Hilary Mantel recently criticized writers who falsely empower history’s women, saying, “This is a persistent difficulty for women writers, who want to write about women in the past, but can’t resist retroactively empowering them.
Which is false.” I think I agree with Mantel to some extent; you can’t give characters agency when their lack of agency is what drives the story in the first place.
A tree or a ghost or a bear or a good fairy—but something, something to outlast you. * My daughter is only two, but already I worry about her general state of empowerment.
I buy books about famous women, scientists and artists and politicians.
She can dance her way through days, but she must walk quickly with her keys out when it’s dark.
* I’ve been asked in interviews, in classrooms and by audiences, if I think fairy tales are feminist.
Long, long ago, when the first fairy tales were being dreamed up, mothers were always on the verge of disappearing.
To be an adult woman was to live a precarious existence at best.
And yet even this late in history, women and girls are still friendly with that darkness where fairy tales operate best. In “Beauty and the Beast,” the merchant’s daughter eventually falls in love with her own captor, or at least pretends to.
In “The Steadfast Tin Solider,” the ballerina is punished for ignoring the little solider who loves her by being burnt up in a stove with him.