Feminist Fairy Tales

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Feminist Fairy Tales is a 1996 anthology of revised and original fairy tales by feminist Barbara G. Walker.

Quite a few fairy tales are less than friendly towards women (case in point, there is an entire fairy tale genre about heroic wife-beating). Walker sought to right the wrongs by rewriting famous and lesser-known fairy tales (as well as some well known folkloric and mythology-derived tales) to empower female readers, especially those reading in the children's section. Famous tales like Snow White, Cinderella and Jack and the Beanstalk were given a Gender Flip and/or a Perspective Flip to be told from the side of female characters.

It is arguable whether she succeeded, as described on the YMMV page. Very often Walker missed the point of the original tale or was only familiarized with the Flanderized, Disneyfied version of the story, which resulted in stories that read like a Shallow Parody of the original with a feminist slant. Also, there are heavy Values Dissonance between Walker's feminists principles [1] and the ones on vogue on the current state of the movement[2], resulting in stories that could read superficially as "empowering" but to close examination are anything but.

Fairy Tales and Folkloric stories rewritten for the anthology:
Tropes used in Feminist Fairy Tales include:
  • Anachronism Stew: Glass windows in commoners' houses, mention of synthetic dyes, and bards playing at birthday parties and community centres, among other things.
  • Arbitrary Skepticism / Flat Earth Atheist: "The Oracle" is effectively an atheist tract, with the witch monologuing on how magic and miracles aren't real, amidst numerous stories where magic is real and Mother Goddesses are ten a penny.
  • Beauty Equals Goodness: While most of the heroic characters are non-descript or fairly average, most of the tales describe the male villains as particularly hideous. There are two tales on the anthology who try to subvert this trope, the original story "Barbidol" and "Ugly and the Beast" (a rewrite of "Beauty and the Beast"), but they are marred by flawed writing that make the characters Unintentionally Unsympathetic, resulting in a Lost Aesop.
  • Bee-Bee Gun: Florian is attacked by mud wasps and almost dies of an allergic reaction.
  • Broken Aesop: the rewrites tend to break not only the Aesop of the originals, but also the ones expected for the plot. Egregiously seen in the rewrite of "The Emperor's New Clothes", where the con-women become ever bigger Karma Houdinis than the originals - to wit, in this version they were flat out rewarded for basically conning the biggest leader of their nation, by said leader even!
    • As noted above, it's rather difficult to take the moral of "The Oracle" (that there's no such thing as magic) seriously in a book of fairy tales that otherwise is full of magic.
    • "How the Gods Met Their End" concludes with a Freya Expy decreeing that it's for the best that mortals forget all gods and go on to shape their own destinies. Immediately after, the readers is told how goddesses such as herself continued to be ingrained in the female psyche and worshiped forever, which is clearly treated as a great thing.
  • But You Screw One Goat!: Subverted. "Ugly and the Beast" has the twist that the Beast was never a cursed human, but an animal that just happened to be able to talk and act like a human. Absolutely no one considers it odd that Ugly goes on to marry him, least of all Ugly herself.
  • Composite Character: Walker appears to be under the impression that Yahweh, Zeus, and Odin are all the same god with a name change and the exact same attitudes throughout all of history.
  • Disposable Woman: In "How the Gods Met Their End", Low-Key has a young mother killed so that he can eat her heart and become pregnant. This is treated as a throwaway detail.
  • Double Standard Abuse (Female on Male): Every male character that mishandles a female one is despited as irredeemably evil. Women doing equivalent amounts of abuse on men, however, is seen as deserved by the male at best.
    • In "The Three Little Pinks", Florian the gardener attacking the fairies that ruin his garden is treated as jaw-droppingly evil. Them stabbing him with thorns is considered perfectly justified.
  • Double Standard Rape (Female on Male): Heavily implied. Imagine a story where a totally unfamiliar man arrives at the home of a princess who is to be married in three weeks, insists he saved her life in an incident she now barely remembers, and refuses all other rewards in favour of marriage, uttering the line "I don't care. You must marry me because you owe me your life." That man would not be the hero, would he? Gender Flip that and you have "The Littlest Mermaid", in which the entitled creep is supposed to be the heroine.
  • Everyone Hates Hades: "How Winter Came to the World" has an Expy of Hades called "Pluton" who is an ugly troll that kidnaps the Persephone Expy purely out of a desire to steal some of the light of the surface world to his lair. Love doesn't factor into it at all.
  • Gender Flip: some stories are gender-flipped version of the originals.
    • "The Littlest Mermaid" marries her prince almost immediately and is cured of the part of her spell that makes it painful to walk. Throw in that she never even had her voice taken away, and you get a story where the mermaid abandoned her family over a man she hardly knew and suffered fewer consequences for it than Ariel even did.
  • Gods Need Prayer Badly: In "How The Gods Met Their End", after the apples of youth are stolen, the Odin Expy suggests the gods can extend their lives by getting humans to worship them.
  • Gratuitous Rape: Roughly half the stories feature at least a mention of sexual assault.
  • He-Man Woman Hater: Almost all male characters, with the king and the knights in "Princess Questa", the hunter in "Snow Night", the baron in "The Waver" and the titular "White God" as the worst of the bunch.
  • Karma Houdini: Several examples.
    • In "The Oracle", the two women running the oracle con are never exposed. As far as we know, they continue to trick pilgrims out of their money.
    • In "Gorga and the Dragon", the man behind the "dragon" attacking the kingdom and kidnapping the maidens not only escapes punishment for his crimes but was also implied to have won the favor of a different king and married his daughter.
    • "The Empress's New Clothes" flat-out rewards the con artist sisters for their trickery, on the grounds that they somehow did a good turn by inadvertently revealing the hypocrisy of the masses.
    • In "Barbidol", Gijo suffers no repercussions for shoving Barbidol against a wall and hitting her.
    • "How the Sexes were Separated" ends with Sky God getting away with mutilating and corrupting all humans. The Great Mother does bar him from offerings at alters and yells at him in front of the other deities, but neither punishment seem to actually affect him very much.
    • While Plouton's portrayed as a villain for kidnapping Princess Corey in "How Winter came to the World", he's never punished. In fact, the story ends with him happily taking her back as his wife and being accepted as a son-in-law by Dea Meter. One might consider Corey covertly usurping control of his kingdom to be retribution, but it's never portrayed as an actual intended punishment.
    • Similar to Plouton's case, Low-Key is the villain of "How the Gods Met Their End", having a woman killed so he could eat her heart, tormenting the gods with various tricks, and stealing the apples they depended on for immortality. The story ends with him being openly accepted by the tale's resident Mother Goddess as her devoted servant.
  • Men Act, Women Are: for an anthology of stories allegedly written to be more female-empowering, many of the female characters are actually quite passive. In some cases, like the rewrite of Snow White and Cinderella, the female characters have even less agency than in the original tales!
  • Mister Seahorse: Quite a few stories state that men are hostile towards women because they secretly wish they could become pregnant and give birth as women can. "How the Gods Met Their End" has Low-Key manage to self-impregnate by eating a woman's heart, but the fact that he gives birth to the eight-legged horse Sleepnever is treated as a sign that his pregnancy wasn't "real". Oddly, this ignores the fact that in mythology, Loki (who Low-Key is an Expy of) simply was in the form of a female horse when he was impregnated with Sleipner. This makes Low-Key's complaints that the ability to give birth is beyond him rather strange.
  • No Periods, Period: Inverted. Dear God, inverted. In "Cinder-Helle", it's revealed that Cinder-Helle can magically create her dress, coach, and horses... through the magic of her menstrual blood.
  • Plagiarism: Several stories seem to be ripped off from pre-existing works:
    • "Cinder-Helle" shares quite a bit in common with Tanith Lee's "When the Clock Strikes". Both have the Cinderella character's mother belong to a secret underground religion (paganism for the former, Satanism for the latter) and hide by marrying a nobleman, all while raising her daughter to share her beliefs. The Cinderella character proceeds to woo the prince not out of love, but as a means to an end (using her status as queen to banish Christianity and reinstate worship of the Mother Goddess in the former, drive the prince insane as revenge against his father in the latter).
    • "Fairy Gold" reads very similarly to Prosper Merimee's La Venus d'Ille. Both feature a mystical statue in the "modest Aphrodite" pose, with an inscription in a strange language. Both stories have the statue fixate on a young man who unwittingly stumbles across it and both stories end with the young man dying in the statue's embrace. The only difference is that "Fairy Gold" treats this as a good thing.
    • "The Weaver" copies a number of points from the fairy tale "The Nettle Spinner", including the heroine being a talented young weaver who is engaged to her childhood sweetheart, the villain being a cruel baron who causes his kinder wife much misery, and the conflict arising from the baron wanting to seduce the weaver.
  • Sex Is Evil and I Am Horny: According to "How the Sexes Were Separated", this is one of the reasons why men hate women. The Zeus/God Expy forbids any sort of pleasure of the flesh and, because men can't stop desiring sex, they constantly feel guilty and channel it as anger towards women.
  • Straw Feminism: the tales are written in a way that looks like the author saw that trope page and used it as a check list. Extreme hatred of everything male (unless they submit to female authority), extreme worship of "feminine" attributes, rants about how men are violent and women are more suited to lead the world into a peaceful land...
  • Women Are Wiser: Invoked by the author with the numerous presence of female goddesses, faerie queens and women on authority positions, who are described in the text as wiser and smarter than their male counterparts, whenever objectively true or not.
  1. which seems rooted on First and Second wave feminism, where great value was put on the things that made women "special" like reproductive capacity and "feminine" values being taken as seriously as "male" ones"
  2. which place greater emphasis in equality, women's independence, female solidarity, and choice over reproductive rights