Academic journal article Marvels & Tales

Vigilante Feminism: Revising Trauma, Abduction, and Assault in American Fairy-Tale Revisions

Academic journal article Marvels & Tales

Vigilante Feminism: Revising Trauma, Abduction, and Assault in American Fairy-Tale Revisions

Article excerpt

Contemporary American fairy-tale revisions in popular film and young adult fantasy literature subvert the socialization of prescribed gender roles, offering "magical ways of dealing with the crisis of everyday life" (Greenhill and Matrix 8). Revision is an act of rebellion, casting off the limitations of the past, especially past gender roles. Cristina Bacchilega argues that postmodern re-visions "unmake" some of what fairy tales have traditionally held dear and "hold mirrors to the magic mirror of the fairy tale . . . to expose its artifices." By upsetting the "authority inherent in the texts they appropriate," they become "disobedient" (Bacchilega 29). As Pauline Greenhill and Sidney Eve Matrix articulate, "Each traditional fairy tale telling forms a copy for which there is no original. Every version offers a snapshot-a view of that story in time and space that refers to its sources and predecessors-but fidelity to an original is profoundly beside the point. . . . With their own specific meanings and uses, fairy tales speak with us as well as about their tellers, audiences, contexts of performance, and sociocultural backgrounds. They thus offer different visions" (Greenhill and Matrix 1). Here, my feminist critique of fairy-tale revisions in contemporary American film and young adult literature emerges from this unique historical moment in which young women have grown up assuming the rights won by feminists before them. However, these cultural productions are also attuned to many of the inequalities, such as sexual violence, that still exist. Therefore the re/visioning of the fairy-tale heroine intersects with an acute knowledge of rape culture, a pervasive threat that is inscribed on the bodies of girls and women who are under constant attack by social and political forces that desire to possess them and contain them.

In this essay I examine what I am theorizing as "vigilante feminism" in three recent case studies. Vigilante feminism, as used here, applies specifically to the performance of vigilantism by girls and women who have undertaken their own protection, and the protection of others, against violence-such as sexual assault, abduction, abuse, and trauma-because they have been otherwise failed in that manner. The first analysis is of a rape survivor, Ravenna, from Snow White and the Huntsman, a 2012 film adaptation of Snow White. Ravenna is violent and cruel, and she reinscribes patriarchy through her own ruthless quest for power. However, hers is also a story of trauma, of surviving a horrific abduction and repeated sexual assault as a young girl.1 In that way, it is possible to read her as a vigilante feminist because she uses the tools of the patriarchy to protect herself and her brother and, in her mind, to wreak havoc on men who destroy women, thus believing, in her own mind and through her own definition, that she is saving womankind. The second textual analysis is about Gretel, as reimagined in the 2013 film adaptation of Hansel and Gretel, Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters, which examines Gretel as a survivor of abandonment, abduction, and trauma. Gretel becomes a witch hunter after she and her brother are nearly cooked and eaten by a terrifying witch; she molds her body into a strong, confident, and dangerous weapon of destruction that is aimed at witches, and, like Ravenna, she turns the tools of violence against those who have wronged her. The final piece of this project is a critical analysis of Sisters Red (2010), an adaptation of "Little Red Riding Hood" from the Retold Fairy Tales series of young adult novels written by Jackson Pearce. In this text, sisters Scarlett and Rosie March, survivors of the wolf's attack at their grandmother's cottage, become hunters with the sole mission of taking down wolves to protect other girls and women.

Vigilante feminist characters are represented in contemporary American fairy-tale revisions across television, film, literature, and comics. In fact, it is the ubiquity of the character type across genres that makes it especially relevant to feminism and popular culture. …

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