Wednesday, February 8, 2017

The Standard of Stereotypes

Feminist Fairy Tales are something I only discovered when I signed up for the writing intensive class at Point Park University. The weeks leading up to this semester, I sat wondering about what a title like this could hold for literature. Having just come from a literature class that was driven by famous male authors and probably the least feminist discussions I’ve ever endured, I really wondered if these tales would hold up to what I envisioned. People asked me what these tales were and now finally, I have the knowledge to show people just what a feminist fairy tale really is.

To me, a feminist fairy tale is a fairy tale that has been taken from it’s original context or version and has been filtered through a feminist lens. This can mean that:

  • The story has been altered to give a different presentation of female and male representation within the story, with an emphasis on the female characters. 
  • The author has taken the chance to highlight the portions of the story that are “un-feminist” and have magnified them to expose the need to alter these parts of our culture and our teachings to people
The goal of feminist fairy tales is to expose and analyze the way in which these stories affect our culture. We are reflecting on the problematic pieces of the story that shapes the way girls think, feel, and live. The authors want to start a discussion and to not allow fairy tales as they are; they want to rip them open and examine exactly how these fairy tales keep the world ticking in the same cultural patterns.

I believe that to take a feminist approach to these fairy tales, you have to start by understanding that while these tales are meant to take place in far away lands, the meanings and the impacts are closer than they seem. We are not talking about the impacts on little girls or women from that era; we are talking about how these stories continually impact women, men, and children.

Once we have a grasp that these meanings are on the forefront of our current society, we can begin to unravel what pieces of these stories lead to each negative outcome, stereotype, or expectation that people are forced to face. We can then twist these strands to expose the story from the inside out. Instead of telling a general tale, we are telling the impact of the original tale so people have the chance to see just how stories are like reality.

These feminist fairy tales are a story of traditional tales with a twist that allows us to see how the tale reflects and influences our society, as well as allowing us to confront these issues.

As for feminist fairy tale poems, we are looking at a way for authors to express their feelings and attitudes regarding these fairy tales. It’s no longer just about exposing them; it’s about reworking them into a dark tale that dives deeper past the surface to examine specific parts or themes within these stories. They unravel these stories even further, but instead of just discussing in length about the way in which these tales are woven, they choose to show you how a piece of the story fits into our own society. Feminist fairy tale poems are the artistic version of a feminist fairy tale that can provide the audience with more imagery and detail, new perspectives, or even new lessons. 

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Feminist Fairy Tale Poems:

Beautiful & Cruel by: Sandra Cisneros

Sandra Cisneros was born in Chicago and eventually attended school at Loyola University of Chicago where she received a B.A. in English. She went on to get her Masters in creative writing at the University of Iowa. She is a published author with a variety of chapbooks, short stories, and two novels. She has received many honors for her work (Cisneros).

This is probably the farthest from a feminist fairy tale poem of all of my choices. While it is poetic in style, it is technically an excerpt from The House on Mango Street. Of my choices, this is also the broadest overview of what I have curated for you. In this, Cisneros discusses the impact that fairy tales have had on the character. While she does not explicitly state that these self-inflicted standards stem from fairy tales, it is clear from the imagery that that is what she is referencing. She is discussing how in these stories, the “pretty” woman are the ones who are rescued. However, this character is attempting to break free of this plot line. She wants to be seen outside of those standards and to create her own path in life, rather than fall victim to the same path as most women do.

Tiana from Princess and the Frog by: Jirkavinse
Lessons from a Mirror by: Thylias Moss

Thylias Moss grew up in Cleveland, Ohio. She studied at Oberlein College as well as the University of New Hampshire. She established Limited Fork Poetics, otherwise known as “poams,” or the product of art making. Starting in 1993, she became a professor at the University of Michigan. She has also published children’s books as well as a memoir of her childhood (Thylias).

In “Lessons from a Mirror,” Moss focuses on the traditional fairy tale. She focuses her attention on Snow White and the reflections on the lack of race diversity. This lack of diversity begins to construct the beauty standards by which girls, specifically woman of color, see themselves. The source of the stereotypes created in Disney begin to stem from the narrative’s featured in Moss’s work. Moss tries to examine how fairy tales construct a woman’s view of herself and while it is not necessarily original, it begins to unveil just where fairy tales create their stereotypes and standards.

The Sea Witch - Art by Asurocks
Dear Ursula by: Melissa May

Melissa May is from Oklahoma. She is a performance poet that just so happens to be a reformed preacher. She used to mentor young writers for the Red Dirt Poet Slam and she now works at a shelter (May).

In “Dear Ursula,” May discusses how Disney eventually begins to market Ursula as a tinier figure. They keep her evil personality but they begin to slim her down in promotional materials. May is expressing her anger and frustration with a society that does not accept full figured women. She is upset that Disney only pushes the evil witch as Ursula’s character rather than allowing Ursula to continually accept her figure. In a character that could give so many girls confidence, they are only given the evil witch who can do no good. She could be more than that and it seems that May is approaching these fairy tales in a similar fashion to what we have seen with Wicked and other works of art like it. We are taking the side of the “bad guy” to show that there is good within the villains. That they are more than the actions taken from the perspective of the hero/heroine. That they can be more than a stereotype.

Fairy Tales by: Vogue Robinson

Vogue Robinson attended school at San Diego State University where she received a Bachelor of Arts degree for English. She also was a graduate student at San Diego State, where she studied secondary education and teaching. Currently, she is working at XYZ Professionals as well as a performer and organizer for the Battle Born Slam Team (LinkedIn). She has been featured at a variety of conferences and schools (Wordpress).

In “Fairy Tales,” Robinson discusses the way Disney treats diversity and people of color within their works of fiction. She talks about how they enforce stereotypes as well as stealing parts of stories in order to sculpt their own versions of the tales. Rather than trying to revise the fairy tales, she is exposing the flaws that these tales create. She wants to show that she and many others are not fooled by the merchandise of “diverse” princesses. She is choosing to push past these own stereotypes in her own life and show that she can be more than the stereotype Disney has formed. She is showing the feminist fairy tale community that it is not hard to see past the movies we are shown as children; we can fight back and understand the flaws that we have been force-fed.
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Unfortunately, many of the fairy tales begin to build these ideas of what a women is meant to be; what she is meant to look like. Many writers use poetry as a way of describing just how deep the imagery of these tales are burned into their skulls. These poems were chosen because they discuss the aspect of beauty in women from the angle of race, body image, and how beauty plays into your role in society. As someone who has worked for many years to try and make the people around me love themselves, these poems mean a lot. Women should not have to suffer in the way that they do just because they were taught by society and reminded with fairy tales that they did not fit the mold of the perfect woman.

I believe that these poems are the starting point for a revolution. They are introducing characters and ideas that are breaking the mold. However, these voices are not always heard by anyone that is not actively seeking them out. I would call for the continuation of writing, and creating workshops in which people tell their own experiences with fairy tales. It is not enough to just have these poems read in a classroom; these poems need to find their way out into people’s social media timelines in order for people to understand the implications that a “children’s” story has on women. These poems do enough to get the ball rolling for me, but I can’t educate society about these issues on my own.