Change of Perspective

Musings on Writing, Reading, and Life Narratives

Fiction writers and literary critics speak of point of view. Social scientists are more likely to discuss perspective. But both of these terms refer to essentially the same construct: the consciousness behind the perception and narration of experience. Each individual’s point of view is unique, and point of view shapes the stories people tell to themselves and to others about themselves and their relationships with their environment. The same event narrated from two different perspectives will produce two different stories.

A change of perspective can expand our perception and reframe our thinking about our experiences. We can all benefit from an occasional change of perspective.

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Saturday, August 25, 2007

Feminist Fairy Tales

I spent last weekend in the Berkshires with friends. We ate lots of good food and attended two concerts at Tanglewood in Lenox, Massachusetts, summer home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. The Friday night concert included Duke Bluebeard’s Castle by Bela Bartok, and the Saturday night performance featured The Damnation of Faust by Hector Berlioz. After the Saturday performance one of my (female) friends said, “It was definitely not a good weekend for women.”

In the folk tales that inspired both of these exquisite musical compositions, women appear as nothing more than objects or pawns in the world of men.In the tale of Bluebeard, Judith, who originally hopes to bring light into the darkness and to dry the damp walls of the castle, ends up shut away in the castle with all the other women the duke has brutalized. And in the tale of Faust, when Mephistopheles wants to steal the man’s soul, he uses a beautiful woman, Marguerite, to tempt him. Granted, at the end of the story Marguerite is transported to heaven, but to get there she must be, after all, dead.

It’s time for a new perspective on the role of women in our folk tales and cultural mythology.

My friend and I were not, of course, the first to recognize this need. Rosemary Lake has written some feminist fairy tales and provides lots of information about other sources of similar material, along with suggestions about how this material can be used in the classroom. Nancy Keane provides a list of feminist fairy tales. And look here for an interesting article on the subversive value of feminist fairy tales. There are also a number of books available, such as Feminist Fairy Tales by Barbara G. Walker and Don't Bet on the Prince: Contemporary Feminist Fairy Tales in North America and England by Jack David Zipes.

In a related note, I have always found it interesting that mythology and folklore provide us with the archetype of the wicked stepmother, who secretly persecutes and schemes against her husband’s children by another woman, but not the archetype of the wicked stepfather. But of course there can be no wicked stepfather in a patriarchal society, since all women, both a wife and her children, become a man’s property, to treat as he will, at the time of marriage. In such a society a man may treat his own daughters, his wife, and his stepdaughters however badly he wishes without being thought of as wicked.

© 2007 by Mary Daniels Brown

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