Sunday, June 21

Another option for your reading list

I've recently finished reading Joan Gould's "Spinning Straw into Gold: What Fairy Tales Reaveal About the Transformations in a Woman's Life"

Just so you all know, I'd like my own copy. This is the kind of book that I will probably go back to over and over again, especially as I get older.

To be honest, I was somewhat dissatisfied with some of my classes at ETSU that had to do with the structure of fairy tales. We spent time talking about the Hero's Journey, but that left me wondering... what about the Heroine? Instead, I was left with Disney movies, trying to make sense of the Grimm's versions, and still not understanding why women in fairy tales seemed so passive and dependant. I always got really excited about stories like Molly Whuppie where the girl in the story took charge of her own future and kicked the ogre's behind. Do you hear me cheering??

Margaret Meyers (one of the other students at ETSU with me) told a story Norse (?) story about a Bride who was secretly switched with a witch, that has perplexed me since I first heard it. And then there is the equally perplexing story of "The Seal Wife," which is the Scottish folktale of a Seal-woman who is captured by a fisherman who makes her his wife by hiding her seal skin. Years later she finds it and immediately abandons her husband and children.

What do stories like this mean about women? If the Grimm Brothers were right and women were passing these along to one another, what were they trying to say about the life of a woman? What do these stories mean about who I am and who I am becoming?

Joan Gould did an excellent job of connecting the dots... and explaining that what may look like passivity and dependence is often very purposeful. What I have essentially come to realize, after processing this book for the last few days, is that the life journeys of men and women are completely different. A man's journey leads him away from home, to pursue a quest, and to come home the conquering hero... probably just to find himself another quest. Men are rarely looking mainly to transition, with the exception of Beauty and the Beast. What they are more often looking for is the opportunity to prove themselves the hero, and claim what they see as rightfully theirs. A woman's journey leads her through multiple transitions in life- she is always changing, like a perpetual caterpillar, always evolving, always spinning herself a new chrysalis... meaning that Sleeping Beauty's sleep was purposeful, Cinderella's stint in service was necessary. The Seal wife's flight from her family is a normal desire of many women (no wonder I never would have agreed with this idea after reading "The Awakening," I was in high school!), and many women feel that their identity is split like the White Bride and the Black Bride after they become wives and mothers.

The most interesting part of this book was the discussion about "BlueBeard." She largely pulls form a version called Fitcher's Bird, that was originally published in the Grimm's version. In this version there are three sister's who are forced to marry the murderous husband and the youngest revives her murdered sisters and orchestrates justice. I've always seen "Bluebeard" and "The Crane Maiden" as stories that were linked, but until now, it didn't dawn on me that the difference between the stories was the gender of the individual with the secret, and how that changes their reaction to being caught, and how and why they hide it in the first place.

This book is an epiphany. It's changing the way I look at my marraige and my husband, and myself. It's no wonder that I feel so fractured at times- every metamorphosis splits and doubles and murders aspects of the one being changed. It's also a comfort to know that this is a natural part of life- it means that we are all capable of change and expected to change.


Laura said...

ooh, I want to read this. I've known so many women who struggle with their identity to varying degrees after becoming wives and mothers. I love this: "she is always changing, like a perpetual caterpillar."

Ben ("nice") said...

Very nice. My intention isn't meant be weird in saying this, but I like hearing about these concerns -- the sort that dabbles in narrative and folk/myth/identity. I'll never know what it's like to be anybody other than me so I definitely won't have much clue at all what it's like to be a female. But the book you mentioned, along with your own thoughts, make it seem like "Spinning Straw Into Gold" is a better destination for better understanding the female than "The Second Sex." (I'm kind of intimidated by that last one...)

Chara said...

(Ben nice- HA!)

I love that this book doesn't just approach all of the adolescent transformation stories (Cinderella, Snow white, Sleeping Beauty) but also the ones leading to the crone and matron stages. It only occurred to me the other day that I AM in that stage. I love that it celebrates them and explores their darker sides. No one talks about these things... It's too easy to just be a "Princess" without recognizing the Queen.

stefanie said...

which is exactly what horrifies me about the Disney induced obsession with "princesses". their portrayal of matron or crone characters are always simply "evil" or "bad". this is another example, in my opinion, of how our culture has grown to fear maturing into whatever you're supposed to become.

we call it "aging", and make it sound like we're losing power as we do this when in truth we are learning more about ourselves, fleshing out the details that only began when we were young.

ok, you've got me going... i need to find this book!

Laura said...

seriously - it's not in the library.

rafred said...

Wow! I'm glad I came to visit you today. I was just reading an article in Mothering where it talked about how different Men and Women are.

I was struck through your review and the article by the idea that there is a time and a season for everything.

I'm going to find a way to read this book too.

Thanks Chara!