The banner headline read: Fairy tale sexism: Is political correctness getting in the way of good stories? For a nanosecond I thought it was a clever April Fool’s joke. Then it dawned on me and I was filled, inexorably, with a sense of abject disbelief – even horror. Another example of the world going mad. The moral police on the march yet again and wanting to ruin the party for everyone – regardless.
I read on with a feeling of foreboding – which proved to be well-founded.
This year, the Respectful Relationship curriculum was rolled-out in Victorian schools. As part of this document, children are being taught to think critically about traditional fairy tales by looking at the gender roles portrayed within the stories.
What a load of horse manure! Before you start frothing at the mouth, let me make it abundantly clear: I am a feminist from way back. If I have any redeeming qualities they are, without equivocation, the direct and resounding consequence of a battalion of strong women who have passed through my life. First, there was my late mother, Beria. She was a woman before her time. As each year passes, and I grow a little wiser, I realise, more and more, what an incredible woman she was – with all her eccentricities and idiosyncratic behaviour. Then there was Wint. What a woman! She was always there to take care of me when the going got tough. I regret that I never got around to thanking her for sheltering me. As is the wont of children, I took the embracing comfort of her bosom for granted. The list of influential women is long: The Dominican sisters those selfless women of faith who took God and learning to a bunch of mostly ungrateful kids; Kay Quarti my first piano teacher; and Misses Main and Potter: English teachers who reinforced my love of books and reading which had come from Beria. In the theatre, Googie Withers was one of my mentors. That is not to say there has been no male influence. My father – who was divorced from mother – was always there, as was my brother who was fourteen-years older. For much of my career I have worked with internationally successful impresarios and producers, all of whom had some sway; however, for the most part women have been the greatest influence. I understand, fully, the difficulties women face in society. My mother was a victim of gender bias. I learned at an early age about ‘respectful relationships’. I witnessed, first-hand, the violence which comes as a consequence of men believing they own women. I now pronounce you man and wife. Think about that! I heard my mother’s husband (not my father) say things to my mother which – sixty-years later – are seared into my memory. A passed moment that is crystal clear in my mind. The voice still as loud as it was back then. Some things never leave you. Fairy stories are not at the root of the problem. They are an escape to another time and place – a reminder of an era when women were denied opportunity and relegated to the home and the raising of children. The stories were written by men – accept them for what they are. The more serious problem is radically changing the ethos and that begins in the home. We need to dramatically re-think. To dismantle the patriarchal society which we have created. It is not an easy task. The average male is not going to surrender his patch willingly. Why would he? The archaic attitude that ‘girls help Mum in the house’ and ‘boys help Dad in the yard’, has to be done away with. Why do we imagine that women love housework? It is fallacy. My mother hated housework and did as little as possible; however the yard was meticulously maintained and her garden was spectacular. You have never seen such orange trees and passion fruit vines.
When I wanted a bride doll my mother bought me one. When my sister wanted a tip truck for Christmas, my mother bought her one. I loved my bride doll and she loved her truck!
The problem is not with the Brothers Grimm, Hans Christian Anderson, Aesop’s fables, or the Thousand And One Arabian Nights. It is with our society which propagates misogynistic thinking. Attacking fairy stories is skirting around the periphery of the problem and is, for the most part, a distraction; a waste of time and effort. If we are going to tackle the problem, seriously, then let us start in the home and class room. It is going to take time. Nothing will alter the thinking of the old dinosaurs who revel in the current system.
Dare I say it – but this is women’s work. Remember the saying: The man may be the head of the household, but the woman is the neck, and she can turn the head whichever way she pleases!
Roland can be heard each MONDAY morning on 3BA at 10.30.