According to Natalie Portman, the classic fairy tales are problematic and don’t make a whole lot of sense.
Speaking about Cinderella to Lisa Wilkinson on Network Ten’s The Project, Portman said, “All those kinds of princess stories are really problematic. You have to fit into the shoe and only one person can fit into a shoe, but [the prince] doesn’t remember the face of the girl he was dancing with last night. Like, it also doesn’t make sense on top of being very offensive!”
The Oscar-winning actress released a children’s book in October named Natalie Portman’s Fables which reimagines old favourites such as The Tortoise and the Hare, The Three Little Pigs, and Country Mouse and City Mouse, so that she could share the stories with her daughter while exposing her to a more diverse range of characters.
“I started noticing that the characters in all of these classic stories were predominantly male, and I wanted to keep the stories alive for her,” Portman told Wilkinson. “I think they’re so wonderful and I want her to know the classics, but I also wanted her to have a reflection of the world that is more accurate.”
Portman, who shares two children with her husband Benjamin Millepied — son Aleph, nine, and daughter Amalia, three — is currently in Australia with her family to film her new movie, Thor: Love and Thunder.
Portman is not the first Hollywood actress to express her concern over the messaging in fairy tales and the effects they could potentially have on young minds.
In 2015, Keira Knightley told Ellen DeGeneres that her daughters were not allowed to watch Cinderella because the story revolves around a woman “waiting around for a rich guy to rescue her” and that The Little Mermaid was also banned saying, “I mean, the songs are great, but do not give your voice up for a man.”
Even Kristen Bell — who voiced the character of Anna in Disney’s Frozen — has previously said that she uses the story of Snow White as a teachable moment for her kids.
Bell revealed to Parents magazine in 2018 that she asked her daughters, “Don’t you think that it’s weird that the prince kisses Snow White without her permission? Because you can not kiss someone if they’re sleeping!”
According to psychologist and author Jill Weber, Ph.D., fairy tales are not only problematic for little girls, but young boys also because of the “Knight in Shining Armour” trope.
“Many boys may be taught that a “real man” must never show vulnerability and be a protective provider for his partner,” writes Weber in an article for Psychology Today. “Many men then grow to shy away from love and commitment, perceiving them to be a burden.
The hidden dark side of the princess/knight mentality is what researchers term “benevolent sexism” — which means that believing women should be protected is actually used (intentionally or unintentionally) to justify gender inequality. The idea of the princess and the knight with a protective shield is predicated on the woman being so weak that she needs male protection, which includes the man making decisions for her,” Weber said.
In recent years there has been a greater push to see better representation and modern moralities in children’s stories with books such as Good Night Stories For Rebel Girls selling over one million copies worldwide.