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.