I read Michelle Nijhuis’ words with a keen eye and a happy heart the other day. When she outright told us that her daughter insisted that Bilbo Baggins of The Hobbit is actually a girl, I smiled.

I’m avidly aware that, by raising a daughter, I’m raising someone who will become a woman. By virtue of that, she’ll have to – one day, if she hasn’t already – deal with the knocks that a patriarchal-minded society will throw at her.

I’ve had to tumble through those same obstacles before, and I still am, on an almost daily basis.

Most of the memories I keep in the recesses of my mind of my daughter’s younger years are attached in some way, to the sharing of stories and reading books.

My dad once told me he read to my siblings and I when we were in the womb.

I have no idea if that’s true or not but, it’s something that stuck with me when I was waddling around pregnant and unsure of myself. When my daughter was an infant, I read “Alice in Wonderland” and “Little Women” to her, determined that she would become a voracious reader. She has, but there’s one memory of those story-sharing days that sticks with me.

When she was a little older, we became co-readers, where she’d read along with me as I tried my best to bring the fairy tales to life through my limited vocabulary of funny accents. After finishing Cinderella one day, she asked me:

“But, mom, why does Cinderella have to get married and go off with the prince? It sounds boring”.

So, the next time we read it, I changed it a little. She still married the prince but… Cinderella did also go on to have an interesting career in politics. For want of a better comparison, Cinderella pulled a Hilary Clinton move after the wedding.

The undercurrent of patriarchy that appears to be inherent in so many fairy tales has disturbed me more and more, the older I get, and the older my daughter gets. Clearly, it bugged Michelle Nijhuis too.

The fact that we’re reading stories to our children that underpin the idea of a woman requiring “rescue” by some prince or dude in tights on a horse, is atrocious. Moreover, it’s untrue.

Nowadays, we need to be telling our children stories of how they can rescue themselves – and that goes for boys and girls. The deep-seated idea that a romantic “happy ever after” ending just isn’t reality any more and I don’t think it ever really was.

But, the notion of ‘realistic’ fairy tales could seem a little boring – I mean, who wants to read a bedtime story about the woman who successfully filed her tax return, or balanced the household budget?

More so, the epic adventures we find illustrated in most fairy tales are almost never undertaken by Robert down the road or Belinda who sat next to us in Maths class.

There again, fairy tales are – supposedly – created and read to children in an effort to stimulate their imagination and empower them towards successful self-actualisation in some way. Yet, those same fairy tales are distinctly telling our kids that they’ll need to rescue a damsel or be a damsel “worth” rescuing.

We can’t eliminate the fairy tales, because they have been part and parcel of our own upbringings and history. They’re considered classical literature, nowadays. And, yes, people could take a puritanical approach and damn us for doing it but there is absolutely nothing wrong with changing the endings of those classic fairy tales.

After all, the happy ending I want my daughter to live towards has nothing to do with noble steeds and prancing men in tights. But it does, most definitely, include her finding her own happiness in a world that seems determined to define it for her. 

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