Sunday, 19 February 2012

The stereotypical fairy tale woman

Question:  How do you write a fairy tale in a traditional style without resorting to sexist female stereotypes?

by arventur @ dA
I have been trying my hand at writing a fairy story. In truth I suppose it has more folk elements as there are no fairy tale stock characters like a soldier, witch, king or princess; but I have got a girl, and a girl who has agency. But is it possible, when writing in a traditional style, to evoke the mood or atmosphere without resorting to gender stereotypes?

The Tinder Box is a good example of a story containing female stereotypes - the two main women in this are the witch and the princess. The witch is slain at the beginning because she refuses to tell the soldier her secret. The princess is repeatedly transported, asleep, to the soldier's home. Neither has agency, and the witch's death reminds us how women were expected to stay in their place. 

My character does conform to some expectations - she wants to marry the man of her dreams, and she wants to create a happy home for her family. But she is active in bringing about the positive changes she wants in her life, showing she is able to think and make decisions for herself. Is this enough? Different people will always have different interpretations from their readings, and I've come to realise you'll never be able to please everybody.

What I do believe is that in this day and age, traditional writing style will not, for the most part, capture the attention it used to, particularly for adults. The old writing mantra, 'show, don't tell' doesn't appear to have been of as much importance in the days of Grimm or Anderson, but now readers want to hear the creak of the trees, the crunch of the snow, and the hawkers at the market. 

So if the style is changed, should the content stay the same? If the content is changed, should the style be left as it has been for hundreds of years? Do either need to be sacrificed? Does it matter? Does anyone really care?

I'd be interested to hear other people's thoughts on this - what is important in a modern day fairy tale?

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