Tag Archives: Feminism

Sexual Exploitation in Sandy Posner’s “The Sleeping Princess”

© Copyright 2017 Juvian Gonzales, Ryerson University

Since When Did Dreaming of Becoming a Princess be so Scary?

When I was a kid, I dreamt of becoming a princess like the ones I read from fairy tale books. I imagined getting rescued from a locked tower by a knight in shining armor who goes by the name Prince Charming. The prince would ride on a horse with his wavy and suave hair, wearing perfectly aligned, white teeth. In my head, it was very magical and romantic.

Therefore, it did not even occur in my mind that something so small like a pocket book of Sandy Posner’s The Sleeping Princess (The Story of the Ballet) would present to be a bombshell due to its rather problematic content as a feminist text…!

Sandy Posner. The Sleeping Princess. Front Cover. Special Collections Archive. Ryerson University, 2017. Public Domain.
Sandy Posner. The Sleeping Princess. Back Cover. Special Collections Archive. Ryerson University, 2017. Public Domain.

This is the second edition of the picture book published in 1949 by Adam and Charles Black; its first publication date being 1945 established by Newman Wolsey Ltd.

It consists of images illustrated by Joyce Millen. This book was considered to be popular because of the rapid interest in ballet dance throughout the European countries during its publication period (Posner 7). It is based off of “La Belle au bois Dormant” (Posner 20), the French version of Sleeping Beauty: a known classical tale that portrays an enchanting love-story about a prince who wakes up a sleeping princess with a kiss.

Seemingly harmless at this point; a kiss is no threat. However, beyond this book’s manifestation is a latent encouragement for sexual exploitation imposed on young dreamers of females.

In The Sleeping Princess, we will look at how the prince comes to kiss the princess, what role the princess initially has, and how the readers are supposed to perceive their characterizations.

“Of all fairy tales Sleeping Beauty is perhaps the most cinematic in its fashioning of a primal scene for visual pleasure” (Maria Tartar 143)

Formatting the Story Book

Posner tells the story of The Sleeping Princess in the format of a descriptive ballet play. Staying true to its form as a ballet book, Posner incorporates ballet terms like “arabesque” (80), a ballet posture, and “mazurka” (96), a group ballet dance. Instead of saying “they lived happily ever after” which is often how fairy-tales end their story, Posner ends the story with “the curtain falls” (96).

These traits depict The Sleeping Princess as a creative and sensual revision of the classical tale that should appeal to readers who are fans of ballet based on the book’s particularly unique references. It is using a “cinematic” design from how the story is told in motion of ballet dances, while the illustrations act as support with their “visual” effects. 

Figure 1. Sandy Posner. The Sleeping Princess. An illustration by Joyce Millen. Special Collections Archive. Ryerson University, 2017. Public Domain.
Figure 3. Sandy Posner. The Sleeping Princess. An illustration by Joyce Millen. Special Collections Archive. Ryerson University, 2017. Public Domain.
Figure 2. Sandy Posner. The Sleeping Princess. An illustration by Joyce Millen. Special Collections Archive. Ryerson University, 2017. Public Domain.

“Curiosity and the desire to look mingle with a display that is both aesthetically and erotically charged” (Tartar 143)

The Female Gender Role

Note how Princess Aurora is illustrated elegantly with a very slim figure, focusing on her long bare legs (seen in Figure 2). Her bed chamber is also emphasized with royal drapes of crowns but at the same time induces a very inviting look (Figure 1 & 3). Princess Aurora is presented as a sexual object.

In appearance, this book may seem modest but it’s actually an “erotic” depiction of the female lead’s character that subjects her to a case of vulnerability. Based on Leslee Farish Kuykendal and Brian W. Sturm’s outline on role reversal, there is reference to Princess Elizabeth by Robert Munsch from The Paperbag Princess released on 1980, as an example of a female character that crosses literary borders in comparison to Aurora’s conventional character. Princess Elizabeth is the one doing the rescuing in the story by marching to the tower to face the presumed antagonist, a dragon, demanding for the release of Prince Ronald. Thus, she is portraying a strong and valiant female character in “reversal” to how children usually read the depiction of womanly roles (Kuykendal & Sturm 40).

In contrast, Aurora represents the conventional female character due to her docile behaviour. She lacks the agency to choose her own destiny by sleeping throughout the tale. Unaware of the things happening in time, she only has one duty which is to wait for the right prince who would save her from the sleeping curse and marry that said man. Looking at the publication year of both texts, it is important to note that The Sleeping Princess was released before The Paper Bag Princess. This is relevant because Posner’s picture book becomes proof to how women were portrayed as idle and useless figures in the past.


The Art of Mocking Women’s Social Class

W. E. F. Britten. Illustration to Tennyson’s “Sleeping Beauty”. Methuen & Co. 36 Essex Street W. C. London, 1901.Wikimedia Commons. Public Domain.

Posner’s book mocks the social status of women by displaying Aurora to be just like any other “trophy wives” whose purpose is to make the prince look and feel good by rewarding his “tough” journey in the form of marriage (Elizabeth Aura McClintock 1101). In the book, Prince Florimond (Prince Charming) is “restless and disgust[ed] at his aimless existence” so he takes it his duty to wake up the princess to achieve something that should claim him as a hero (Posner 69 & 87). There is a sense of disguise from the prince to do something not out of kindness but to doing it for the sake of his own gratification.

Pertaining to the three illustrations above by Millen, in Figure 1, the image displayed is of the prince leaning down to kiss Aurora who is notably wearing a crown on her head. It means that Aurora had to have been from a royal bloodline if the prince were to save her in order for his efforts to be remarkably acknowledged by the town’s people. If Aurora were any ordinary girl, saving her would not have been an option.

Therefore, Posner not only shows support for the conventional female behavior, but also proposes that men regards  the value of women to a bare minimum in terms of their social background. 


A Closer Read on the Story’s Content!

David Nash Ford. “The Rose Bower.” From the “Legend of Briar Rose” by Sir Edward Burne-Jones, Buscot Park, Oxfordshire, 1890. Wikimedia Commons. Public Domain.

 In order to take a closer look on the content of The Sleeping Princess, I chose two other secondary scholarly sources to showcase the indecencies of how Aurora was depicted in the picture book that are offensive to feminist readers.

According to Maria Tartar’s article, by disregarding Aurora’s female agency, The Sleeping Princess is criticized for suggesting the concept of “necrophiliac charms” (153). In the picture book, the prince finds Princess Aurora fast asleep on a “dais” and is surrounded by the sleeping court as he makes his way to give her a kiss (Posner 88-89). This entails the vulnerability of the princess for sexual exploitation where anyone can touch her if they wish. Tartar states that princesses are “swaddled in white serenity, radiating innocence and purity even as they invite desire in the quiet beauty of their features and the soft curves of their bodies (153-4). Princess Aurora as a sixteen year old girl is described to be “radiantly beautiful withal”  and therefore is a perfect representation of Tartar’s princess definition (Posner 78).

Without personally knowing her, Prince Florimond has access to touching Aurora with the way the chamber is opened and the alluring feel the room appears to produce (seen in Millen, Figure 3). Aurora is literally being handed to the prince without fuss that continues to show the princess’ little to no influence on her destiny. The consent on Aurora’s part is given by her parents, the King and Queen, who gives their child away in marriage without talking it over first with the princess (Posner 89). Aurora’s responsibility as a princess and as bride is ultimately not up to her own decision but by the people who take control of her.

Tartar refers to Briar Rose by Burne Jones (1885-1890) that illustrates Sleeping Beauty with “roses and thorns encircling the castle and who incarnates in her stillness the seductive pull of beauty and death” (152) shown in the above image. This presents that beyond literature, artists also sees Aurora’s character as a “seductive” woman because of her “stillness” in the unconscious state.  An art representation like this correlates to the artist’s interpretation of the story. Therefore, as one views Sleeping Beauty as a sexual text, it may provide as a reason for parents not to read this kind of book to their children due to the inappropriate connotations reflected upon it.

Further, There is no dialogue written in the picture book. Everyone is described through a third person’s narration and by actions. The “stillness” not only comes from how Aurora is illustrated by Millen (Figure 3), but is also accompanied by muteness. The combination of these two themes signify a presentation of a bound, voiceless female and a sexual predator male in sight. Thus, it is unsuitable for writers to deem Aurora’s and the prince’s relationship as something happy and appealing to children.

Similarly, Martine Hennard de la Rochère discusses about the production of “La Belle au bois Dormant” and the depiction of this play in theater as being erotic while also trying to maintain an innocent image regarding marriage for young children to believe in. De la Rochère states that marital happiness is associated both in Perrault’s text and Carter’s translation “with the intimacy and privacy of the bedchamber (143). When Prince Florimond wakes Princess Aurora up in The Sleeping Princess, the members of the castle are put to sleep so no one may interrupt (Posner 88). This shows the community’s involvement to repressing the agency of the princess by providing a space where the prince can do anything he wants to the unguarded princess. This is scarring for children since the story is possibly promoting the act of marriage through means of rape since the wedding was prompted only after the prince had kissed Aurora who was in an unconscious state (Posner 89).

Sandy Posner. The Sleeping Princess. An opened up page from the pocket book. Special Collections Archive. Ryerson University, 2017. Public Domain.


Its Shape of Disguise

Based on the class visit to the Osborne Collection of Early Children’s Book, the librarian discussed about Beatrix Potter’s Peter Rabbit and its pocket-sized shape which is deliberate to fit the hands of small children who may choose to read alone sufficiently. Lambert notes the same claim where one important feature of picture books is that “they are sized to comfortably accommodate a shared reading audience, as opposed to a solitary one” (4). This pocket-sized book, however, opposes this preconceived idea due to the high level of vocabularies printed on the pages that does not accommodate for the intellectuals of very young readers.

The Sleeping Princess requires the intellectuals of adults to be the set story-teller in order for a child to know about its story. So it is important to note that for a child to perceive this picture book, the adults have the agency to tell it in a way that could or could not be harmful to the,. However, since the content still strongly implies the “stillness” in Aurora’s position in bed that gives access for the prince to sexually explore her body, and how marriage is taken lightly that disregards its sacredness in nature, it is not recommended for parents and children to pick up this particular book.

Overall, my exhibit focused on the misconceptions of a romantic and heterosexual love, and the theme of feminism in The Sleeping Princess that presents the suitability of child readership as being problematic. Princesses are to be depicted as docile figures under vulnerable conditions. So the main question remains. Is it still a great dream to want a knight in shining armor like Prince Charming? Even when it means that your existence is to be downgraded as a mere tool for sexual exhibitions?

Works Cited

  • De la Rochère, Martine,Hennard Dutheil. “‘But Marriage itself is no Party’: Angela Carter’s Translation of Charles Perrault’s “La Belle Au Bois Dormant”; Or, Pitting the Politics of Experience Against the Sleeping Beauty Myth.” Marvels & Tales, vol. 24, no. 1, 2010, pp. 131-151,185, International Bibliography of the Social Sciences (IBSS); Research Library, http://ezproxy.lib.ryerson.ca/login?url=https://search-proquest-com.ezproxy.lib.ryerson.ca/docview/503524442?accountid=13631.
  • Kuykendal, L.F & Sturm, B.W. “We Said Feminist Tales, Not Fractured Fairy Tales!: The Construction of the Feminist Fairy Tale: Female Agency over Role Reversal.” Children and Libraries, 2007, pp. 38-41.
  • Lambert, Megan D. “That’s About the Size of It: Trim Size and Orientation.” Reading Picture Books with Children: How to Shake Up Storytime and Get Kids Talking about What They See. Charlesbridge, 2015 Nov.3, pp.3-14.
  • McClintock, Elizabeth A. “Support for Beauty-Status Exchange Remains Illusory. ” American Sociological Review, vol. 82, issue 5, 2017,  pp. 1100 – 1110, doi:10.1177/0003122417725175.
  • Munsch, Robert. The Paper Bag Princess. Illustrated by Michael Martchenko. Annick Press, 1980, pp.1-32. Print.
  • Posner, Sandy. The Sleeping Princess. Illustrated by Joyce Millen. Newman Wolsey Ltd, 1945, second edition by Adam and Charles Black Ltd, 1949, pp.1-97. Print.
  • Tatar, Maria. “Show and Tell: Sleeping Beauty as Verbal Icon and Seductive Story.” Marvels & Tales, vol. 28 no. 1, 2014, pp. 142-156. Project MUSE, http://muse.jhu.edu.ezproxy.lib.ryerson.ca/article/546501.

Images in this online exhibit are either in the public domain or being used under fair dealing for the purpose of research and are provided solely for the purposes of research, private study, or education.

Sexist Morals in Andrew Lang’s The Grey Fairy Book

© Copyright 2017 Andrea Lackowicz Student, Ryerson University


H. J. Ford. “The Lizard Takes Charge of Renzolla.” The Grey Fairy Book, 1900. Public Domain.

The Grey Fairy Book  by Andrew Lang was originally published in 1900.  It consists of a compilation of 35 different fairy tales.  None of these fairy tales are related in any particular way save for the fact that they all contain some sort of fantastical aspect such as fairies and, like most fairy tales, teach a moral lesson.  The story “The Goat-faced Girl” is one of the stories Lang includes in The Grey Fairy Book that teaches a clear moral lesson.  It is about a girl named Renzolla who is given to a lizard lady after asking her father for his youngest daughter in exchange for a reward.  Since he was poor and had twelve daughters, he and his wife decided that they would agree to the exchange.   They were given enough money to marry off their other daughters and still have enough left over for themselves to live a comfortable life.  The lizard lady creates a palace for her and Renzolla to live in and she treats Renzolla like a princess.  When Renzolla grows older, the king gets lost in the forest and is invited to stay the night in the palace.  While there he falls in love with Renzolla and marries her.  The lizard lady reveals herself as a fairy and gives them money as a wedding gift.  Renzolla leaves to live in the king’s palace without thanking the fairy for all that she has done for her and as a punishment the fairy turns Renzolla’s beautiful face into a goat’s face.  Due to this she loses the king’s love and is forced to work.  Renzolla has to beg for the fairy’s forgiveness.  Upon accepting Renzolla’s apology the fairy not only turns her face back to its original beauty but also dresses her in a dazzling dress and the king helplessly falls in love with her again.  This story is clearly grounded in the moral teaching of always being thankful but it does so at the expense of sexist means.  This exhibit will be analyzing Andrew Lang’s story “The Goat-faced Girl” as a representative example to demonstrate how fairy tales use sexist means to teach moral lessons.

Female Heroines in Fairy tales

                Female heroines are extremely common in fairy tales but they are all presented in a similar stereotypical way.  The nineteenth century view of women was that they were born to serve men, which is reflected in women being stereotyped as domestic breeders in fairy tales.  Female heroines are generally described as beautiful, innocent maidens who are completely helpless.  This means that they have no real say in their own lives, and are totally reliant on men to dictate what should happen and make decisions for them.  Their value lies in their physical attractiveness, and their obedience.(Zipes)  In fact, the ultimate goal in many fairy tales is marriageability and send the message that if you imitate the behavior of the female heroines then you, as the reader, will achieve that goal.  All of this is present in “The Goat-faced Girl.”

Close Reading of Sexism in “The Goat-faced Girl”

H. J. Ford. “Renzolla Sees Her Face In the Mirror. The Grey Fairy Book, 1900. Public Domain.

Renzolla is a perfect example a female heroine who embodies patriarchal stereotypes of women.  Right from the beginning Renzolla’s life is decided for her by her father as he gives her to the lizard lady in exchange for money so that he can marry off his other daughters.  Not only does this show that Renzolla had no say in her life but it enforces the importance of marriage and the idea that marriage is the ultimate goal.  This goal is again enforced when Renzolla’s face is turned into a goat’s and the king locks her up and forces her to work.  This is shown in the image on the left.  Despite him doing this Renzolla is desperate to get back in his good graces.  When the king sees that her beauty has been granted back to her he accepts her as his wife once more and Renzolla does not hesitate in deciding to go back with him.  This instance not only shows Renzolla doing whatever she can to achieve marriageability but it also reveals the weight put on female physical attractiveness.  The king falls in love with Renzolla because of her beauty but once her beauty is taken away he completely dismisses her.  He only values her once more when she is again beautiful.  Therefore, showing that Renzolla embodies many of the female stereotypes present in fairy tales.

Moral Implications

                Through being exposed to stories like “The Goat-faced Girl” children develop ideas of what is socially and morally right and wrong.(Lester)  Although “The Goat-faced Girl” might teach children that they should be thankful for what they are given, it also teaches them that women should be valued for their beauty, women should be completely dependent on men, and that a woman’s ultimate goal is marriage.  Stories written in the 19th century were specifically designed to teach girls to conform to a specific set of gender norms.(Harries)  Since The Grey Fairy Book was published in 1900, right at the end of the 19th century these gender norms are very present.  Despite it no longer being 1900 the patriarchal morals, like the ones in “The Goat-faced Girl,” remain in the fairy tales children are exposed to in the 21st century.(DePalma)  Children do not yet have the critical skills to question or challenge what such stories present as to what it is to be female and what is to be male.(Lester)  This result is the sexist values presented in these fairy tales shaping the way children think and act.  Moreover, the patriarchal morals manifested in the fairy tales carry on with the children who read them into adulthood.(DePalma)  So, although stories like “The Goat-faced Girl” might teach a little girl who is reading it to be thankful and that lesson might stay with her for the rest of their life, so might the message that as a female she must be dependent on men to make decisions for her.


                Through the story of “The Goat-faced Girl” as a representative example, the sexist ways in which fairy tales convey a moral message is established.  The patriarchal female stereotypes of the 19th century are presented through the female heroine.  These values are then absorbed by the children who read the fairy tales and are carried with them into adulthood.  So, although fairy tales, like the ones in Andrew Lang’s The Grey Fairy Book teach moral lessons like always being thankful, they do this in sexist ways that instill patriarchal values in the children who read them.


Works Cited

  • DePalma, Renée. “Gay penguins, sissy ducklings… and beyond? Exploring gender and sexuality diversity through children’s literature” Discourse: Studies in the Cultural Politics of Education, 37:6, 828-¬‐845, 2016.
  • Ford, H. J. (Illustrator), The Grey Fairy Book, New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 1967, Children’s Literature Archive, accessed December 14, 2017, http://childrenslit.library.ryerson.ca/items/show/9746.
  • Harries, Elizabeth W. The Invention of the Fairy Tale in Britain
  • Heatwole, Alexandra. “Disney Girlhood: Princess Generations and Once upon a Time.” Studies in the Humanities, vol. 43, no. 1/2, 2016, pp. 1.
  • Lester, Neal A. “(Un)Happily Ever After: Fairy Tale Morals, Moralities, and Heterosexism in Children’s Texts.” Journal of Gay & Lesbian Issues in Education, vol. 4, no. 2, 2007, pp. 55-74.
  • Zipes, Jack. The Irresistible Fairy Tale : The Cultural and Social History of a Genre, PrincetonUniversity Press, 2012. ProQuest Ebook Central, https://ebookcentral-proquest-com.ezproxy.lib.ryerson.ca/lib/ryerson/detail.action?docID=864785.

Images in this online exhibit are either in the public domain or being used under fair dealing for the purpose of research and are provided solely for the purposes of research, private study, or education.

Feminist or Fractured Fairytales? Comparing Perrault’s Cinderella or The Little Glass Slipper and Munsch’s The Paper Bag Princess

Copyright 2017 Keyola Welch-Rhooms, Ryerson University

Feminist Vs. Fractured Fairytales

Fairytales are often where children first look to learn lessons about the world and society around them. The ways in which women and men are presented in most classic fairytales often differ, and the roles that both genders presumably play are very different. In popular children’s folktales and fairytales rewritten by Charles Perrault and the Brothers Grimm, there is often an underlying idea that the female protagonist is weaker or less capable than her male counterpart. In Cinderella or the Little Glass Slipper by Charles Perrault, Cinderella is incapable of saving herself and must rely on the prince to come and rescue her from her evil stepmother. In the article “We Said Feminist Fairy Tales, Not Fractured Fairy Tales!”, by Leslee Farish Kuykendal and Brian W. Sturm, there is a quote that accurately describes the two roles of a woman in popular tales like Cinderella: “there are two definitions of woman [in fairy tales]. There is the good woman. She is a victim. There is the bad woman. She must be destroyed. The good woman must be possessed. The bad woman must be killed, or punished. Both must be nullified” (Kuykendal and Sturm 39). Cinderella is the victim in this case and her stepmother is the so-called “bad woman.” Both roles are not nearly as favourable as the prince. Although he is not the protagonist, he is the one who saves Cinderella from her dreadful family, resulting in both the prince and Cinderella living happily ever after.

Perrault, Charles and Errol Le Cain. Cinderella or The Little Glass Slipper, Faber and Faber Limited, 1972, London. Ryerson University Children’s Literature Archives. Public Domain.

In classic children’s fairytales like those of Perrault and the Brothers Grimm, princesses are seen as dainty and almost clueless. They are expected to be enchanting yet still submissive to the male. In contrast to the classic damsel-in-distress tale, Princess Elizabeth, in The Paper Bag Princess by Robert Munsch, is responsible for saving her prince from the dragon. Unlike Cinderella and many other princesses in children’s literature, she saves the day. After she saves her prince, he decides that he no longer wants to marry her because of her appearance. Although a very simple story, this tale is an example of a female not only taking the lead role, but also being in a position of power and authority. It can be assumed that because certain gender norms have already been set in place, it is harder for a child to see Elizabeth as a true hero. According to Kuykendal and Sturm, in studies where children were asked about this particular story, the children “admired strong female protagonists, [but] these were not the characters they wished to emulate” (Kuykendal and Sturm 40). Parsons writes “In many traditional tales, being rewarded with the prince and the security of marriage is the result of the heroine’s submission and suffering, along with her beauty, rather than her agency” (Parsons 137). This ideology directly contrasts a book like The Paper Bag Princess where the heroine is not rewarded with a prince nor marriage. Instead she gains independence and self-sufficiency which by the end of the book proves to be more valuable.

Children Interacting With Feminist Fairytales

In a study done about feminist picture books in their relation to children, the children did not quite understand the significance of the books, but the young girls did appreciate the idea of a strong heroine as the protagonist (Bartholomaeus). Unlike popularized tales, feminist picture books for kids teach lessons, or “upside down” fairytales, that attempt to reinvent a child’s way of viewing a traditional tale. In her article, “Ella Evolving,” Linda T. Parsons makes the point that “we tend to accept the gendered discourse embedded in [fairy tale storylines] as natural, essential, and conclusive” (Parsons 136). Parsons is reinforcing the point that it has become acceptable for us to see male characters and dominant and female characters as submissive making it even harder to reimagine these roles.

Bartholomaeus studied how young girls identified with upside down fairytales in her study on six-year-olds to eleven-year-olds and feminist picture books. Her research in conjunction with the research of other scholars proposes that for both young girls and boys to avoid seeing traditional gender roles, the characters in these stories should be involved in activities that are not gender based. The books that Bartholomaeus chose to read to her participants, the children, to were visibly feminist books with titles such as Cinder Edna by Jackson and O’Malley, William’s Doll by Zolotow and Pène du Bois and A Fire Engine for Ruthie by Newman and Moore. For certain books like Cinder Edna, when it came to distinguishing between “girl” activities and “boy” activities, the children did not categorize the books based on gender but rather on how the characters in the books were treated or the qualities that were attributed to these characters. They described them as different or happier as opposed to being a boy or a girl. In the story of Cinder Edna, two princesses, Cinder Edna and Cinderella, marry two princes. Cinder Edna and her prince live happily ever after, presumably because Cinder Edna is more is less reliant on her husband and is interested in other non-domestic activities. The children were able to identify that Cinder Edna and her prince were happier than Cinderella and her prince (Bartholomaeus 940). In the case of the other books, where gender reversal was more evident, the children initially could not identify what gender each character was because they were not used to the reversal in gender roles like girls playing with ‘boy toys’ in A Fire Engine for Ruthie and boys playing with ‘girl toys’ in William’s Doll.

Cinderella pictured on page 4 of Cinderella or The Little Glass Slipper doing housework which is expected of her. Found in the Ryerson University Children’s Literature Archives.

Feminist Fairytales Redefined

Parsons explains that “a feminist text deals with issues of freedom, choice, and expanding the subject positions available to women and men, and it makes visible the fact that the tales have functioned historically to reproduce social values” (Parsons 139). She references Jack Zipes study on the evolution of folktales. He uses the word contamination to describe the changes in the literature over the years and how it can be used for the betterment of the evolution of literature. Feminist folkloric texts in a sense are trying to contaminate historical literature and reorganize gender norms to create different ideas and reshape the way society views classic fairytales. Parson also brings up the point that fairytales for children have been retold and popularized by Perrault and The Brothers Grimm but actually belong to and are ruled by women seeing as most of the dominant characters, both princesses and villains, are women. The feminist re-visions of fairytales popularized by Perrault and The Brothers Grimm aim to break down the gender binaries that the favoured editions of these stories have constructed.

Princess Elizabeth and Cinderella represent two different views of what it means to be a true princess. From what the revised folktales tell us, princesses are expected to be saved by a prince and are only useful in domestic settings. When determining whet, it is important to note that the objective of feminist fairytales are not simply to switch gender roles. The protagonist should be empowered despite its gender. The Paper Bag Princess is an example of a typical damsel-in-distress story that turns into a feminist tale because by the end of the book the main female protagonist is empowered. Fractured fairytales slightly differ because their objective is not necessarily to prove what gender is dominant but is rather focused on simply reversing the plot or character roles to alter the story. Feminist fairytales and stories are very useful in constructing different ideas of gender and exposing readers to different views that can possibly change the way that male and female protagonists are seen.

Works Cited

Bartholomaeus, Clare. “‘Girls can Like Boy Toys’: Junior Primary School Children’s Understandings of Feminist Picture Books.” Gender and Education 28.7 (2016): 935-50. Web. 31 Oct. 2017.

Kuykendal, Leslee F. “We Said Feminist Fairy Tales, Not Fractured Fairy Tales!” Children and Libraries, 2007, pp. 38-41.

Parsons, Linda T. “Ella Evolving: Cinderella Stories and the Construction of Gender-Appropriate Behavior.” Children’s Literature in Education, vol. 35, no. 2, 2004, pp. 135-154.

Perrault, Charles, and Errol Le Cain. Cinderella or The Little Glass Slipper. Faber and Faber Limited, 1972.

The Representation of Women in Comics in the 1940s

Copyright © 2017 Liran Yefet, Ryerson University


Female characters have served different purposes over the years within comics, whether they are the sidekick, the love interest, or even the villain. However, whether or not the roles women assumed in comics were reflective of the societal views of women during that specific time period is another matter altogether. In the fifteenth issue of The Funny Comics with Dizzy Don: The Miracle House Mystery released in towards the end of World War II in December of 1944, there are two main female characters: Diana Mite and Shirley Watson. Diana Mite is the go-getter villain whose hair still manages to look flawless regardless of what she is doing, while Shirley Watson is there purely for aesthetic purposes — a pretty face in Dizzy Don’s clique. Even though Shirley does not do much in the comic, Diana is hands on, going out and doing the dirty work herself. To varying degrees, both female characters are reflective of the sexist societal views and beauty standards of women in the 1940s, who were starting to deviate from at home labour and make the transition towards paid labour.

Women in the Workforce During World War II

With the men at war, women were left behind to tend to matters at home. This resulted in a shift in the type of labour females did from more traditional housework to paid labour. However, not all women were necessarily capable or interested in the opportunity of paid labour. Thus, the idea of women filling in the labour shortages left by the men at war was initially marketed moreso at young, unmarried women rather than mothers with children to take care of, and a husband’s income because of the societal views that a, “. . .women’s place was at home, and so initial recruitment was directed at young unmarried women and then at married women without children” (“Women’s Emancipation. . .” 164). With women now starting to make an income themselves, the attitude towards allowing women in the labour force began to change, as women were now needed due to the shortage of workers.

Also, the attitudes of women in general changed, as they were starting to gain independence through their careers, which made their jobs of value to them in that sense as well because, “Work for money, regardless of type of work, generates different attitudes and relationships among family members” (Costa 102). This is reflective in the comic in the sense that Diana Mite, who is a working woman, is more independent than Shirley, who is more traditional and is only ever seen by a man’s side. Unlike Shirley, Diana Mite is not sitting around at home taking care of the house while the men are at war, but rather teaming up with others to take down her nemesis. Opposite to Diana is Shirley, who does not do much except serve the plot and boost Dizzy Don’s ego. She represents more of the traditional image of a woman who is devoted to the husband-like figure in her life, and is there mainly to stroke their ego and as arm candy.

Diana Mite

Diana Mite is one of the main antagonists in the Miracle House Mystery, along with Driplip. Despite the physical labour she does, she is still the image of the ideal woman in her heels, dress, and perfectly done hair — this regardless of what she is doing. Although the overtly sexual nature and hyper feminization of her depiction was common for female characters in comics at the time, as this was also the case with George McManus, and his depiction of the character Maggie in the Bringing Up Father comics

One gets the impression that McManus simply couldn’t control himself when drawing women’s bodies, and by the 1920s through the 1940s, he had even developed a habit of drawing Maggie in transparent dresses through which her fabulous figure could be seen in silhouette. (Robbins, “Gender Differences in Comics”)

Similarly, Diana Mite is described as, “. . .tiny and attractive. . .” (Easson 1) in her character description, while the description of her male counterpart, Driplip has nothing about his physical appearance. This is sexist due to the fact that Diana is so much more than just her looks — she goes out and gets stuff done, so the focus of her description should also be about her nature and not about her looks. It is not fair to Diana Mite to have her body commented on if none of the male characters have their bodies commented on just because she is a woman, much less that the comments made about her body are sexual in nature. She is described to have the ideal female figure to men, which is something a female writer would likely not have done due to having experienced the sexism of the time firsthand.

Not only that, but Diana Mite does all of the dirty work for Driplip, whom she works with. While Diana does the hard, physical work herself, Driplip still takes most of the credit, even though he just mainly handles the business side of things. This is reflective of how even though women were free to make their own income, it was because the men were incapable of doing the labour themselves, and not because they were needed for the sake of workers, regardless of their gender, being needed. Had the men been at home working instead of at war, it is unlikely women would have been allowed to start doing paid labour because then they would be taking jobs from the men, who were considered to be the major source of income in the household at the time. It did not matter if the woman was more qualified for the job similar to the way Diana Mite was more qualified than Driplip to take out Dizzy Don’s plan, and was only hired because Driplip could not physically do the job himself. Men like Driplip who were less qualified would have likely gotten priority over the woman for the job. This is all just to play into the patriarchal views of who should traditionally be working and bringing in the money in the household: the men.

Manny Easson. Panel from “The Miracle House Mystery.” The Funny Comics With Dizzy Don, No. 15, December 1944, p. 10. Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada.

Whether or not Driplip was absolutely necessarily in the plot against Dizzy Don is arguable, as while he handed the “business side” of things, Diana Mite likely could have been just as well without him. He even goes so far as to call her the, “. . . smartest operator in the world,” (Easson 10) and says, “‘Diana Mite’ — she can do it if anyone can,” (Easson 10) which is a clear indicator that Diana is the more physically capable one in the partnership. After all, she did all of the dirty work all while still looking perfect, and Driplip kind of just sat around for most of the comic waiting for her. This is ironic considering that men are supposed to be stereotypically stronger, but somewhat irrelevant in the situation, as he gets credited like he is the one who did all of the hard work in the plan. It is important to note that the comic attempts to insinuate that his role is equally, if not more important than hers, and that she is carrying out his plan, not hers, thus making him the evil mastermind and her just an accessory in his plan. The reality is Diana Mite is more than just an accessory to his plan because she is the one who actually carries it out, so her role in the plan is the one that is more important. Without her, Driplip likely would not have gotten anything done. Thus, Diana Mite is representative of both the patriarchal beauty standards women were held to in the 1940s, and the way women were only wanted in the workforce to do the jobs the men could not do because they were away at war, not necessarily because they were equally, if not more qualified for the job.

Shirley Watson

The other main female character in the comic is Shirley Watson, who is Dizzy Don’s friend in the “Miracle House Mystery.” Shirley is representative of the patriarchal view that women should be housewives and accessories for their husbands in the 1940s. She is fairly useless, and is mainly there to serve the plot. Without the story itself, Shirley would serve no real purpose due to her lack of character development. Shirley is there merely to amuse Dizzy Don, and get information out of him that furthers the plot. Everything about her from her background story to her dialogue only serves the purpose of furthering along the plot. 

Manny Easson. Panel from “The Miracle House Mystery.” The Funny Comics With Dizzy Don, No. 15, December 1944, p. 6. Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada.

Shirley is the one with the brother who is a soldier returning from the war, thus giving Dizzy Don a connection to the soldiers returning home. Other than Shirley’s brother, there is no one else personally connecting Dizzy Don to the war and the cause that he is trying to help. Even though it is Shirley’s brother returning from the war, the plot continues to revolve around how Dizzy is solving the housing crisis, while Shirley just kind of follows him around and ask her plot-furthering questions whenever necessary. She is even the one that asks her brother, “What are your plans Bill?” (Easson 6) which causes him to bring up the housing crisis caused by the soldiers returning from the war and having no place to go back to. Then Dizzy immediately responds that he has an idea on how to solve the housing crisis, which furthers the plot. The problem with this is that while the male characters get real character traits and proper, dimensional attributes that allows them to exist independently from the story, Shirley Watson has no personality because her purpose revolves around Dizzy Don, and being a pretty face at his side at all times, just like how women in the 1940s could only leave the house with a man at their side. If one met Shirley in real life, one would have a hard time getting to know her because she is not a multi-dimensional person who can exist outside of the story.

On top of this, Shirley fits the stereotypical beauty standards of women in the 1940s with her well-styled curls, modest dress, heels, and perfectly applied makeup. Thus, not only is she a one-dimensional character, but she looks like one too. There is not a lot that sets her apart from the other characters, so she kind of blends into the background and is there as just another pretty face like the housewives in the 1940s who were like accessories to their husbands.

It is a view rooted in the belief that women should do as the men in their lives please, definitely more male superiority over women-oriented that could be a result of the story being told by a male author and thus likely reflects his societal outlook. Had a female written this comic, it is less likely that Shirley would have remained as underdeveloped as she was throughout simply due to the fact that a female writer would likely have a better understanding of the patriarchal problems in the 1940s and the negative effects as a result. Therefore, through this understanding, a female writer would be able to write a more balanced comic that would play less into sexist stereotypes such as finding a women’s value in her looks. Hence, Shirley Watson is a representation of the patriarchal view that women were accessories to the men in their lives, and that their purpose revolved around men the way Shirley’s purpose revolves around Dizzy Don.

The Juxtaposition Between These Two Female Characters

Even though Shirley Watson and Diana Mite exemplify two contrasting examples of women in the 1940s, both are hindered by patriarchal views that confine them to the ideal beauty standards of the time, and showcase their inferiority to men within the comic. Shirley, the girl who acts as an accessory to the plot and never goes anywhere unless she is hanging out with Dizzy Don or some other man whom her life revolves around is the opposite of Diana, who is the working woman entering the labour force, and who gets what she wants done by herself. Despite their differences, both ladies are the picture of the ideal woman with their done hair and makeup, cute dress, and heels. This is a reflection of how most, if not all women in the 1940s were in some way constricted by patriarchal views that prevented them from ever truly being independent from the men in their lives.

Moreover, Diana Mite and Shirley Watson represent the working woman entering the labour force, and the loyal housewife respectively. Through antagonizing Diana Mite and making Shirley Watson one of the good characters, the comic is likely suggesting that having women in the workforce is bad, and that a woman’s place is wherever the men in her life need her to be: at home. An impressionable child reading this comic in the 1940s without the same exposure to feminist ideals as most children today could come to the conclusion that a woman should not be doing paid labour. This is because Diana Mite, an example of the working woman in the 1940s only causes trouble for Dizzy Don, and thus working women like her should stay at home and out of the way of men. This outlook sets women back in the workforce, and their transition into equal paid labour and equal opportunity regardless of one’s gender. Therefore, it is important to note that the antagonization of the working woman within the comic is harmful as it plays into the patriarchal societal views of the 1940s.


The comic The Miracle House Mystery utilizes the female characters Diana Mite and Shirley Watson to reflect the sexist views of the 1940s on women in the workforce. Diana Mite, who is physically carries out the plan against Dizzy Don is antagonized to reflect the view that a women should not be in the workforce, but rather at home or by a man’s side. She is capable of being independent, but by having Driplip be her partner, the comic takes away from everything she does on her own. On the other hand is Shirley Watson, who is only there to serve the plot and has no real character traits to her, and is reflective of the more traditional view that a woman’s place is an accessory to the man in her life gets to be one of the good characters. Ultimately though, regardless of what role these two women play in the story, they are both similar in the sense that they are the epitome of idealized female beauty standards, thus making them both trapped in a sense by patriarchal views. This juxtaposition of these two female characters showcases the sexist societal views of the 1940s, and those of the author of the work. Through this, the comic gives the reader insight into the societal views on women in the 1940s, thus likely causing them to reflect on how women were hindered by the patriarchy during the 1940s.

Works Cited

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“Remembering Canada’s Role in WW II.” CBC News, 29 Apr. 2010, http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/remembering-canada-s-role-in-ww-ii-1.871801.

Robbins, Trina. “Gender Differences in Comics.” Image and Narrative, Edited by Heike Jüngst, vol. 2, no. 4, 2002, www.imageandnarrative.be/inarchive/gender/trinarobbins.htm.

Silverstein, Brett, et al. “The Role of the Mass Media in Promoting a Thin Standard of Bodily Attractiveness for Women.” Sex Roles, vol. 14, no. 9-10, 1986, pp. 519–532., doi:10.1007/bf00287452. .

Songs My Mother Taught Me. 10 Sept. 1945, http://www.cbc.ca/andthewinneris/war_brides_620.jpg.

Tepper, Sean. “Heroes of the Canadian Golden Age of Comics | Toronto Star.” Toronto Star, 11 Oct. 2013, https://www.thestar.com/entertainment/2013/10/11/heroes_of_the_canadian_golden_age_of_comics.html.

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