Today is International Womens Day so as a tribute to this profoundly important date in history I am thinking about literature, the representation of women within literature and how the portrayal of them particularly within children books has been severely lacking. Feminism and the fight for equality must begin with our children, with their education.
For such a long time the publishing and bookselling world has centred around narratives written by men about men. Women very often had to write under mens’ names in order to get their work validated. Since this time we have clearly come a long way yet even now only one out of sixteen texts available on the GCSE curriculum is written by a female author. This is astounding. This lack of women in literature is so damaging to the education of students, young girls simply do not see themselves fairly represented in the literature they read in school.
Lets take the Princess as an example. The princess is a staple in childhood tales. As a young girl if I didn’t see a princess in a book I was reading, I tended to be disappointed. The beauty, the romance, the idealism all woven together in to happily ever afters. They created the ultimate charming and admirable package. So many of those old fairy tales rely on a knight in shining armour to come in and sweep the princess off her feet.
If, like me you have changed your opinion on these tales and no longer view marriage to a dashingly handsome prince who is likely to rid you of all your autonomy as the ultimate happy ending, then some of the most loved traditional princesses may also trouble you somewhat. Traditional princesses such as Cinderella and Ariel, are not just vocally silenced, but are restricted from almost any independent action at all. There is an explicit reliance on external forces; men are needed to save the day and rule the land. It is these fairy tales which feminists strive to conquer.
What I wonder is, why these old fairytales never ended in a woman saying. “You know what, I got this“. I wonder if we had let those old Disney movies unfold, we would see Snow White spit out her apple and get up, if sleeping beauty would snap out of her slumber, if Ariel decided she in fact wanted to keep her voice and become the Beyoncé of the ocean.
It is essential that going forward girls see themselves fairly represented within the pages they love and not just as the damsel in distress. This is beginning to change and rewritings of traditional tales have made their mark on feminist literature; we find bliss and comfort in our new role models: diverse and strong princesses who are able to fend and save themselves. Princesses are no longer constrained to fitting an image of beauty and obedience, they evolve to fit the different shapes, sizes and forms today’s women come in. Our inner sentimentalists are right to not give up on our childhoods and to blankly dismiss all princesses, they are evolving.
We are improving but we are not there yet. It is so so important to support and empower female writers and give them the possibilities within literature which they so obviously deserve. Tell stories to children in which the women are brave, intelligent, strong and ambitious. Tell them stories in which the heroines require no fairy godmother, or the assistance of men to aid their adventures. Stories about real powerful, enigmatic women.