Why stories are important

Over at blackfeminism.org, tiffany points to a story on Yahoo! News about fairy tales and domestic violence.

She goes on to ask:

…it does raise an interesting question about the role of stories and storytelling in shaping the roles of women (and men). After all, storytelling — whether in print, television, movies or theater form — is the primary way we learn cultural values and expectations.

That makes me wonder, what fairy tales are out there that go against prevailing notions of femininity and masculinity? I’ve found a couple of kids’ books that might fit the bill – The Paper Bag Princess comes to mind immediately.

But what about stories that get passed on orally? Or stories that end up as Disney movies? What ones of those resist traditional gender stereotypes? How might we begin to change the stories we tell children so that the kind of conclusions found in the study are transformed? How can we help girls grow up to be strong women, who don’t try to “live happily ever after” if there is something wrong in a relationship?

4 thoughts to “Why stories are important”

  1. Have you read any collections of fairy tales edited by Jack Zipes? Don’t Bet on the Prince is a really good one.

  2. Your post made me think of Robin McKinley’s “girls who do things,” concept behind Beauty, The Blue Sword, etc. These efforts to clearly place young women in powerful roles within the folk/fairy tale tradition was very much needed at the time. I recall my own daughter’s disgust with the typical female characters of children’s literature.

    With that said, I would also advocate reading many different kinds of stories from many different cultures. The “girl” is not always hopeless and helpless (Think of other modern retellings such as The Legend of the Bluebonnet, The Talking Eggs, etc.) I think the damsel in distress idea is more common in the Perrault and Andersen stories, and those from Celtic, African, and American traditions can be used to balance out the bias and still allow the “classics” to be shared as well.

    It’s good to keep this issue out there even though things have gotten better.

  3. Realistically speaking, if a stereotype book could keep me in a bad relationship, I could read “Rags to Riches” to get me out of it. True people tend to focus on stories they can relate to and marginally, a light at the end of the tunnel, new perspective reading list might have some impact. To be recognized as opportunity, as oppossed to fantasy, real life changes have to be on the horizon, usually by way of family or support groups. The appeal of the stereotypes is to get support from like causes, which in itself preforms a function as well as a dysfunction.

    Good luck and best wishes.

  4. well see, once we go through onr or two hellacious relationships, all the fairytales get erased from our head and we deal with having a ‘not so happy ever after’ life and realize we’re happy and just fine without any ‘i need meds because i’m depressed and can’t admit it’ prince charmings. oh. did i just post this on a public webblog? oops. 😉 we could also force disney/pixar to put out some movies that reverse gender stereotypes regardless of what creature they are featuring….notice the newer pieces still have strong male characters who rescue everyone?

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