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The Weekend Australian - Review - - Contents - Greg Sheri­dan

First they came for the GI Joe toys and Bar­bie dolls. Then they came for the car­toons. Then they took the fairy­tales. Vic­to­rian Pre­mier Daniel An­drews is a good and de­cent man, as I well know. But he leads a gov­ern­ment that at times ex­hibits out­right mad­ness. Never more so than in its de­ci­sion to re­write, lam­baste and sub­ject to re­form through se­vere crit­i­cism the ter­ri­ble evil of fairy­tales.

Fairy­tales, it turns out, con­trib­ute to gen­der stereo­types, sex­ist so­cial pat­terns and do­mes­tic vi­o­lence. Hon­estly, there are mo­ments when you weep for the mad­ness of our times.

Now, we know vi­o­lence against women comes not from the peren­nial strug­gle of good against evil in all men’s hearts, and is not ex­ac­er­bated by the hy­per­sex­u­alised pop­u­lar cul­ture we have cre­ated, or the vi­o­lence of video games and film and TV en­ter­tain­ment, or the com­plete col­lapse of any sense of tran­scen­dent moral pur­pose.

No, it’s down to the Brothers Grimm. This Vic­to­rian fool­ish­ness has been rightly mocked. But it de­serves, for a mo­ment, to be taken se­ri­ously.

It is a typ­i­cal re­sponse by the cul­tural left to the mod­ern dev­as­ta­tion that they as much as any have wrought on the hu­man con­di­tion. It takes a real and ter­ri­ble prob­lem — vi­o­lence by men against women — and not only mis­di­ag­noses the cause but pro­motes reme­dies that will make things far worse.

I do not deny the epi­demic of do­mes­tic vi­o­lence. But I know for sure it does not pro­ceed from men be­ing overly schooled in chivalry and hon­our and the el­e­men­tal obli­ga­tions they have to pro­tect women, virtues found in fairy­tales and in much tra­di­tional lit­er­a­ture and cul­ture, and that re­flect hu­man na­ture.

There are two sep­a­rate forces at work here. Ev­ery hu­man be­ing strug­gles ev­ery day be­tween the good and the evil to which they are prone. For many men, part of the evil is vi­o­lence against women. This is a uni­ver­sal el­e­ment of the hu­man con­di­tion.

Then there are the spe­cific lessons and virtues that dis­tinct cul­tures in­cul­cate in the way men and women should be­have. There can be bad cul­tural prac­tices, such as polygamy.

But the tra­di­tions of chivalry, hero­ism and self­less love that are found in fairy­tales are not bad in­flu­ences. They are wholly good.

Prince Charm­ing res­cues Cinderella by the power of his love. The hunter res­cues Lit­tle Red Rid­ing Hood. The Beauty res­cues the Beast be­cause she is pre­pared to love him though he is ugly. The seven dwarfs are de­voted to Snow White. An­other prince res­cues her, again through the power of his love, from the poi­son ad­min­is­tered by a jeal­ous queen.

These are tales for chil­dren, yet they deal with love and death and many of them are al­most uni­ver­sal, oc­cur­ring in dif­fer­ent ver­sions across many cul­tures.

No thug­gish brute, high on ice or con­sumed with booze, mis­treats his wife or girl­friend or mother be­cause he has been taught too well the lessons of chivalry and the tra­di­tional obli­ga­tions of a de­cent man.

For part of my youth I at­tended an all-boys school run by the Chris­tian Brothers. The brothers and teach­ers were oc­cu­pied in­struct­ing us on what it meant to be a man.

I am just old enough that this in­cluded the need to walk on the street side of a girl you were ac­com­pa­ny­ing to shield her from dan­gers from the road. Sim­i­larly, you al­ways held the door for a girl to go first un­less you were en­ter­ing an empty house, in which case you went first in case there were bur­glars in­side.

No doubt we were a scruffy lot of louts and didn’t live up to the spirit of these lessons, which con­tained the sense that we all shared an obli­ga­tion to pro­tect women and chil­dren.

Most of us har­bour a good deal of the cow­ard, but al­most ev­ery man would die to pro­tect his wife and chil­dren. Our pre­sent dis­tress is not caused by men with too tra­di­tional a view of what it means to be a man but by men with no moral sense at all. Fairy­tales help de­velop such a sense. Sup­press­ing them does not pro­mote gen­der equal­ity. It is in­stead a punc­tu­a­tion point in the larger gram­mar of mad­ness.

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