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Feminist Interpretation of Fairy Tales


Date: Thu, 23 Jun 1994 13:18:18 -0700 (PDT)
From: for Jennifer O'Neal <onealj@CCVAX.CCS.CSUS.EDU>
Subject: fairy tales
I believe there is a book entitled "Father Goose" that is supposed to
be less sexist.  I have not personally read it so I do not know for sure.
You might try calling a femenist bookstore in your area.  Ours carries
several different feminist fairy tales.

Date: Thu, 23 Jun 1994 14:08:20 -0700
From: Myra Dinnerstein <MYRAD@CCIT.ARIZONA.EDU>
Subject: fairy tales
The title of the book is Father Gander.
Myra Dinnerstein
University of arizona

Date: Thu, 23 Jun 1994 16:31:00 -0400 (EDT)
From: Mary Lanser <MEL5@PSUVM.PSU.EDU>
Subject: 2 new files: madness and fairy tales
I have been interested in the inquiries about feminist renditions of
 folk and fairy tales. I have one question: Why re-write the period
tales at all? Why not simply write tales that portray women in their
 historic and contemporary contexts to reflect current feminist
 sensibility?--mary lanser

Date: Thu, 23 Jun 1994 15:02:56 -0700
From: Martha Mar Caminero-Santangelo <eahg267@ORION.OAC.UCI.EDU>
Subject: Why rewrite fairy tales
Why did Jean Rhys decide to rewrite JANE EYRE from the "madwoman's" point
of view?  Why have so many women writers attempted to rewrite misogynist
myths?  I think rewriting of powerful stories which enact violence to
women through their representations can expose that violence for what it
is.  They can thus be a powerful feminist tool, by increasing awareness
of how those original representations worked.  Of course fairy tales are
a special case, since they have an audience primarily of children; but
from a gut level I suppose I feel that children are eventually going to
herar the original version anyway; it would be nice if, instead of simply
accepting it (along with its less sexist counterparts) at face value, the
children had already heard a different version, and could say, "No,
that's not right!"
Marta Caminero-Santangelo

Date: Fri, 24 Jun 1994 09:44:00 -0400 (EDT)
From: Mary Lanser <MEL5@PSUVM.PSU.EDU>
Subject: Why rewrite fairy tales
Dear Martha, I am afraid that my children will never read any original
fairy tale, at least while they are children. Fairy tales were
designed as morality tales and social controls for adults and children, and
depending upon the culture you are 'listening' to, the men often fare as badly
as the women. They are  what some might call a powerful educational tool for
 all group members.
 Cinderella comes to mind as a European tale. The stepsisters lop off their
 toes to make the slipper fit and birds peck their eyes out in the end.
See what comes from being sisterly? How could a feminist re-write make that
a more powerful tool?
 I am aware of altering perspectives and it is a clever way to make a point.
One of the first books that I read as a young adolescent was Grendel (the
 monster in Beowulf) by Roland Robinson.
 To me the search for 'truth' historically offers the most powerful tools
for seeing ourselves and seeing others. Re-writing folk tales to elide the
 'truth' of a period has more potential limitations than benefits.
 You have spoken your 'truth' to me from the tower wall, now come on down
 here and convince me that feminist re-writes of fairy tales are really useful
or provide us and other young women with a clearer truth.

Date: Sat, 25 Jun 1994 01:18:05 -0400 (EDT)
Subject: feminist fairy tales
As a child I read fairy tales voraciously -- everything I could get
my hands on.  I remember that by the age of 11 I had read every
single book of fairy tales in the collection at the Santa Clara
(Calif.) public library, including those in the adult section.
My favorite of all was (and still is) Hans Christian Anderson, particularly
the Snow Queen, which I read several times with extreme delight
to my daughter when she was a child.  I have re-read it many times
since and each time I read it anew -- what I most love about it
is what it says about the nature of perception, compassion, and love.
While no doubt I was  affected by the dearth of strong
feminine heroines (there are actually a few) in those tales
they nonetheless nurtured my imagination.  There are many
different ways one can interpret those stories, just as
feminist theologians are finding new ways to interpret the
Bible and other sacred texts.  While most at some level
have a moral tale to tell that goes against the grain of
feminism, at deeper, symbolic levels they can speak differently.
For example, instead of reading the characters as distinct
beings we can read them as different aspects of the human
psyche, which can be either male or female.  Hansel and Gretel
for instance can represent the child's journey through danger
to independence, with Hansel and Gretel each representing
different aspects of the child's psychological response
to being, in effect, abandoned by her/his parents.
One tale I came upon ten years ago by following through a reference in
Linda Leonard's _The Wounded Woman_ is called "The Courageous
Girl."  It is included in a book whose title I don't remember
now, but it is a collection of tales from some place in
the Middle East.  In this story a young woman dresses up
as a man and overcomes many terrifying obstacles to acquire the medicine
she needs to cure her father's blindness.  As always this
tale can be read on many levels, but the one I like best is
seeing the "Courageous Girl" as representing feminism curing
the blindness of patriachy.
Rewriting old tales is terrific.  But that doesn't have to be
the only way we approach them.  We CAN teach our children
to read the old versions in ways that empower them.
Georgia NeSmith

Date: Sat, 25 Jun 1994 10:29:04 -0400 (EDT)
From: Andrea Austin <3AJA1@QUCDN.QUEENSU.CA>
Subject: feminist fairy tales
          I agree with Georgia that we needn't necessarily throw the old
tales out altogether, that we can read them "with different eyes." Hans
Christian Anderson is one of my favourites, too, primarily for "The Little
Mermaid."  I haven't set eyes on it in years, so I hope my memory isn't
faulty, but I remembered the ending to the story being that the Prince
marries the dark-haired girl, never knowing that it actually was the
mermaid who saved him, and she, of course, can't tell him that it was her.
I have always, ever since childhood, thought that the moral of the story
was that, if you give up everything for a man (voice, talent, family, home,
and so on) you'll be sorry.  I was upset when the Disney version came out
and, from what I've heard, has a happily-ever-after ending; I haven't seen
it, so maybe I really shouldn't comment, but is it teaching our little girls
that if they just sacrifice enough, if they just give enough, their prince
will whisk them away happily ever after?  I thought that their changes were
a definite step backward.
        This is assuming, of course, that I remembered the HCA ending right;
if not, it (still) makes for an example of how we can make the tales our own,
reading as revision.  Along this line, I'd also like to point out that many
feminist scholars work on literary texts by male authors and find much to
enjoy in the works, as well as presenting new interpretations (e.g., the
feminist portrait of The Wife of Bath, in _The Canterbury Tales_).  This, I
think, is part of what Judith Fetterly is urging in _The Resisting Reader_,
and more than one scholar since has studied the reception among female
readers of male authors' works, showing how the women change the story, or
interpret the story differently.
         Of course, we still need feminist re-writings, and feminist originals
of fairy tales and children's stories; we need every resource available to us.
In this vein, I had wanted to mention esp. _The Paper Bag Princess_, but am
afraid I've forgotten the name of the author.  Could any WMST subscribers help
me out with this?
                                                Andrea Austin
                                                Dept. of English
                                                Queen's University

Date: Mon, 27 Jun 1994 10:43:09 -0400
From: "Patricia Christian @ Sociology & Anthropology"
Subject: fairy tales
I have to agree with Georgia NeSmith that there is a lot of value in fairy
tales that I am not ready to throw out.  I too was a voracious fairy tale
reader -- favorites were Kate Crackernuts (who cooly rescued her sister,
whose head had been turned into a sheep's head, while cracking nuts and
eating them), and The Little Goose Girl -- but they also gave me evidence
of women's oppression throughout time and across space, so that as I became
aware of the women's movement, as a twelve year old, it was clear to me
what the problem was.  I judged the character's actions and elected to
admire them or not; Sleeping Beauty was NOT heroine material, many others
were smart and spunky and did the best they could in their situations.
While we don't own a t.v. because we don't want our children exposed to the
images of women (and men and everything else shown there!) we do read them
fairy tales and have begun to purchase the Andrew Lang series for their
eventual enjoyment.  I guess I trust them enough to make the same judgments
I did about the characters.
We also own the Father Goose book, which I must say I found insipid, and is
not among my children's favorites...
Fun discussion, great topic.
Pat Christian, Canisius College

Date: Mon, 27 Jun 1994 11:09:00 -0400 (EDT)
From: Mary Lanser <MEL5@PSUVM.PSU.EDU>
Subject: feminist fairy tales
I would like to thank Andrea and Georgia for two very thoughtful responses
to my posts on feminist re-writes of fairy and folk tales. I asked the question
 for several  reasons. I am not particularly averse to re-writing any part of
 any culture, but it must be done so as to preserve both the old and revised
  tradition. I think that new stories reflecting the contemporary awarenesses
 of women are more powerful as feminist tools than re-writes of prior periods.
 I am most familiar with a broad base of European stories written in English
and African folk tales, riddles, and proverbs, also written in English. I am
struck by the violence of those traditions, in general, and am bemused by the
re-writing that has already been done. Is anyone aware of a culture whose
story-telling tradition is less violent?
                                        mary lanser

Date: Mon, 27 Jun 1994 16:07:38 -0400
Subject: feminist fairy tales
"Is anyone aware of a culture whose story-telling tradition is less
        That is the nature of the fairy tale. Folk and fairy tales were
told in order to instruct and interpret belief systems and basic concerns
of humans. One of the forces to be dealt with both in oneself and in others
is the tendency toward violence. In a very real sense these tales were a kind
of moral tale to inspire dealing with strong feelings including violence.
What is happening now is the re-discovery of tales that were not as
influenced by the patriarchal order. Also contemporary writers and
illustrators are setting out tales that respect all cultures and both
genders. See for example: Le Guin's A Ride on the Red Mares Back and
DePaola's Stega Nona stories. John Steptoe wrote Mufaro's Beautiful
Daughters. and for a contemporary story Tar Beach by Faith Ringgold is
a joy. All of the above will be in any public library children's room
along with many more. Jane

Date: Tue, 28 Jun 1994 10:22:36 -0400 (EDT)
From: Ramona Morris <REMORRIS@VM1.YORKU.CA>
Subject: feminist fairy tales
The Paper Bag Princess is written by Robert Munsch.  I think his children's
stories are among the best I've seen in my 20 months of motherhood, others tell
 me that the audio tapes can be annoying though.  See also, "I love you forever
"  the story of a mother and son also by Munsch.
Ramona Morris
Dept. of Sociology, Small Groups Lab
2060 Vari Hall
York University
4700 Keele Street
North York, Ontario, Canada, M3J 1P3

Date: Tue, 28 Jun 1994 14:37:49 -0500
I have written and produced, in collaboration with Barbara J. Lien (composer),
2 act musical based on Little Red Ridding Hood, Cinderella, Snow White, and
Beauty (of the Beast). The first act retell the stories with a feminist view
of what they are about. The secon act finds them thrown together in the woods
after having left their respective homes and/or prince Charmings because they
all got married for the wrong reasons. The rest is about their trying to get
"Out of the Woods" (title) and the obstacles put in their way by the "powers
that be" who find it more convenient to keep them in the woods where they
belong. It's very theatrical, practical for low budget production, and very
funny. (At least the audience laughs a lot.)
If anyon is interested in seeing a script, let me know.

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