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Unformatted text preview: Part One: The Pervasiveness and Persistence of the Feminine Beauty Ideal in Children's Fairy Tales Children's fairy tales are gendered stories that legitimize and support dominant gender systems. What we thought: The feminine beauty ideal is a prominent message represented in many tales. The Importance of children's literature: One of the most useful sets of cultural products for investigating cultural motifs and values is children's stories (Bettelheim 1962). Originally translated as primers for children. This study investigates the extent to which the feminine beauty ideal has persisted over nearly 150 years by examining it's pervasiveness, and tracing its survival, in children's fairy tales. Did the tales that highlight a feminine beauty ideal experience increased reproductions during periods when normative control would be more necessary? Data and Methods Children and Household Tales, published by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm in 1857, and contains 250 tales. N = 168 tales The tales were coded for a long list of variables including: number of times female or male characters were referred to as beautiful, pretty, the fairest, or handsome; mentions of physical appearance overall, including clothing, body type, and body size; the number of mentions of characters as good or evil; roles; and mentions of harm, either as perpetrator or recipient. Coded variables were separated by age: younger females, older females, younger males, older males. Findings 94% of all tales make some mention of physical appearance. The average number of times that physical appearance is mentioned in reference to men, per story, is 6.0 and for women is 7.6 (not statistically significant). The number of references to men's physical appearance ranges from 035 per story, whereas the range for women's is 0114. Guess which tale has 114 mentions of feminine beauty in only 6 pages of text? And contains no mentions of male handsomeness... Five times more reference to women's beauty per tale than to men's handsomeness (1.25 v. 0.21). Average number of references to younger women's beauty in all tales (1.17) outnumbers younger men (0.20), older women (0.08), and older men (0.02) combined. Of the tales that contain younger female characters, 57 percent described them as "pretty," "beautiful," or "the fairest," and on average there are 1.74 references to their beauty. By contrast only 5.2 percent of tales containing older females describe them in that way. Under 20 percent of the tales that contain younger male characters described them as "handsome," and only 1.7 percent of tales refer to older males in this way. Social reproduction of the Feminine Beauty Ideal Of the 168 tales analyzed, 43 (25.6 percent) have been reproduced in children's books or movies. The most frequently reproduced tale is Cinderella, for whom 332 reproductions were recorded. In fact, just five fairy tales constitute over twothirds (72.7 percent) of all reproductions: Cinderella, Snow White, Briar Rose (aka Sleeping Beauty), Little Red Cap (aka Little Red Riding Hood), and Hansel and Gretel. There are many more references to women's physical appearance in reproduced versus non reproduced tales (11.3 vs. 6.15), and this is somewhat true for references to men's physical appearance (8.0 vs. 5.2). When analyses are conducted on just the top three most reproduced tales, which eliminates Little Red Cap and Hansel and Gretel, the references to women's beauty and women's appearance are much higher (12 references to beauty for the top 3 vs. 7.2 for the top 5; 41.7 references to appearance for the top 3 vs. 33.8 for the top 5) and that for men's appearance declines (.67 for top 3 vs. 2.6 for top 5). Note that there are no references to men's handsomeness in any of the top five tales. Discussion and Conclusion Fairy tales, like other media (Currie 1997), convey messages about the importance of feminine beauty. The findings further suggest that attention to attractiveness may have become increasingly prevalent over the past century. Passing mentions of men's handsomeness in these eleven tales simply do not compare to the tales in which women's beauty is glorified and where beauty, for beauty's sake, plays a major role in the story, as in Cinderella or Snow White. Mentions of women's beauty are far more likely to be linked to reproductions than are other popular cultural motifs such as victimization or romance. Disney correlation: Coincidence? No way! Part Two: The Perils of Going Public Presented at the American Sociological Association 2004 My goal is to illustrate, through our experience, how social scientific research can be distorted or misrepresented in the media. In this case, the research that was popularized had explored the prevalence of feminine beauty... Initially, we were delighted by the media interest. We saw nothing controversial in our findings. Hence, we were not prepared for what followed intense media and public reaction to what was percieved as an attack on childhood, fairy tales, beauty and the "natural order." Spurred by misrepresentation, the "report" morphed! Within a span of a few days, the story had circled the globe. Both BakerSperry and Grauerholz had given numerous interviews by phone, including five with BBC affiliates and The Today Show in Australia, were "guests" on several talkradio shows, and had been asked to appear on national television in the U.S., England, and Australia (including on The O'Reilley Factor). Exhausted from interviews, all of which coincided with final exams, and disgusted by the misrepresentation in the media, the authors refused most interview requests. Public Reactions After the initial media stories, there was a voluminous response in the form of web blogs, emails, and letters to the authors. Traditional argument Personal attack or attack on the researcher's credibility We stopped giving interviews! Too liberal/feminist/politically correct Except for this young woman: "Hi, ... i'm 14 years old and what you have to say leaves me speachless [sic]. You see, i was looking for a topic for my up comming [sic] column in my school news paper, and happended [sic] to stumble across your articles. What you have to say is ammazing [sic], and i never looked at things in this light. I always thought of people like Britney Spears and others like her creating low selfestiem [sic] in girls, but now that I think about it, the media really starts to mold us at a much younger age! Thanks for the rude awakining [sic], and let it me known, i will alert my school on this topic! Thankyou [sic], wow, I can't think of anything else to say..." ...
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This note was uploaded on 04/29/2009 for the course WS 191 taught by Professor Baker-sperry during the Fall '08 term at Western Illinois University.
- Fall '08