Hero, schmero!” Simplia blurted. “I think we’re pondering the imponderable.”

Thinking about the division of labor between heroes and heroines, about the screen time and talking parts allotted to each gender, about exploits and exploitations — it was all making her brain hurt.

Sagacia asked, “Do you even know what imponderable means?”

“I know what I think it should mean,” said Simplia. “It should mean that the more you try to pin an idea down the squishier it becomes. I think Searching in Sitges has sent us on a goose chase. We’re zeroed in on male heroes and then deciding if they really are heroic enough to be counted and if they appear in the right genre of folklore, and … well … it feels to me as though we might be missing something.”

A bowl full of walnuts was set out on a table for guests of the Fairy Tale Lobby. Simplia took a couple of them in her hand and cracked one against the other. Inside, instead of something edible, she found something readable. Another missive responding to Searching in Sitges. This one was from Flossy Squashblossom. It read:

Dear Searching in Sitges —
To my way of thinking, characters in fairy tales are like characters in dreams: they are all different aspects of you — the listener, the reader, the storyteller, the dreamer — regardless of your gender.
What does it matter whether the protagonist is reported to be male or female? Ditto for the antagonist? It seems a false distinction, created by illustrators and animators and people in the business of selling entertainment to other people.

Our conversations tend to focus on the injustice done to womanhood whenever interpreters of fairy tales portray female characters as weak and passive. We stamp our feet and demand stories about warrior women and clever gretchens, as if kicking butt is the gold standard for measuring strength.
At this moment, in this world you and I inhabit, I would like more stories, more movies, more portrayals, more illustrations of male characters who embrace gentleness and patience, more pacifism and less aggression. Perhaps this recently discovered treasure of Bavarian tales will be rich with such male characters. If that’s the case, I think both genders will be well-served.”

As Simplia tucked this final letter into the envelope addressed to Searching in Sitges, she gave Sagacia a nod of agreement and remarked, “That’s what I mean — what she said.”

Grimm’s Fairy Tales. Helen Stratton, illustrator. London: Blackie & Son, 1903.

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