Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Reinterpreting the Rescue Prince

Feminists have pretty much trashed Cinderella, Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, Rapunzel and other cultural tales in which handsome princes rescue "helpless" females from the evil clutches of witches, stepsisters, clueless fathers/brothers, angry dwarfs . . . These heroines are accused of being too passive, of not participating enough in their own rescue. Beauty being their only feminine requirement.

But after listening to an interview this morning with Eve Ensler (of "Vagina Monologues" fame) and reading journalist Nicolas Kristoff (co-author of "Half the Sky") discuss abuse of girls and women worldwide, brought about by war and social stresses warping "natural" male aggression, perhaps the rescuing prince needs further examination. Perhaps we need this guy. After all, we live in a patriarchal society. No matter how we try to write ourselves out of the patriarchy (as Ursula K. Le Guin discovered), we find ourselves steeped in it.

Let's celebrate this story-book rescuer, that variety of male who has evolved empathy for women, who seeks justice on their behalf against the smarmier sides of both genders, who seeks to right the economic inequalities that upset positive gender relationships.

If patriarchy is the "natural" state of our gendered world, then the rescuing prince has a place in it, but that doesn't mean that women should abdicate the powers they've won, or "reclaimed" from a mythical matriarchy. It appears we can, and do, live in the same house.

Traditionally women have been responsible for feeding and clothing their families ("A good wife, who can find . . ." -- Proverbs), planting gardens, harvesting, gleaning, twisting animal and plant fibers into threads, weaving them into cloth, fashioning them into clothing (except for the all-male weavers' guilds in Pre-Industrial Europe who lashed out violently at the factories that took the trade, literally, out of their hands).

Perhaps many of these "olden" tales involving spinning derived from women being bound to their spindles and wheels for hours upon hours because it takes several hand-spinners to supply one weaver with thread. These women would certainly want to be rescued from such tedious labor. If they married a wealthy prince, of course, the servants would be responsible for the spinning (and fantasizing); a princess or queen might engage in some of this labor, but she could perhaps have the option of dressing pretty, arranging flowers for the table and merely being admired.

As you may have guessed, spinning and weaving are meditative arts, and these are some of the things upon which I meditate as I throw a shuttle or ply my threads.


  1. I have on occasion observed that women are not the only feminists. I have thought a lot about this since I met a N.O.W. card toting T.A. back in college who happened to be male. Are men not also bound by the patriarchy their brothers and fathers built? Yes, they are raised with the integrated benefits that come with being male in a patriarchal society but isn't there a dark side even for them?

    I would agree that the prince has his place in standing up against the hatred and discrimination of fighting for freedom. That said, I still have a hard time dealing with "helpless heroine" (who unfortunately still exists). Her helplessness seems linked to the common misunderstanding that the feminine is weak, especially in comparison with the brute strength often associated with the masculine. This feels SO wrong to me. Any one person can embody any mix of masculine or feminine traits or ideals and be no less a man or woman right?

    Thanks for the post. I really enjoyed it.

  2. What an intelligent, creative and thought-provoking website Penelope!! Well done!! I wish you the smoothest of weaving in life! I look forward to your next installment!!