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Thinking Outside the Stereotype: Gender Swapped Fairy Tales

When the lightbulb appears above your head, full of ideas for a new company, step one is writing down everything you saw in that floating idea-vessel so you don’t forget it. Step two is research. Has anyone already thought of this? If you do find someone came up with your idea before you thought of it, think about it more deeply. You might discover a new angle, device, or method that will help people, make lives better, or earn you a boatload of supporters.

That’s just what Karrie Fransman and Jonathan Plackett did when they wrote and illustrated Gender Swapped Fairy Tales. Fairy tales are nothing new, but this pair turned tradition upside-down in this book.

In the modern world, traditional gender roles seem antiquated

Newer stories have powerful female leads where it is possible for women protagonists to thrive in plotlines that don’t end in marriage. However, there is a section of literature that has seemingly been untouched for generations, classic fairytales. Even as Disney remakes these stories into realistically designed computer-generated images, the stories themselves have remained basically the same. Unfortunately, they seem to perpetuate the same gender roles we have come to know — the damsel in distress, and her knight in shining armor coming to save the day.

Author and illustrating duo Karrie Fransman and Jonathan Plackett have taken a different approach to famous fairytales. The couple has rewritten and illustrated the classic Brothers Grimm stories. Jonathan designed an algorithm to change the stories’ gender roles. As the creative technologist explains in an author’s note: “Right before our eyes, fascinating new characters were created and stereotypes were laid bare. We saw princesses in shining armor racing to rescue their sleeping princes. Kings sat by windows sewing and longing for a child. The stories took on a new dimension, effortlessly highlighting the gender biases within the original text.”

When illustrating the images for the stories, Karrie paid homage to the original works of art. She described the process as being “really difficult and really intimidating. I just thought, what can I possibly contribute to this amazing genre which hadn’t been done? Thankfully, I had a trick in my back pocket because of the gender-swapping algorithm. We were doing something new.”

The new tales enable readers to question gender and what it means

For example, a prince looks past the beastly features of a princess. The strong female characters and emotionally-in-touch males are compelling for boys and girls alike. While there is nothing wrong with a girl who loves to wear dresses and a boy who imagines himself in armor, as a society we need to allow children to come to these conclusions on their own. Children need the freedom to form who they are without the overarching display of traditional roles. It’s important to showcase these stories to avoid, or at least augment the messages presented in the original tales. Perhaps reading these Gender Swapped Fairy Tales to their kids will prevent adults from perpetuating these roles from birth.

Julia Geisman, a Gender Fairy Tale expert, commented on the lasting effects these stories have in defining gender roles and behavioral expectations.  

“I think these stories are good for increasing people’s awareness.  Will it change the paradigm? It will certainly help. The underlying meaning in the original fairy tales was to disempower women. My hope is the gender role reversal in each story will help parents and grandparents be more aware of the way in which fairy tales mold our thinking. This is an important step towards changing the traditional gender role messages embedded in the books we grow up with.”

The Brothers Grimm and others wrote fairy tale books so the old stories and values wouldn’t be lost. Their popularity ensured that. Now that we have modern writers and artists adding their perspectives to new and old works, kids will learn there are more ideas and types of people in the world. This pair of artists took a different approach to an old genre and created something entirely new.

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