Rebel Girls and Rapunzel

My research assistant has directed me towards this video, created by an outfit called Rebel Girls:


Where to begin?

Firstly, if a couple of Italians want to replace fairy stories like Rapunzel with books containing sanitised biographies of famous women and they’re crowdfunding to do it, good luck to them. Nothing wrong with that. Nor do I see much wrong with exposing young girls to stories about real-life, successful women.

What I don’t get is why this is considered rebellious: the books are called Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls, which makes me think this is more about the parents than the kids. I had an older sister and a childhood containing lengthy periods of extreme boredom, so I am familiar with girls’ annuals such as Bunty and Judy. They were full of stories of brave, strong girls and women, some of them featuring real-life heroines. I believe Bunty’s longest running strip was The Four Marys, and although old-fashioned it hardly portrayed girls negatively, or weak and in need of a man’s help. Indeed, friendship, cooperation, and resourcefulness in the absence of men seemed to be the main theme. Were girls who read Bunty back in the 1960s and 1970s considered rebellious? Probably not.

But it’s clever marketting. What modern, third-wave feminist wouldn’t want to boast at an Anti-Trump protest march that her five year old daughter is a rebel and taking on the Patriarchy? Sadly, we only really hear feedback from the parents who insist their kids love it. Would they tell us any different if it weren’t the case? It reminds me of posh yummy mummies who went to uni together insisting their kids are “besties” even though they fucking hate each other.

That said, there’s no reason why kids shouldn’t love the books and if their parents say they do, who am I to argue? But why the knocking of Rapunzel? According to Wikipedia:

Rapunzel is a German fairy tale in the collection assembled by the Brothers Grimm, and first published in 1812 as part of Children’s and Household Tales. The Grimm Brothers’ story is an adaptation of the fairy tale Rapunzel by Friedrich Schulz published in 1790.The Schulz version is based on Persinette by Charlotte-Rose de Caumont de La Force originally published in 1698 which in turn was influenced by an even earlier tale, Petrosinella by Giambattista Basile, published in 1634.

Rapunzel’s story has striking similarities to the 11th-century Persian tale of Rudāba, included in the epic poem Shahnameh by Ferdowsi.

If a story has maintained its popularity across an entire continent for around 350 years, there might be something to be said for its universal and timeless appeal. The two women in the video seem to think the idea of a woman being locked away somewhere and dreaming of rescue is ludicrous, which is indicative of what they know about history and the world at large.

It also shows a staggering lack of understanding of literary allegories: young girls are prisoners to some extent, of their parents. Girls can relate to having their freedoms restricted, and whereas some may wish to bust out on their own by murdering their parents (now that would make for a rebel), most simply dream of an easy escape in the arms of a handsome prince where nobody gets hurt and everyone lives happily ever after. Far from a woman languishing in a tower being ridiculous, the story’s very success is proof that it resonates with a lot of girls, particularly those reaching sexual maturity but whose family or culture doesn’t yet allow them to explore it.

If I can work out the allegory of Rapunzel in twenty minutes of a Thursday morning, what excuse do these two women have? They not only appear to be a bit dim, but some humility wouldn’t go amiss, would it? Declaring timeless and universally liked stories to be ridiculous might appeal to loudmouth feminists in dungarees, but it’s indicative of a certain lack of class. Perhaps they’re right that men wouldn’t be portrayed in the same way, but why didn’t they run that to its logical conclusion by writing a story where a princess wanders the lands seeking random men to rescue from a life of back-breaking servitude in the master’s fields? I know why, and so do they.

Whether they like it or not, most young girls are interested in princesses, castles, and brief misery followed by rescue at the hands of a handsome prince. Not so many will be interested in a book about Malala Yousafzai, Frida Kahlo, and Simone Biles. To be fair, they might like the page on Beyoncé, but I’m unsure how she helps young women reject gender stereotypes:

Some of the reviews are interesting, too:

I wasn’t really expecting to have to explain gender reassignment surgery at this point in her life, so I am glad I read ahead and can skip that particular story.

and:

Keep in mind, a 6 year old doesn’t exactly understand the concept of gender identity. So since there are multiple stories in here regarding gender identity pioneers, it’s awfully strange to have to explain to my little girl that it’s perfectly ok to just be herself, she doesn’t have to change because the person in the story did.

and:

There are much better books written for girls. This book was more about politics …

and:

Not sure if the story of a transgender kid should be included in a children’s book

My advice to parents is stick with Rapunzel; your kids will thank you one day.

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11 thoughts on “Rebel Girls and Rapunzel

  1. A bloke in that situation would most likely be much more aggressive, imaginative and violent about escaping and punishing his captors.

    Good post. These people are pathetic.

  2. Rapunzel (in the Brothers Grimm version at least) is really a story about the redemptive power of fertility and familial love over the sterility (sorry) of mere sex.

    Can’t think of a more apposite story for young women really.

  3. Rapunzel (in the Brothers Grimm version at least) is really a story about the redemptive power of fertility and familial love over the sterility (sorry) of mere sex.

    Ooh, I didn’t know that. But obviously, all of these stories have survived so long and transcended so many borders because the underlying allegories have such universal appeal, even if I don’t know quite what the allegories are.

  4. Who is the chubby girl in the sluttish clothes?

    Today’s role model for 7-year old girls, apparently.

  5. My wife would cut my balls off if I proposed this for my daughter. With good cause: preparing a girl for life is in no way congruent with filling her head with propaganda.
    Quite the opposite, actually.

  6. Also: I’ve just walked in to Germany through Hamburg airport, from Oslo without showing my passport to anyone.

  7. My 4 little ones are having a fine time being brought up in a rather old fashioned way albeit with a fair sprinkling of modern tech. My family has produced several generations of strong women and I expect it to continue even with my sadly remiss fathering as regards gender etc….there are girls, there are boys and we make do with that as it seems to have worked for several thousand years which works for me!

  8. […] a story where a princess wanders the lands seeking random men to rescue from a life of back-breaking servitude in the master’s fields?

    That exists. It’s the Manic Pixie Dream Girl cliche.

    The problem with any feminist wanking on about media of any kind is that none of them know anything about media or history, and so they can be, if not safely ignored, at least discounted.

  9. Had a friend shot dead and was gifted a metal plate in my eye socket care of those lovely gooch close people….not many fond memories for me but I was well paid and there of my own free will so I’m about square.

    Ah! You’re a lot more knowledgeable of literary memes than me! First a Mary Sue, now a Manic Pixie Dream Girl!

  10. My 4 little ones are having a fine time being brought up in a rather old fashioned way albeit with a fair sprinkling of modern tech.

    Excellent!

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