Fairy Tales Objectifying Women (Based on The Bloody Chamber and Stardust)
Fairy tales reinforce the patriarchy by teaching children that women lack agency and that men do not, the Bloody Chamber and Stardust both attack this idea by creating female characters with agency and voice.
Fairy Tales are very formulaic stories. They will almost always have a male rescue a female from a negative climate such as a tower prison, a glass coffin where she sleeps for eternity, or even under the rule of her cruel sisters. This helps to reinforce the patriarchy by creating helpless women who are drowning in their circumstances, who need to be rescued by a dashing and rich male who is often a prince. Stories such as The Bloody Chamber, help to show this horrible truth of the patriarchy within the texts we read, as they are more often than not supposed to be read as an allegory which transparently shows the horrors which women are made to face by men. They show the weakness of women and how they are helpless damsels in need of a saviour. While this is almost universal in fairy tales there are some stories such as Stardust, which have characters which could potentially work towards shattering these ideas and through this weakening the idea that women are helpless fragile flowers that need to be plucked by men and put in vases to look pretty. John Berger states that , “Men look at women. Women watch themselves being looked at”, this describes fairytales and how the patriarchy affects them perfectly, as women are made to be the objects of men and women must learn how men watch them so that they may be more suitable objects. This happens in almost every fairytale where the woman either is the object of desire for a man, or must become the object of desire for a man in order to save themselves from an impoverished life, into the life of a prisoner. As the agency that women possess in fairy tales, is never enough to break them free from the cold grip that the patriarchy puts upon them.
“Yvaine” who is the star in Stardust and formerly Tristram’s slave and then companion is a character who can help to break these ideas. In Stardust Yvaine shows that she is not happy with her position as being tethered to Tristran and is openly defiant against this. This contrasts with a character such as Belle from Beauty and the Beast, who didn’t attempt to fight her position or even speak out against it, she simply went with her fate and stuck to the idea that she was going to be a prisoner for the rest of her life. Contrasting this Yvaine is clearly voicing her opinion on Tristram’s actions and through this we can clearly see that she does infact have at least some agency compared to other characters in fairytales. As when she was tied to Tristram she clearly did not expect to live with this ,as she asked him in a “voice beyond rage” what he thought he was doing and experienced an indescribable amount of anger towards him. This means that she has at least some agency and certainly a voice, the fact that she is not submissive to him and fights him shows how she deviates from most other fairytales. Angela Carter once stated that “To exist in the passive case is to be killed” as when you do not fight you have no agency no reason to live and are therefore not alive. This is very common for women in fairytales as what will often happen is that they will simply submit to their jailor who may be disguised as a prince, but the motive is the same. However despite this she can resort to doing nothing more than calling Tristram a “Dunderhead. Bumpkin. Dolt”. She is not in the “passive case” so she is not completely devoid of power, but what little she has is useless. A fairytale which gives women agency and voice, as well as the ability to use both of those without being ostracised is “The Company of Wolves” by Angela Carter, the series of fairytales presented within the Bloody Chamber are all allegories for the oppression of women as opposed to Stardust which is a modern fairytale which has some feminist elements to it due to its nature and the era in which it was written. In the Company of Wolves the little girl in the story has complete agency over herself and her body. Compared to Yvaine who only has freedom of mind and speech, the little girl in “The Company of Wolves” has far more power over herself than Yvaine did. When confronted with the wolf who would devour her, she was able to show how it could be tamed, as any man can be tamed through a woman as they can be mindless beasts driven by lust, who can easily be controlled. This little girl knew she was “nobody’s meat” and was therefore able to tame the wolf and sleep between the paws on the now “Sweet” and “tender wolf”. This is something which “Yvaine” was unable to do and did cause her to be restricted and tied down to Tristran. However when she was freed of his chain she fell in love with him, which caused her to essentially be permanently to be bound to him. This may have been a willing sacrifice as it was her choice to fall in love with him, but this could potentially show that she herself used her own agency to tie her down and make her less free, which was seen before with Bridget when she purposefully denied herself agency due to her love of the man. This is also done with the Wolf in the Bloody Chamber as he essentially shackles himself to the Girl through marriage, resulting in a mutually assured destruction for the two of them. As the Wolf may be tamed, but the Girl may not now be the wolf, in the same way a woman may marry a man to gain power over him, but she can no longer have any power over other men as the power she once had through her sexuality is nullified . As “Carol Ann Duffy” once stated “What is marriage but prostitution to one man instead of many?”. This shows how the patriarchy will always find ways to tie women down, even when they have fought for their own power. Despite this, something of note is that “Yvaine” may not have lost any agency at all when she became partnered with Tristram, as she loves Tristram and is not in his power. In the same way Tristram is not in Yvaine’s power either as “Tristran and Yvaine were happy together”, they were not struggling with power at all, merely in a joyful relationship made off of love, not control. The patriarchy has control over the sexuality and the agency of women, but it does not encompass love and is powerless to that idea. By demonstrating that Yvaine is willing to devote her life to Tristran out of pure love for him. Not for practical purposes or to tie herself down to one man, however as a partnership through love is beyond the realms of the patriarchy then that would imply that in a fairytale where the communion is due to love and not material wealth, the relationship would not be one where the woman lacks agency and would therefore only damage rather than reinforce the patriarchy. As the woman has agency if she can love.
In fairytales it is common for the woman to be an object for the protagonist. She is merely a prize for him to take home and she herself has no substance and is simply an object of his desire. However while men have power over women, many would argue that they themselves do not have power over their libido and are mere slaves to sex. By creating female characters who are mere objects the patriarchy is enforced. However by also showing the madness of men and their constant lust for the flesh, the ideas of the patriarchy can be chipped away at. The Snow Child is a story from The Bloody Chamber and is the prime example of a woman who has no agency or voice whatsoever. She was created to be the “child of desire” and has no purpose other than to be at the use of the count. She has no power over her fate and can do nothing to change what my happen to her. This shows that she has no agency as a character and she also seems to lack a voice as she cannot speak, or is not allowed to speak. The count does not view her as a human being but as an object, this supports “John Berger’s” view that when women are under the male gaze they are turned “into an object” to him she is merely the object of his desire, he asked for a girl “as white as snow”, “as red as blood” and “as black as a raven” and due to this the snow child was made. This demonstrates how a fairytale can objectify women and turn them into an “object of desire for men”, as either a reward or a gift. As objects the women cannot experience love as they will not be subject to any and therefore they will merely be shackled through marriage and commitment, rather than actually becoming more free. While the fact that she has no agency is abundantly clear, we can see that she also makes no attempt to gain agency or struggle against the demands of others, this is an example of how many women are treated within fairytales and from this treatment the idea of the patriarchy will strengthen as if women themselves have no agency and no will, then men must be the one to take it from them and be the masters of women. Despite the snow child’s complete lack of agency the Countess does have some more power than her. As it was her choice to kill the snow child in order to keep her husband and there was a moment in which the Countess had more agency than the count. As when he chose to commit necrophilia on the girl, it was due to his primal tendencies as a male to have sex with the girl. It is possible that in the moment where he committed the act it was not done completely with his motives at hand. This show of weakness does help to show how men can be overpowered by women. Despite this it should be noted that while Men may be slaves to their sexual tendencies, women are still the victim of these tendencies and in a sense they are still powerless against men as you could say that a man’s sexuality is his true form “if you burn his human clothing you condemn him to wolfishness”, this could mean that men are wearing masks to hide their sexualities, but underneath that mask his true self is the wolf who is ravenous a filled with lust. This would mean that a man is not at the mercy of his lust, but rather that it is his true form. This need to surrender to lust
Trites would argue against this idea as “Feminist power is more about being aware of one’s agency than it is about controlling other people”, this would mean that while the countess does display power over the count, it is not feminist power merely power. The difference between the two means that if a woman has power she could be powerful and have agency, yet still support the patriarchy as her power would not be linked to her femininity but to her status, or skill, or other factor. It also helps the patriarchy to demoralise women who do this, by calling them black widows and accusing them of being controlling and manipulative. The demonization of women who have agency in fairytales such as witches or queens, helps to enforce the idea of the patriarchy as women who do seek to gain agency, or are in possession of agency are criticised and given a negative aura. An example of a woman who does not control other people, but still has agency would be Lady Una for Stardust. At the beginning lady Una possesses very little agency as she is a slave and is bound to her witch. However she is fully aware of this as she knows that she will be in slavery “Not forever” and that “I gain my freedom on the day the moon loses her daughter…”, she knows full well that she will not be a slave girl forever and that she will eventually break free from her shackles, This triumph over something which does appear to be impossible such as having “two Mondays meet”, is a clear expression of how her power goes beyond having agency and due to this power she was able to allow a kingdom to be ruled over by a woman for almost eternity. This is the ultimate expression of a woman who has agency as she is completely in charge of not only her own destiny, but the fates and stories of all in her kingdom. However she was not demonized for her agency, as she was merely aware of it and aware that she would be free, but she did not need to control or use anyone to earn it, therefore she has feminist power.
Despite this it should be noted that while The Bloody Chamber may not have character who have as much agency as those in Stardust, it plays a much more important role for feminism and articulates more clearly how Fairytales reinforce the patriarchy. As the Bloody Chamber shows how fairytales can reinforce the patriarchy, through objectification, by removing their agency and creating marriages without love. The Snow Child has far less agency than Yvaine, but she is a much better example of explaining how a woman is objectified in a fairytale and arguably that is far more important.
In “The Bluest Eye”, the author, Toni Morrison, presents in the book that the ideal beauty is having pure white skin and blue eyes. During the 1940s, two psychologists Kenneth […]
The novel The Bluest Eye, takes place shortly after the great depression ended. During this time, whiteness was the epitome of beauty; from the porcelain skin to the oceanic blue […]
The Bluest Eye is about what it’s like to be hated for things that are outside of your control. She addresses the larger implications of that, probably something that all […]
Everything is Illuminated vs The Bluest Eyes The novels, Everything is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer and The Bluest Eyes by Toni Morrison, both focus way that the past effects […]
The Black Woman’s Burden In Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, Morrison explores the duality between the external pressures of the white community on black communities as well as the internal […]
Normative beauty standards are an essential tool that the patriarchy implements to oppress women. The American standard of being a young, white, skinny, able-bodied, cisgender, delicate, friendly, et cetera, woman […]
In Carter’s ‘The Bloody Chamber and other stories’ Carter looks at women protagonists and puts them in first person narratives, looking at the women’s perspective in her interpretation of childhood […]
In Angela Carter’s collection of fairy tales, she explodes the notion of stereotypical views of females, as either the roles of passive victims of patriarchal dominance in all its guises […]
Effective gothic literature goes beyond the clichés of dark castles and flickering candles and actually reveals something about humanity. Examine this view in relation to the texts you have studied […]
Fairy tales reinforce the patriarchy by teaching children that women lack agency and that men do not, the Bloody Chamber and Stardust both attack this idea by creating female characters […]