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women in literature

By nanwang07 Feb 05, 2014 1763 Words
Women in literature
The emergence of the genre of feminist rewrites of fairy tales that began in the 1970s with particular attention to the impact of the women’s movement on the development of the genre. The rallying shot that galvanized the debate was the assertion by Lurie in her 1970 “Fairy Tale Liberation” and 1971 “Witches and Fairies” that strong female characters could be found in fairy tales (Haase 1). Why those feminist scholars emerge to rewrite the fairy tales, and how meaningful is it? From my perspective I’m going to argue that Feminists re-writing of fairy tales have identified problematic themes of unrealistic standards for women, female passivity, and restriction of roles for women to marriage and motherhood, which has challenged the traditional patriarchal values. Feminism authors’ rewriting tales aim to meet the needs of a society of children in want of equal self-perception about gender and encourage women to study the tales for purposes of liberation and constructing new identities. A child’s first exposure to literature is often a fairy tale, frequently a derivative of one of the classics by the Brothers Grimm or Charles Perrault. In the U.S. many states mandate the study of fables, folktales, and fairy tales in their curricula (for example, the statewide curricula of North Carolina, California, and Rhode Island emphasize this for third grade), preschools often include fairytales in their curricula, and preschool also use folktales and fairytales programs aimed at developing early literacy habits. These tales, which are many years old, are a basic part of the intricate layering of stories and influences that perpetuate and inform the cultural norms surrounding the world the child lives in (Parsons 135). The cultural norms represented in fairy tales play a large part in the socialization processes of the children who read them. The shared beliefs about gender roles held by the child’s society contained within these cultural norms. The development of a gender identity is integral to a child’s self-perception. Even more problematic was the realization that these common cultural metaphors and repetitive models of female passivity were being imprinted on the child’s mind while very young. Ruth Bottigheimer’s 1980-1985 study showed how Grimm’s revisions “weakened once strong female characters, demonized male power, imposed a male perspective on stories voicing women’s discontents, and rendered heroines powerless by depriving them of speech, all in accord with the social values of their time”(cited in Haase 11). Thus, I think it became imperative to rewrite fairy tales to reflect more appropriate coping behaviors for females. Fairy tales influence children in developing gender identity immensely, so it is important to examine the messages that are being transmitted. It has long been recognized that the traditional European canon of fairy tales are tales that emphasize the patriarchal values of society, and those tales are still surviving today. Marcia Lieberman explained, “Millions of women must surely have formed their psycho-sexual self-concepts and their ideas of what they could or could not accomplish, what sort of behavior would be rewarded, and of the nature of reward itself, in part from their favorite fairy tales” (Walker 47). From my point of view, as a woman, the revolution of reexamining women identity is imperative. Patriarchal values are cruel to women, because those make women feel being discriminated from childhood. Women might regard themselves as the weak, which might make their life depressive and make them submit to men all the time. Fairy tales in the patriarchal tradition portray women as weak, submissive, dependent, and self-sacrificing while men are powerful, active, and dominant. Within this socio-political and historical perspective, early feminists (1950s and 1960s) examined the roles of women embedded in the folktales and fairy tales that have survived and found them to be “an unfortunate source of negative female stereotypes and of the many socializing forces that discouraged females from realizing their full human potential”(Stone 229). Andrea Dworkin summarized this position: There are two definitions of woman [in fairy tales]. There is the good woman. She is a victim. There is the bad woman. She must be destroyed. The good woman must be possessed. The bad woman must be killed, or punished. Both must be nullified. . . . [the ending of these tales] tells us that happiness for a woman is to be passive, victimized, destroyed, or asleep. . . . It tells us that the happy ending is when we are ended, when we live without our lives, or not at all. (Dworkin 49) These feminists “saw women as artificially separated from and wrongly considered unequal to men.” During the late 1970s and 1980s, feminism evolved into the feeling that “women were naturally separate from men and rightly superior,” and rewritten folktales and fairy tales claiming to be “feminist” often simply reversed the normal gender stereotypes. For example, Sandra M. Gilbert and Susan Gubar’s “The Queen’s Looking Glass” is a fantastic version to reverse the traditional gender values in fairy tales. By using some relevant literary examples, I’m going to demonstrate that the authors of the rewritten version aimed to encourage women to find their own identities and liberation. Sandra M. Gilbert and Susan Gubar have a substantial and sophisticated analysis of classic fairy tales by the stand of feminism. To illustrate what they mean, they provide a fascinating version of re-writing on the Grimms' Snow White. “The Queen’s Looking Glass” is the first chapter of The Madwomen in the Attic, which is the most influential literary criticism text of the 1970s. The text begins the discussion of women’s literary potential. The authors begin their discussion of women writers in 19th century by providing the historical context for them. They assert an argument that female writers faced discrimination in treatment and attitudes as they began to write seriously. Gilbert and Gubar’s argument also begins to answer the question that why there were no female equivalents of Aristotle, Homer, Chaucer, and Shakespeare throughout documented history. Then Gilbert and Gubar move their discussion to how male writers view their creations, as possessions, which also explains, why women themselves have been regarded as objects for men to possess over the time in history. They note that in19th century women were portrayed as two main images in both male’s and female’s writings. – The angel and the monster. The angel, they analyze, is usually an ideal representation of feminine-associated attributes like purity, submissiveness, and self-denial. The monster, conversely, has traits typically associated with masculine behaviors, like aggressiveness, independence, and the desire for fame, fortune and ambition. Thus, I think in order to get success in expressing women’s stories, female writers must navigate between these descriptions and construct new identities to redefine what women are. In order to illustrate what they mean, the authors finally analyze the Grimms’ fairy tale of “Little Snow White” to expose the assumptions and the double-standard sexist and definitions that go virtually ignored by most readers of “harmless” child’s tale. Through their analysis, we can see the pervasiveness of patriarchal values and definitions. In 1983 Ellen Cronan Rose’s Through “The Queen’s Looking Glass”: When Women Tell Fairy Tales examined three works by feminist authors with the purpose of understanding what happens when the mirror reflecting the patriarchy defined identity is broken and women strike out independently to find their own identities (Haase 23). From 1980 – 2000, there is another wave of revisions “emphasizing the breadth and diversity of women in fairy tales” from multiple cultures. A number of anthologies of fairy tales by and about women published in the 1980s-1990s including 1983 and 1993 editions of The Trials and Tribulations of Little Red Riding Hood by Jack Zipes. Zipes tracks the development of over thirty different versions demonstrating variant attitudes toward sexuality, gender roles, and power. Also included in this group was Angela Carter who published The Bloody Chamber. Carter highlighted multiple identities for women and centered around a female protagonists; she forces us to reexamine our ideology and challenges the perception of women as “passive, powerless, and subservient” (Rubinson 153). As we can see, more and more feminist writers emerged to write stand by women by challenging the traditional perception towards women, giving female new identities, encouraging them fight for liberty. Those authors might be encouraged by each other’s literatures, and lots of people could be influenced and encouraged by them, so I want to definitely say that rewriting wave was significant and helpful to reverse the restriction roles and traditional perception of women. Yes, we are not passive but active; we are not dependent on everything but we can make our own decisions; we can logically deal with things, but not always emotionally appear to madness. We are not only little girls grow up to housewives but we could be creative and ambitious. To sum up, children use fairy tales to identify cultural norms about the world in which they live. As fairy tales are often a child’s early exposure to gender identity and how it defines a character, these gender roles should be as realistic as possible. Feminism authors frequently claim the importance of giving voice, agency, and subjectivity to those who have previously been silenced and objectified, which challenges gender stereotypes and patriarchal ideologies and encourage women to study the tales for purposes of liberation and constructing new identities. But fairly, feminist authors shouldn’t exaggerate female power and despise male characters. For feminist fairy tales to meet the needs of a society of childr
en in want of fully realized, complicated characters, feminist fairy tales must be stories in which the main character is empowered regardless of gender. Work Cited

Hasse, Donald, ed. Fairy Tales and Feminism: New Approaches. Detroit: Wayne StateUniversity Press, 2004. 1-36. Feminist Fairy-Tale Scholarship. Print. Rubinson, Gregory J. The Fiction of Rushdie, Barnes, Winterson, and Carter. N.C: McFarland,2005. 147-86. Jefferson. Print. Bottigheimer, Ruth B. Rev. of Clever Maids: The Secret History of the Grimm Fairy Tales.Valerie Paradiz. 20.1. 2006. 127-31. Print. Carter, Angela. The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories. 5th ed. New York: Penguin Group,1993. Print. Walker, Nancy A. The Disobedient Writer. Austin: University of Taxes Press, 1955. 47.Print. Stone Kay, “Feminist Approaches to the Interpretation of 
Fairy Tales,” in Fairy Tales andSociety: Illusion, Allusion, and Paradigm, ed. by Bottigheimer, Ruth B. (Philadelphia:Univ.of Pennsylvania Pr., 1986), 229. Dworkin, Andrea. Woman Hating. New York: Dutton, 1974. 48–9. Print. Gilbert, Sandra M., and Susan Gubar. The Madwoman in the Attic. 2nd ed. New Haven: YaleUniversity Press, 2000. 3-44. the Queen's Looking Glass. Print. Linda T. Parsons, “Ella Evolving: Cinderella Stories and the Construction of Gender AppropriateBehavior,” Children’s Literature in Education 35, no. 2 (2004): 135.

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