Women in fairy tales and, let’s face it, most of literature up until the last forty years or so, have been shown in a pretty negative light. When they’re not intentionally screwing things up for the male heroes, they are at least getting in the way. Even when a story focuses on an adventurous young lass, she does a lot less adventuring and a lot more being pulled along by forces beyond her control. The outcome is nearly always the same. Marriage to a prince. How delightful! Seems to me that fairy tale ladies should band together for equal rights.

On second thought, reverse that. Might want to hold off on that just in case a prince happens to walk by.

I’m sure they wouldn’t be able to control themselves.

Maybe fairy tales and those supernatural teen romance books have a lot more in common than I had realized…I mean, in those things the girl goes for an abusive asshole, but she’s just as vacuous and incapable as a fairy tale princess.

After expounding on the virtues of fairy tales and mythology on Tuesday, I did some thinking. While I still feel that fairy tales, myths, and fables offer more intellectual and spiritual nourishment than some of the trashy novels available today, they do have their downside. Unfortunately, all literature is a product of its time in some way and these stories are no exception. In cultures all across the world, female characters were treated as second rate and rarely offered more than that staple role model for women: the girl that marries the prince.

Now, don’t get me wrong, there are some tales where a woman stands up and gets things done, as she should, but they’re very few and far between. Some of the strongest female characters in folktales are the ones that simply run away (a la Red Riding Hood in the original A Grandmother’s Tale). Even in a rare instance where a woman truly takes action and adventure in her hands, it’s usually to save a man or to win his heart and they end up like all the rest. Why, even the brave wife of Samba in “Samba the Coward” who takes up arms and leads her father’s armies into the heat of battle two times is never given credit and simply becomes just another fairy tale wife in the end. She saves her cowardly husband from ridicule out of love, taking up the mantle of leadership when he won’t and even takes a spear to the leg, but her bravery is recognized by no one but her husband. Not only that, but she manages to make him into the brave man that he was always capable of being through her own intelligence. Of course, her husband gives her a brief mention in the end, but that’s it. To top it all off, the woman doesn’t even get a name from the storyteller.

As much as I love folklore and myth, this sort of thing is awfully common. In societies that were, and largely still are, dominated by males, it’s easy to see why this sort of thing would occur. Thankfully, we’re moving beyond that mentality slowly but surely in many parts of the world. It’s not that we can’t find meaning in these tales despite their glaring faults, we certainly can, but it’s important to recognize these things and accept them for what they are. We should neither go back and try to erase them, nor try to make excuses for them.

They are what they are.

And what they are is often ridiculous, even while they’re being entertaining and enlightening.

It’s sort of like life, I guess.

Don’t ask me how that all works out, this whole website is dedicated to that sort of thing.

**Just a note on all this for clarity’s sake, it’s pretty obvious that the roles given to women in folktales weren’t doled out with malicious intent. Given the history of relationships between men and women across the globe, it makes perfect sense that the roles of wife, mother, and crone would be the ones most commonly given to ladies in stories. That’s simply what women did in those times. We’re lucky enough to be able to look back on it now and see it for what it was, a symptom of primarily male dominated societies. These stories are still enriching and still powerful. As some have said in the comments, the power of these tales is in the fact that they aren’t really about the characters. They are about the situations. The roles given to women aren’t any less flat and ridiculous, but hopefully this provides some context. I’m also not saying that these are the ONLY roles, just that they are the most common. There are strong women (Athena, anyone?) in myth and folklore but they aren’t terrifically common. Let it also be known that these roles were often respected ones within communities at the time. Being a mother or wife was and is a big deal. It’s an important job and women did it well, thus it was seen as prestigious for women to be given these roles as rewards at the end of stories. Once again, this is not a bad thing, it’s just that women were given more limited options within fairy tales than men were. Where men would be given power, prestige, kingship, and marriage, most female fairy tale heroes were offered marriage or royalty. Not bad, but certainly a different affair than most male heroes.**

As for me, I’d like to say to women all over the world and on the internets: I believe in you. You’re just as capable of wielding a sword as you are of raising children. Your choices are all up to you.

Hell, I wouldn’t be surprised if you raised children WHILE wielding a sword.

You can clearly do anything you set your minds to.

In other news, I’m terribly sorry for the late strip. Had a bit of writer’s block on this one but I think I’ve worked through it with help from my brother and Liz. Thankfully, that seems to have passed.