First of all, fairy tales contain conservative and predictable gender stereotypes. These are and were not good. To analyse and discuss fairy tales properly, one should start from the stereotypes and morals that existed within the culture from which the fairy tale originates.
‘The Frog Prince’ is a fairy tale recorded by the Grimm brothers and is the first story told in their book ‘Kinder- Und Hausmärchen’ in 1812. The story is about a princess who is playing with her golden ball on a hot day in a dark forest by a cold spring. When her ball falls into the water, a frog appears and offers to retrieve it in exchange for friendship. The princess promises to eat with the frog from the same plate and to sleep next to him in her bed if he gives her the ball. The frog retrieves the ball, and the princess runs away. At dinner, the frog knocks on the door, and the king hears of his daughter’s broken promise and forces her to let the frog eat from her plate and sleep next to him in her bed. The princess does all of this with great reluctance, as she finds it disgusting and wants nothing to do with the frog. She angrily throws the frog against the wall of her bed, and as he falls down into her bed he transforms into a handsome prince. They marry and live happily ever after.
This story seems to have two morals. Firstly, you should not make promises that you cannot or do not want to keep. Secondly, someone who is ugly and repulsive can turn out to be different from what you thought. That being said, there is another aspect worth mentioning, one that viewers quickly brush aside and accept. Both the frog and the father do not take into account the princess’s feelings and desires and force her into intimacy against her will. Perhaps, it is a story told to girls who were to be married off, to give them the idea that despite their disgust, everything eventually would turn out well.
In my interpretation, frogs in Grimm’s fairy tales often symbolise men’s (heterosexual) sexuality. The stereotypically portrayed women in fairy tales are afraid of the frogs that appear when they bathe (intimate) but eventually engage in conversation with them. Take, for example, the story of Sleeping Beauty, the king and queen could not have children, but when the queen bathed, a frog appeared and told her that she would give birth to a daughter (Sleeping Beauty) within a year. To me, this frog seems to be a euphemism for another man than the king, with whom the queen can become pregnant. In the first version of Sleeping Beauty by the Grimm brothers this prophecy was told by a lobster. The Grimm brothers probably changed this to a frog, because of the role of the animal in other fairy tales, like the Frog prince.
The fact that men’s sexuality was represented as a frog may be an indication of how women’s sexuality was thought of in Western Europe in the past. Namely, something they were often afraid of and did not want or had to force themselves to accept, because of the sexual taboo on women’s sexual pleasure. Frogs were probably the creatures that women were most afraid of while bathing (being intimate).
Can we still tell these fairy tales? Opinions are divided on this. I believe that as long as we are aware of the harmful stereotypes and morals from the past, we can still read and tell fairy tales. But modernisation is also possible. For example, this fairy tale could also be written from the perspective of the father, who is disgusted that his beautiful daughter willingly brings home a frog instead of a handsome man, but when he finds out that the frog turns out to be a prince, he realises that his prejudices and expectations have deceived him.
The original magic remains the same, but the moral shifts.