the fairy tales. 

She added that fairy tales are a good way to teach children there is a difference between right and wrong. Schneider cited the story of Cinderella who was kind to everyone. She was the opposite of her ugly stepsisters who deserved their bad fate at the end of the fairy tale. Another fairy tale, Snow White and the 7 Dwarves, was an opportunity to show how cruel her stepmother was that in the end, the stepmother also got what she deserved for her cruelty. Lastly, she cited the case of the three little pigs and the bad fate of the wolf.

Schneider is aware that one criticism against fairy tales is these stories are full of karma lessons which may not reflect real, modern life where the good do not always win over evil. However,  even Hollywood movies and novels run on the same themes, she pointed out. 

Photo by: Staff Sgt. Chad Trujillo via Minot Air Force Base




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