Academic journal article Consciousness, Literature & the Arts

Chapter Seven: Beyond Gender Myths: Angela Carter's Feminist Fables

Academic journal article Consciousness, Literature & the Arts

Chapter Seven: Beyond Gender Myths: Angela Carter's Feminist Fables

Article excerpt

Simone de Beauvoir, the "spiritual mother" of European feminism (Showalter 2001: 222), describes how the traditional woman is "the Sleeping Beauty, Cindarella, Snow White, she who receives and submits [...] she is locked in a tower, a palace, a cave, she is chained to a rock, captive, sound asleep; she waits" (1952: 271).

Feminist theory is rooted in women's perspectives and women's experiences. It returns again and again to centralising the female body and the relationship between gender and sexuality as a powerful marker of identity and ideology. Similarly, for de Beauvoir, woman must no longer be defined through masculinist discourse, where she is a slave to a male master, and the way to freedom for women is through the body.

Yet, as Judith Butler argues: "a feminist view argues that gender should be overthrown, eliminated, or rendered fatally ambiguous precisely because it is always a sign of subordination for women" (1999: xiv). The first wave feminists in the 1970's, "discovered the non-being of woman: the paradox of being at once captive and absent in discourse, constantly spoken of, but of itself inaudible or inexpressible" (De Lauretis 1990: 115). Across cultural and national divides, from the late 1970's on, new forms of connection and solidarity were slowly being established; concepts of "sisterhood" were developed, and the work of writers such as bell hooks discussed female experience in terms of relationship between local and universal. In her essay "Sisterhood: Political Solidarity between Women", hooks argues that

women do not need to eradicate difference to share solidarity. We do not need to share common oppression to fight equally to end oppression. We do not need anti-male sentiments to bond us together, so great is the wealth of experience, culture and ideas we have to share with one another. We can be united by our appreciation for diversity. (In Kouramy et al, 1995: 104)1

Whether in western or more global feminisms, the suppression of women's sexuality is perceived as central in maintaining control of both contemporary and traditional order by the male elite. Just as postmodernism was concerned with a dismantling of narratives of truth, problematising subjectivity and representation, feminist authors (of both theory and fiction) in the last decades of the twentieth century wrote to subvert patriarchal foundations of narrative and society.

Myths, fairy stories and gendered power games

Fairy tales, often said to be "timeless" and fundamentally oral, have a long written history. Max Liithi discusses how fairy stories provide a genre that offers "a representation of man which transcends the individual story" and "a particular way of looking at the world and at human existence" (1985: ix). Yet the fact that a writer in the 1980's can title his work on Fairy Stories as a portrait of "Man" suggests why feminists early on had located a rewriting of the genre as being of prime importance to revising society as a whole in terms of feminist liberation. Challenging, and indeed reversing these myths therefore gains both theoretical and experiential importance. Despite their diverse origins, the pattern of the stories, in which enchanted people in fabulous worlds eventually receive their just reward or punishment, also served a moral purpose as cautionary tales, a subconscious system of warnings. Women were depicted as dependent upon men as figures of rescue and salvation in all dimensions of life; while the stories also highlighted rivalries and hostilities between women.

In the context of consciousness and the "female" self, cultural myths and fairy stories endorse the gendered role-play and social values that surround us all from birth-myths that play into the "delusions of gender" enforced through the arts and sciences alike. Gender differences are believed to exist in both mind and body, with neuroscience in particular reinforcing "with all the authority of science, old-fashioned stereotypes and roles" (Fine 2011: 237). …

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