Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Faux feminism

I've been thinking lately about feminism in fairy tale retellings, especially since I just wrote a guest post for Spinning Straw Into Gold on the subject of feminism in Beauty and the Beast, and how I think later generations will look back on this era of fairy tale history and roll their eyes and wonder why we were so obsessed with seeing everything as a sermon on gender roles and missing out on the other ways to read into fairy tales. Megan Reichelt of The Dark Forest summed up my feelings precisely in a recent post:

 "Modern interpretations have a faux-feminism, saying that all you have to do to empower women is have them swing a sword around. (See The Empowerment of Snow White). Should women have to "become masculine" to have power. Is wielding a sword (or fighting in general) masculine? Personally, I think if you have a weak female character whose only empowerment is having a sword, then yes, it is a sham. However, if the character herself is strong, no matter what she does, sword or knitting, she will be empowered."


  1. I agree. Especially as in a lot of retellings of traditional tales (Mirror Mirror springs to mind) the heroine only picks up a sword because her only options are fight or flight. It never seems to be just because she wants to or can. I, personally, would love to see someone brave enough to make a film about an empowered woman who chooses to knit rather than wave a sword around, it would be refreshing! (Though no doubt the critics wouldn't be happy with that either!)

    1. Or what about a girl who is raised in a society where women are warriors (Amazons?) and who chooses an alternate type of strength, like support, skill, or intelligence!

  2. Thanks Kristin! And I love your blog!

    A.L., Have you read Wild Swans? They should totally make a movie out of that!

  3. Hello. Good evening. I would like to offer my two cents worth. If you are talking about entertainment, I concur. However, historically any woman who had the audacity to think for herself, much less act on her own behalf would have been manacled, shackled and burned at the stake for being a wytch. Not to belittle your point but in Medieval times the type of weapons and armor used would have not allowed 99% of women to walk let alone fight. I think that women can, with modern weaponry, fight as well as a man if they can choose their engagement. This is of course an objective statement about a subjective matter. I think that in order to best “fight” one must pick and choose their “field”, as well their type of battle, to optimize the ability to be successful. Not all Fantasy Books rely on the Masculinization of women to be combatants, please read Terry Goodkind’s Book, Wizard’s First Rule. I think you will see through the different characters there are different strengths and weaknesses, but the fact that they only fight when provoked is not a pervasive element. I was unable to use Facebook to log this comment so … I am on Facebook if you would like to contact me. William Ross Tiffany

  4. Hello Anonymous-thanks for your insight. It's true that people today would be shocked at the oppresion of women that happened in many cultures, but treatment of women varied in different times and places, thankfully not ALL women throughout history were threatened with being burned at the stake, as many tragically were.

    Thanks for the book recommendation too-I do enjoy a fighting female heroine myself-some of my favorites are the heroines from Robin McKinley's "Hero and the Crown" and "The Blue Sword," as well as Buffy the Vampire Slayer. But at the same time, I'm very aware that I myself am not athletic, so while I respect girls that are, I'm glad there are other ways women can be respected. I don't mind a fighting female heroine, but I mind when that's all we end up seeing, just as I mind a complete lack of active female heroines. A character can be strong for one of many ways, including, but not limited to, physical prowess. One of my best friends is in the Air Force and I have a lot of respect for her and the service she does for our country, I am definitely not against female warriors.

    Thanks for commenting!

  5. Very interesting comment, William, and thank you for giving us perspective.

    It wouldn't have been likely for a woman to take up arms and fight for her loved ones or country like a man (poor Joan of Arc got a terrible deal, though it was her own government that betrayed her, not the common people). I think what we female fairy tale enthusiasts just want recognized is, that for all the lack of women and weapons in the historical middle ages, there were powerful and strong women all the same. I might venture even to say that it speaks to the resourcefulness of women that they found alternate ways of showing strength, making the best for themselves out of bad situations. c: