After rereading The Perilous Gard last week, fairy stories of all sorts were on my mind. I love reading about them, but, well, should I enjoy it? How good are fairies, anyway? The answer is, not particularly—at least by human standards—but that’s not necessarily a bad thing from a storytelling perspective.
I often revisit old columns to get ideas for new posts, and Lady Geek Girl’s post on the magic in Welcome to Night Vale is one that’s stuck with me for a while. The strange and popular podcast Welcome to Night Vale makes the abnormal normal, and uses it to critique some of the ideas we have about our society. If you’ve heard any of the Night Vale episodes, you’ll know that Night Vale is the weirdest place ever, full of carnivorous librarians, dog parks with no dogs, and strange floating cats. (Also, actual diversity in its cast. Hah.) Possibly the only normal thing about Night Vale is Cecil and Carlos’s relationship, and the storytelling focuses on this more than it does the abnormal, things. The audience thus gets the reinforced message that yes, the entire world is crazy, but this gay relationship is normal, disabled people should be treated with respect, pronoun choice should be followed, and racism shouldn’t be tolerated. It’s really shockingly effective. And the interesting thing is, when you take this idea and turn it around—when you make the normal abnormal—you can teach lessons and explore characters just as effectively.
Spoilers for Supernatural and Doctor Who below.
Let’s face it: most religions, both in real life and pop culture, seem to be made up of a hierarchy of men leading other men. But most religions actually have many important influential and powerful female figures, yet upsettingly, they are often ignored, forgotten, or even rewritten in order to maintain sexist notions about women.
Now you might be thinking, how is geek culture in particular going to incorporate female religious figures? Exactly the same way geek culture interprets male religious figures. Sometimes literal angels or gods are featured in movies or TV shows. Sometimes characters symbolically or allegorically represent one of these figures. There is no reason that female religious figures can’t receive the same treatment as the male ones.
So here are, in no particular order, my top five female religious figures that need to be incorporated more into our pop culture.
Recently I’ve been seeing a lot of posts on Tumblr about fantasy creatures, especially mermaids and dragons in particular. Now this is nothing new; mermaids and dragons seem to be the two most favored magical creatures on Tumblr, so of course you’ll find a lot of posts and fan art talking about these particular mythical beings.
What I find interesting, though, is the recent feminist
reclamation of these two magical creatures.
The sad tragedy of storytelling is that many of our old myths, legends, and fables are built off sexist tropes and ideologies. The sexy vixen, the wicked witch, and the damsel in distress are all classic tropes in storytelling that have been ingrained so heavily in our culture that the everyday person can easily pick them out and identify them. These narratives that so often portray women as weak or evil are especially harmful when we continue to indoctrinate future generations with these sexist tales.
Can we ever undo what these past stories have done to women? Sadly, probably not, but perhaps we can lessen the effects by re-telling and re-interpreting these same stories from a feminist perspective. The advantage here is that writers can take tried and true narratives and characters that people already like, and then make them more complex. The characters and plots of the original stories are often stereotypes or flat, archetypal characters. Reinterpreting these stories with more complexity has the benefit of causing people to like them more than the original by updating them for a modern audience.
There are many stories that have been reinterpreted over the years through a feminist lens, like Cinderella (Ever After), many of Grimm’s Fairy Tales (Once Upon a Time, Fables, etc.) and many more, but there are so many other stories that need a feminist revamp. So here are five stories that I would love to see get a feminist makeover for a contemporary audience.