Simplia was muttering as she sifted through the most recent batch of responses to the most recent question posed to Vasilisa the Wise.
Sagacia gave her friend a double take.
“Gender bias?! What do you know about gender bias?”
“I know that if everybody who responds to Searching in Sitges is a woman, and all the fairy tales they recommend star female characters, something’s out of whack, and it’s probably our fault.”
“Not necessarily. We’re not filtering out responses from men. Or about male characters. They just haven’t shown up yet. Let me see what you just collected from the Fairy Tale Lobby outbox.”
Simplia handed her the sheaf of letters.
Barra the Bard wrote,
What about Kate Crackernuts? Once her own mother puts a spell on Kate’s half-sister Katherine, … (Kate) helps her escape, takes care of her while they wander, finds a job and a safe place for Katherine, tends the sick youth, finds the solution to his illness as well as how to restore her sister’s beauty. I love her strength!
And what about the Scottish tale,” The Lass Wha Cadna Be Frighted”? When her betrothed loses his boat and is badly hurt she nurses him back to health. Knowing that he is now able to go back to sea…on another’s boat, instead of railing against their wedding being postponed, she…sets off inland to find a job herself. …(S)he is clever enough to … gain her own dream of wedding her beloved with a tidy sum to replace his boat.
…(T)here are so many such stories. Just because they are not well-known makes me want to tell them all the more!
There was one from Reilly McCarron
There are many ‘unknown’ fairy tale heroines who have been culturally edited out of literature and thus out of mind (for most). Yet there are also well known heroines who have been misrepresented over time.
Take Little Red for instance. In an early version recorded in 19th century rural France … the girl tricks the wolf and escapes by her own wits alone. (This story contains cannibalism, a striptease, predatory seduction, defecation, tickery, and female heroism, and reminds us fairy tales were once meant for adult audiences!) Perrault most likely drew on this tale for his Le Petit Chaperon Rouge, which he wrote to amuse the French court, and he allowed the wolf to eat Little Red with a moral attached — little girls (or courtly women) should beware of predators. The Grimms changed the ending again…. One way or another, the heroine is lost in the enchanted woods.
“Those don’t sound anything like that Little Golden Book my mom used to read to me at bedtime,” said Simplia.
Priscilla Howe wrote
How about the wife in the Nixie in the Mill (Grimm)? She realized that her husband has been taken by the water sprite. After railing at the pond, she dreams of the crone who will help her and then when she wakes, she pays attention to her dreams and finds the crone in real life. Yes, she pays attention to her inner voice. She follows all the crone’s instructions, despite her grief (I also love that crone). She is brave AND practical, becoming a shepherd when it’s clear she needs to find a way to live.
“And speaking of resourceful heroines,” said Sagacia, “How ‘bout that young lady who almost married the serial killer?”
Simplia said, “This is about fairy tales. Not slasher movies.”
“Yeah, well, if Julie Herrera is to be believed, they’re not that far removed from each other.”
Julie Herrera’s letter read —
I would like to nominate “Mr. Fox,” especially the way Connie Reagan-Blake tells it. All that blood and gore, but a female who ventures into the Wood and lives to tell the tale, although she does have a little help from her brother in the end. (Isn’t that what family is for?) But Mr. Fox is “found out” and can no longer endanger young women who stray too far into the Wood.
“Read Marion Leeper’s,” said Simplia. “I suppose if I were a girly girl it would give me hope.”
“Really?” said Sagacia. “In that case I will! She says…
Dear Vassilissa —
Wise and beautiful heroine, stick to your guns! Don’t feel that you have to go out killing dragons and wearing out shoeleather on endless adventures. If girl heroines want to do that, it’s just fine with me, but the sorts of stories they have are often more like boy stories than girl stories. Girl heroines can make their adventures right at home, using their brains and their hands, just like you do.
Also, Vassilissa, – and you may be shocked by this – you don’t have to marry the prince at the end if you don’t want. In my stories I often let the audience choose whether the heroine will marry the prince, or whether she will go on having adventures. So far nobody’s said ‘But she can do both!’
When Sagacia had finished the final response, she said, “Well. That’s a lot of food for thought. We’d better get these letters posted.”
“Can we stop at the library first?” asked Simplia. “I need to spend some serious time there with the 398’s. Who know? Maybe I’ll find a fairy tale with a strong male character.”