Sunday, June 14, 2015

These Girls, I tell ya.

Graduate school is all done now and I'm off in the real world. Planning a hopefully triumphant return to academia in the nearish future. (Chasing that Ph.D!) But until then I am writing a lot, reading a lot, and sending out a lot, just as I've been told I ought to do.
So far I have 45,000 words of a short story collection finished, and it was a real blast to write. Hopefully some snippets of it will start appearing on various lit mags around the web. And I've been reading a lot of fairy tales. No surprise.
There are some that are just so strange. And I don't mean in the magic and beast way.  I mean in the women's reactions and motivation way. I've read more than a handful that have left me scratching my head going "huh?" when it comes to what the women in the tale do.
For instance, in "The Man with No Heart" a girl who was setting off with her sisters to get married is taken captive by an old man who turns the rest of the party (all of her known relatives) into stone. And she is totally cool with this. She just lives with him and cares not one iota. Just settles in and is like "cool, you killed all my family basically, but now I'm your wife so whatever." Then a boy shows up and kills him and she is equally cool about this. Basically has the same "well, you just killed my husband, but now I'm your wife, so it's cool. Whatever," reaction.
 This isn't the only one where I encountered this kind of lack of care and duplicity on the part of the Princesses. In a Russian fairy tale, this random dude sleeps in a castle, and the Princess of the castle who lives all alone stumbles upon him, and instead of freaking out as she should she immediately says they are married and tells him how to kill her very own brother.
In "The Princess' Chest" the Princess is basically sentenced to death because her father comes to her a day too soon, and she is totally not mad at all at him. She's all like "Oh Dear Father! I love you! But now I'm going to die. So sorry." Then, at the end, she's married off to a stranger after he breaks her curse, and that's totally fine by her.
It's a trend that icks me out. There's a lack of agency, motivation and actual desire in Fairy Tale women and girls that is actually quite alarming when you sit down and think about it. Because now, in the modern day, fairy tales are mostly marketed to young girls. So their view of the world is kind of shaped by these stories. Girls who need rescued, but lack any actual motivation to change their circumstances, and the ultimate key to that rescue is marriage, more often than not to a stranger. Perhaps back when these were handed down orally this was closer to the reality that young girls faced. A restriction in agency and position that could only be alleviated by the right marriage. But that's not how the world is now, and so maybe its time we look into changing them.
Because there is a lot to love about fairy tales. The magic, the pattern, the connection with nature and the intricate but simple, often repeating symbolism. These are things that can really engage and shape imaginations, and they're something that I have loved all of my life.
I am glad that there are people out there working to turn around the lifelessness of the Fairy Tale princess. The collection Tatterhood is a fantastic example of tales that empower young girls rather than use them as props. And even Disney has made a push to include more nuanced and active Princesses.
I know one of my greatest pleasures is plucking apart a tale where the girl is nothing but a cardboard cut out and reworking it so she has some life. So the story is more in her hands.

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