Monday, September 5, 2011

Sleeping Beauty

I read Sleeping Beauty by Midori Snyder, and I got so tired and sarcastic.

"Out of a stock of brave heroines, of determined and clever girls, we found ourselves waiting at the bedside of a heroine whose talent rested on her ability to . . .well. . .rest. What indeed did this mute slip of a girl who became the epitome of passivity mean to young, contemporary women eager to claim their own destinies? What did she mean to us, as writers and folklorists who as children had felt emotionally stranded by a heroine whose awakening from death–feigned–as–sleep depended on a Prince's perseverance? "

Sure, it's over 10 years ago, but - why must EVERYONE be active?
Fairytales, myths, legends, stories, archetypes and all that are very powerful stuff. You can TRY to water them down, drown their soul, spirit and message, but you can't. Not even Disney, with their Victorian bourgeois nursery ma'amselles approved version could do it. But it's pretty bad that people who have been working with myths and fairytales for decades not to be able to see the truth in this specific fairytale, simply because the heroine SEEMS to be passive... Doesn't she know that fairytales are all allegories and symbols, dreamspeak to the core of humanity, and NOTHING is what it seems? Clarissa Pinkola Est├ęs' "Women Who Run With the Wolves: Myths and Stories of the Wild Woman Archetype" had been published 1992, and I can imagine Midori swollowed it immediately, as I did, and for the same reasons. Didn't she learn anything from it? Didn't she understand anything?

This groaning over Sleeping Beauty and her passivity is also coming from a woman who thinks Beauty would have been a more worthy heroine, because her "dauntless courage saved her father, her sisters, and a hideous Beast". Oh, geesh! As if you didn't know Beauty and the Beast, a 18th century fantasy, is responsible for a lot of girls believing their LOVE will CHANGE him from beast to beau... Brrr... Sleeping Beauty is at least a genuine article.Courage? Codependency, I say. Psht.

Anyway, the subject of the panel was "What Does Sleeping Beauty Mean to Me?" Well... IF she means to me "mute slip of a girl", unworthy example for a modern woman, "epitome of passivity", a fairytale heroine who left the receiver/listener/reader "emotionally stranded", someone whose life depended on someone else, THEN SAY SO!!! Why this insistance of that ALL fairytales MUST mean something ABSOLUTELY POSITIVE, EMPOWERING etc. to EVERYONE??? Why not use the opportunity to talk about the historical roles of women and how they feel wrong for a modern feminist, a woman "eager to claim her own destiny"?
Why? Uh. No answer to that question either.

"We made excuses about the poverty of versions worth discussing."
Uh. If you have a mind of your own, ANY ONE version is enough. Dig deeper, Midori, dig deeper, and dig deeper into you. You will find the truth of Sleeping Beauty - inside you... because you are Sleeping Beauty, as much as this fact makes you uncomfortable and upset... But, alas, that is one point in you you don't want to discuss... so you desperately seek a version of Sleeping Beauty you can use to avoid discussing this uncomfortable fact... *sigh*
But Sleeping Beauty, how she betrayed us by her sleep! Among the pantheon of heroines, even those who married easily in happily–ever–after tales, Sleeping Beauty's inertia was almost an admission of failure, of shame at my gender's lack of spirit.
 Every human being lacks in spirit every now and then, despite their gender. Gender is irrelevant, and should be. Why is it so threatening to admit your humanity, human weakness, Midori? You are not a superwoman, none of us is...
A lot of women WANT to become SAHMs. Every woman who has ever sighed over the necessity to leave home for work understands that desire, and should have ovaries to admit it. And I have to say, 90% of all women who work outside home have sighed over it. 90% of women who have chosen to stay at home, and work as a housekeeper to herself and her family, or mom, or home based entrepreneur or artist, say it was the best decision they ever made. I don't say anything about men, because I don't know anything about men's attitudes on this matter, but as men are human beings too, I think they think the same. After all... everyone understands "I HATE MONDAYS!!!" So what about being honest about that and admitting we would rather work at home...
No, don't start yapping about being your husband's little slave and all that stuff. I'm married and I stay at home, because of health issues, and I am nobody's slave. That too is totally up to you. If a woman - or a man, for that matter - WANTS to be someone's slave, be it. It has nothing to do with me. And even though there are still situations where the women - and men, don't forget that - live in a slavelike situation in our modern world, and that's not right, most of us do not. Most of us do make our own destinies. Even those of us whose destiny it is to sleep in the tower for the rest of our lives, because no "prince" is coming to rescue us, and we don't have the means to wake up on ourselves.
"We may not have liked her passivity, but we had to yield to her enduring presence and salute her tenacious survival."
Oh, bull! It's not Sleeping Beauty, you idiot, it's The Myth. And that should have told you, you have misunderstood the fairytale wholly.

So - as these people couldn't get the story, they started looking for a version they could understand. Now, as they didn't understand the core, they couldn't understand any of the versions either. You have to understand this about fairytales - you can try to water them down, but you will never, ever be able to touch the core of the story... how ever child friendly you make it, how ever much you manage to please the ma'amselles - and that's the easy part, because all the sex and violence has been added to keep people interested. That has nothing to do with the core of the myth. As Midori should have understood...
Well, anyway, as they don't understand the story, their take on it became  "the transformation of fairy tales".
It's so I could cry...

Here are the fairytales mentioned in the article, so you can read them yourself and make your own mind up on what is the message and the core of this story.

"Satisfied, the young woman comes to the palace, retrieves the Sultan's son from his grave, and reveals her true identity. "Now I know," she says, "that you will go to any length for the woman you love.""
Huh? He did it for SOMEONE ELSE!!! 

Who could not admire this Sleeping Beauty? 
Well... Sure, she's a great heroine, solves her own problems and all that, but... it's not Sleeping Beauty, is it?

On our panel, I noted that the European tales seem to be focused on the men, not the slumbering heroine...
...Despite this emphasis on the actions of the male characters, Terri argued that the conflict between the women in the tale is also an important element
Ah, but, Midori, that is because you don't understand the tale.

Also, there is a piece here I don't read in the story. Perhaps because I'm ND, I have a look at the social games from outside...

A woman touched by fairies, evidenced by the magical sleep, is dangerous. She is a threat to the whole society, and one cannot count the man, obviously magically forced, seduced, to see the danger... anyone touched by fairies, how ever innocent, is a living homing device, inviting the fairyworld to this one... Ever heard of Halloween? I mean the REAL one? Samhain? I strongly suggest you read Terry Pratchett's Lords and Ladies. The king's mother would have been protecting the whole society by burning the young woman... and, frankly... considering the source... who do you believe more, the woman or the man? Do you choose to believe the cook's story about how the mother told her to boil the children, or the mother's story of that she was just protecting the community as her son, the king, was temporarily under a spell...?

Also, still at 19th century it was considered the woman's fault that she didn't produce children. Happen to see the movie, Marie Antoinette? Still today a lot of men accuse their wives of bearing only daughters, even when we KNOW the man is the only parent able to produce the essential piece of a boy child - Y chromosome. She was not giving the king a child, not because she'd be sick, or he'd be sick, but because she refused to... So, yes, she was "evil", and she should have left her place without fight to a woman who clearly could produce children, and twins at that! Because she didn't, it was obvious she didn't love her husband. You should read Griselda's story and realize that THAT was a portrait of a "good" woman - and as a "bad" woman, the king's wife did deserve all the bad consequences she got.

Again, the focus on gender... *sigh* Neither the Italian, nor the French focuses on men. They tell the story with a man as one of the main characters, because of the historical context. The introduction of a woman touched by fairies to a normal society would not have been possible without a male catalyst, neither could the village elder be a woman without a male catalyst... and in both of these stories the village eldest IS a woman... the queen... In one she's the king's wife, in other the king's mother. King is just a royal insignia, if you so wish. He does nothing significant, he says nothing significant, he works only as a catalyst. His job is to bring the fairygirl into the village, his job is to justify the queen's position and power - in the critical moment he isn't even there! He's somewhere else, hunting or something... as you have read a lot of fairytales and myths, you know this happens all the time.
Where is Cinderella's father? Absent.
Where is Snowwhite's father? Absent.
Where are the seven dwarves whose job is to protect and provide for Snowwhite, when the Witch Queen visits her? Absent.
Red Riding Hood? Absent. Bluebeard? Absent...
Take any old fairytale with female lead, and you'll find that men in the story obediently play their supporting roles... the princes fight dragons, rose bushes, giants and witches, to be there to save the princess and give her a reasonable reason to be where she needs to be. The prince is a robot with a mission. He doesn't rape Sleeping Beauty - nor kiss her, or kneel by her bed - because he loves her. He does it because he has to, because that's his part of the story. He's just a drone!
I don't understand how anyone who has read fairytales with intention could believe anything else... he could just as well be under a spell. Of course not under the spell of the girl, because she is not a witch. Sleeping Beauty is just a girl, an ordinary girl. Sure she's a princess, but that's only because at that time people were just as interested of princesses as we are, and she had to be able to "disappear" without anything getting disturbed. An ordinary girl gone missing would have left a hole in the working order. Princesses are rather unnecessary things, don't you think?

Nevertheless, all that is in reality very uninteresting, as fairytales are messages in disguise. The princess is YOU, the queen, the king, the princes, dwarves, fairy godmothers and everyone else in the story are just... props... it's a dream you are having. Sleeping Beauty is the story of a person - male or female - who is waiting for something, scared of the obstacles; dragons, rose bushes, linen and spindles (work :-D) chooses to sleep in stead of doing something about the situation. Sleeping Beauty is a story of coming of age. She doesn't want to grow up. She wants to be a little girl all her life. She doesn't want to let go of her foolish childhood games and take upon herself the duties, responsibilities, hardship of adulthood. So she pretends it's not there. She sleeps. Princes come and try to wake her up, but they all fail and get stuck in the thorns, until one, resilient one, manages to get through and wakes her...

I have been sleeping for 40 years. Every now and then an idea passes and almost manages to get me awake, but I'll quickly fall back to my sleep. When will my "prince" come by? When will it arrive, the idea, dream, ambition - passion, if you wish - so strong and resilient that it won't give up, but will force me to wake up? Obviously it was not a mortal man, I've been happily married to my husband for 12 years now, and he didn't manage to wake me up. It must be something bigger, stronger, more real, more... a man? Ridiculous!

Sleeping Beauty is diminished in other ways in these later, more "civilized" versions. Earlier variants suggest that the father is the character most at fault, bringing the curse down on his daughter through improper dealings with the fantastic (such as slighting an important fairy). But Victorian versions seem to suggest the girl is responsible for her own fate, punished for her disobedience to her father's command not to touch the spinning wheel. In these versions, it is not only Briar Rose who suffers, but her parents and the entire court who must sleep for a hundred years.
Uh. So it would be okay if she is punished for her father's wrongdoings, but it's a bad thing that she is responsible for her own fate? >:->

(One can imagine that to the class–obsessed Victorians, a privileged daughter handling the tools of the lower classes provoked alarm, threatening to lower the status of the family. Briar Rose's sin can only be expiated when a man worthy enough, both in heart and noble status, redeems her from her transgression — restoring both Beauty and her family to its former social position.)

Let's look at this idea. The Victorian upper class women didn't have much else to do but crafts, so the dangerous linen doesn't much make sense in the Victorian frame - but it might have meant something when this story was created, as this is an old fairytale. So - if Sleeping Beauty is frozen in her "sin", and not only her but her whole family and world, until the Redeemer arrives, the one who will watch over her and see that she won't "sin" no more... then what? What does that make of the fairytale? Yet another thread left in the wind...

In our century, Sleeping Beauty no longer speaks to a common identity, a single icon to shape the female image for new generations. Instead, our Princess finds herself portrayed in many different guises: as a helpless 1950s stay–at–home girl, a bold space opera heroine, an oppressed time–traveling queen, a stoic Holocaust survivor, a sexually abused child, and myriad others.
 And what does she make of this? She's been given several alternative interpretations:

We have the story of an American prom queen and her football team captain; she is being brought up as a poor girl, and she is good and kind, and all that, and then she finds out she's a princess and before she can meet her parents and start her new life as a princess, everything is put on hold... for what? The prince must feat the dragon, the dragon that stops her from entering her new life that is totally strange and scary to her, a life she hasn't been prepared for in any way or manner... It sure looks a bit different explained like that... :->

Then we have a child who is being molested, and the story of a prince is just a dream she entertains to be able to survive. What does she do with this interpretation? What is Sleeping Beauty's dream IS just a dream?

There is the reminder of that when we sleep we usually also dream... what did Sleeping Beauty dream about and what is the significance of that?

And she goes on and on, giving examples on other contemporary interpretations... but doesn't enter into answering the question that began all this: what does this mean to you?

Happily she ends the article
In the oldest versions, we had rediscovered some of Beauty's original wit and strength. Even as each successive generation tried to tame or alter the substance of her nature, Beauty's power as an agent of transformation continued to shine forth from the core of her tale.
Oh, yes... Sleeping Beauty might have some substance as the witty and resourceful, magical heroine from Arabian Nights, but as the "seemingly passive" heroine, she is worthless. "Beauty's power as an agent of transformation"? No... It's about HER transformation... Uh. SHE is the main character of the story. Main charcters don't just sit there - or sleep - and act as agents of anything. All the fairytales are about the change of the main character. SHE is the one who has to learn something. SHE has to change. SHE has to wake up and take upon herself her new role in life. *sigh*

What ever.

No comments: