{In Her Own Words} Goldilocks and the Streak of Anarchy

You know Anna K. The incredibly wise, insanely eloquent and ultimately awesome girl we get to call a friend. Yes, her. Here she is…

In the summer of 2007 I was invited to a barbecue hosted by my husband’s then-boss.  He wasn’t my husband then, but I did love him, and so it was with a sense of duty that I trudged along in order to score underhand Girlfriend Points and get free food. Upon my arrival I was leapt upon by a 7 year old girl and her comrades.  I panicked.

Luckily there was a big box of “Child-Friendly Items” placed in the middle of the lawn, towards which I gravitated, seeking inspiration. There were finger puppets. I was immediately ordered to narrate the story of Little Red Riding Hood.

Most of us are a sucker for a fairy tale.  Anything with forests, and castles, perfect weather or a storm, floor-sweeping dresses and stallions and life and death scenarios…and I’m a goner.  I couldn’t quite remember how Little Red Riding Hood went, exactly, but I threw myself into my role and embellished the bits I’d forgotten.  It was a resounding success.  We moved on to other fairytales.  I changed the endings so the heroines were women I could relate to, where the stories became darker and more complex.  More kids showed up.  So did some grown-ups.  We had discussions.  Was the wolf a victim of circumstance?  Should Snow White have held out for Prince Charming and why weren’t the seven dwarves good enough?

My point is this.  Yes, the heroines in fairytales are beautiful, kind and compassionate.  So what?  They are also naive, lack ambition, and any sort of wit or savvy to get them out of tricky situations.  Instead, they are always saved.  In fairytales, female characters that show signs of ambition, of wanting to be Queen, of choosing a different path, are evil.  The woman who shows cruelty to the helpless heroine gets defeated in the end.  That is the way it has always been.

And so it begins.  These are the lessons kids take with them.  That the only two types of women that exist are the helpless, or the malicious.  Good women do not scheme.  They do not get themselves out of thorny situations with a crowbar and razor-sharp intellect.  They do not mess up so badly that all they can do is say sorry, they never see the beauty is getting it wrong, their fate is only ever a consequence of the actions of somebody else.  They do not save the day, instead they wait to be saved.   And invariably, they are saved by a Prince who is handsome and charming  and who completes them.  Anything that runs contrary to this is wrong.

I get that girls and boys deserve a good story.  I get that you can’t escape gender stereotyping, and I understand that a fairytale is a grossly simplified version of the world.  I understand that a fairytale is about a story, about the excitement and the adventure and about good overcoming evil.  But please, please, give those fairytales a  twist.  A real twist.

I know that it’s not entirely appropriate to suggest to a bunch of kids that perhaps the princess didn’t want the frog to turn into a prince, and that Cinderella may have enjoyed the feeling of subversion, or that, you know what, I’m rooting for the wolf. I know this. But I can’t help feeling that I wish I’d had the chance, when I was a kid, to hear about fairytales with flawed heroines I can aspire to. For a heroine to make the wrong choice, but make the best of it. For a princess to be glorious in her imperfection. For Prince Charming to fall for Cinders because of her dirty laugh and her sense of adventure rather than her glossy tresses and killer body.

I want to introduce new fairytales. Let’s keep the stories and crank it up a notch.  It’s not easy, navigating being a woman in today’s world where we have everything and yet still deserve so much more. Give me a princess who can rescue herself, who learns that the world isn’t split into good and evil, and that shades of grey are really all we have. Give me a Sleeping Beauty who thought her prince was a bit of a muppet for waiting for 100 years.  Or a Cinderella who, rather than be eternally kind and forgiving to her abusers, actually has a spine and refuses to take it any longer.   

Kids can handle the idea that a fairy story isn’t cut and dry.  That a story should raises questions rather than yawn…yet another princess rides off on a horse with Prince Charming into the sunset.  And maybe, just maybe, those kids could grow up understanding that women have a choice.  That neither life, nor your gender, is a pre-defined script.       
 
That’s what being a woman means, to me.  It’s about carving a role for myself in this world with a very specific set of skills and ambitions, and also a specific set of weakness peculiar to me and only me.  It’s about doing what I can with what I have, and not being told when to slow down, when to jump, when and what to choose.  It’s about doing it in a world where the role of women is immensely complex, dependent on time and circumstance and biology but also ambition.  And in order to do that and do it well, I want some damn good role models.  Who did not follow the fairytale script.  I want them from a young age.  And sorry Cinders, but you just don’t cut the mustard.

In Her Own Words: In Celebration of International Women’s Day 2011” was created to share and celebrate the experiences of women from many walks of life. All day Tuesday, March 8th Any Other Wedding and One Cat Per Person will feature posts written by a collective of intelligent, passionate and opinionated women bloggers from the United States and the United Kingdom. The conversation begins here, but it does not have to end here. We encourage you to comment and create dialogue as well as visit their respective blogs. Be sure to stop by Any Other Wedding and One Cat Per Person throughout the day to read all of the posts in the series. For more information about International Women’s Day, visit http://www.internationalwomensday.com/



Banner: Joshua Gomby
Categories: International Women's Day, Our Favourite Posts, Written By Anna
18 interesting thoughts on this

17 Comments

  1. Posted March 8, 2011 at 1:08 pm | Permalink

    I love this!! Such a brilliant way to look at the humble fairy tale and something, i confess, i never really thought of – although being a step mum I did always feel there was more to us than simply being 'wicked'!!
    Here's to the heroine who rescues the prince for a change!

  2. Posted March 8, 2011 at 1:11 pm | Permalink

    Apparently Disney agree with you Anna! I saw a story the other day that they're not going to make any more 'princess' films.

  3. Posted March 8, 2011 at 2:01 pm | Permalink

    I could not acree more. There are a few books that would fit your bill – even though they're for kids, I recommend them. You must know the Roald Dahl Revolting Rhymes? Also, there's a great book called The Wrestling Princess and Other Stories. I read it again, and again, and again when I was a kid. I'm going to read it again this weekend, inspired by your post.

  4. Posted March 8, 2011 at 2:46 pm | Permalink

    Anna K. You are amazing. What wise wise words. I think you should write a childrens book with a real heroine, one that is brave and independent and wise….it would sell like hot cakes.

    Charlotte xxx

  5. Posted March 8, 2011 at 3:08 pm | Permalink

    cut. the. mustard. brilliant. Anna, this whole post is brilliant.

  6. Posted March 8, 2011 at 3:09 pm | Permalink

    Oh! And. I got this old-school fairy tale book from the library in college and the end of Little Red Riding Hood in that book was "And whether she lived or didn't is of no circumstance to you or I." WHAT?! That's how all of them ended…cliffhanger fairy tales.

  7. Posted March 8, 2011 at 3:21 pm | Permalink

    This is fantastic, Anna, I love it! Completely agree – I used to hate how fairly tale heroines were never proactive and just waited for the men to sort themselves out. Not great role models at all.

  8. Posted March 8, 2011 at 3:51 pm | Permalink

    You are so right Anna. We really should be teaching the women of the future that it is up to them to go out there and get what they want. Not wait for the (idealised non existent) perfect man to bring it to them. And can I second Charlotte's idea. Write a book please.

    Also, Lizzie – WHAT?! Do they really end them like that?!

  9. Posted March 8, 2011 at 4:43 pm | Permalink

    Four words – The Paper Bag Princess.
    Three great female bloggers who had the idea to organise one little corner of the blogsphere.
    Two authors – Babette Cole and Tony Ross.
    One perfect post Anna.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Paper_Bag_Princess
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Babette_Cole

  10. Posted March 8, 2011 at 7:45 pm | Permalink

    Amazing post. And this line — "It's not easy, navigating being a woman in today's world where we have everything and yet still deserve so much more" — resonated so much with me.

  11. Anna K
    Posted March 8, 2011 at 8:54 pm | Permalink

    Thank you ladies! I'm really glad you've enjoyed it. Lizzie, when I read your comment #2 I nearly choked on my baguette. I am outraged!

    I am LOVING everyone's anti-fairytale book and author suggestions. I am going to get them all out from the library this weekend and have an anti-Prince Charming moment.

    You lot have put a massive village-idiot grin on my face. I am now going to go and write a kids book. No, seriously. I am.

  12. Posted March 8, 2011 at 9:48 pm | Permalink

    Anna K, I appear to be following you through these posts and commenting right after you – I'm not stalking you, honest!

    Although, having read this post, I might start stalking you now. And whether you live or die is of no circumstance to JUST KIDDING!

    Talking of Disney, I actually saw the Princess and the Frog recently and (despite the title) I, er, actually kind of liked it – her dream is to own a restaurant, not marry a prince; he falls in love with her when she looks like a frog, based on her personality not (presumably) her froggy good looks; not to mention the fact that the heroine is black (progress!). So, perhaps hope is not entirely lost.

  13. Posted March 8, 2011 at 10:36 pm | Permalink

    I risk sounding like a total fangirl when it comes to you, Mrs K. I'm mostly certain you're perfect.

    Luckily, I know about your penchant for the MTV Movie Awards Best Kiss 2005 YouTube clip.

    Nearly perfect, then!

    And I'd like the first children's book off the presses, please. Signed. Ta.

    Seriously though, if every woman that has read this vows to tell a 'modern' fairytale to their child/niece/nephew/baby sibling-a whole generation could grow up knowing that Rapunzel just really needed a haircut and that Prince Charming actually needed his own Prince Charming. It could be fabulous!

    x

  14. Anonymous
    Posted March 9, 2011 at 2:18 pm | Permalink

    Try reading Angela Carter's 'The Bloody Chamber' . . .

  15. Posted March 9, 2011 at 3:00 pm | Permalink

    Wow, such a brilliant post!

    As anonymous said above {and I'm sure you know} Angela Carter is the goddess of subversive fairytales! Her's are full of flawed characters and not so perfect happy endings.

    Children's books and films are much more progressive these days, it's so refreshing! {Shrek is kind of perfect!}

    I really want to read more of your superb writing, Anna K, {and not just comments} whether it be a children's fairytale, novel, or blog! :) x

  16. Anonymous
    Posted March 9, 2011 at 3:27 pm | Permalink

    Love this Anna K!

    I was watching Knight and Day (don't judge) the other day with the Husband. I was shouting at the screen and at Cameron Diaz's character. We all know she can kick some serious butt (Charlie's Angels anyone) but in this she was stupid, vapid and banal. I was SO annoyed.

    Bring back Buffy I say.

    Hols
    x

  17. Posted March 9, 2011 at 4:44 pm | Permalink

    Great post. Although I must admit I am sad to hear that Disney are stopping the Princess films. Why not just make the Princess a bit feistier?

    Julia

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Hello! We're Clare, Aisling and Anna and welcome to a corner of the world where smart, flawed, real women talk about the bigger picture; about their experiences, stories and opinions on all aspects of being a woman today, from marriage to feminism to pretty, too.

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