Friday, June 28, 2013

I've Been Living in a Fairy Tale

Sometimes I'm not sure where I'm going with this blog. I know writing is my therapy and I'm a work in progress. I strive to work on me, more so than other people. I'm not in this life to with a mission of converting anyone, changing anyone, etc. and I don't like it when others try to force change on me. I'm responsible for my own life. I am responsible only for me.

I've been working on me a lot lately. I had some trouble coming to terms with some things that have happened to me in my life and I needed to find peace. I've done a lot of thinking, a lot of pro/con lists and a lot of reflecting. I've decided that if/when it is my time to die, I will do so with the peace of knowing I did not have my life ripped away from me while I was living. So if the man who seeks to kill me, and has tried on 3 separate occasions, succeeds, I will at least have the legacy of my blogs to leave behind to my children, my friends and my family.

"Fairy tales help inculcate the norms of society into young minds consciously, but subconsciously may provide an attractive stereotyped number of role, locations, and timetables for an errant life script." -- Stephen Karpman, 1968

The moment I read that quote, so many things in my life clicked for me. I've been writing about stereotypes all month long and I hope that some of you learned a few things. I hope you all can see how stereotypes shape our lives, the decisions we make, the thoughts we have and learn to differentiate between what is a stereotype you have learned and what is reality. That's not easy.

Growing up I was taught multiple stereotypes/fairytales. I can reflect back and see how they directly affected my adult life. I can also now discern that the world is not supposed to be that way. Stories that stand out in my mind (and why) are:
  • Snow White - Everyone in the household shared the work. The men went out and the woman stayed home cooking and cleaning.
  • Mary and Martha (the Holy Bible) - I remember this story upsetting me. Martha was busy doing all the work while Mary sat around and chatted. It harbored a lot of ill feelings for me. Why wasn't Mary doing her part? Why did Jesus tell Martha to be quiet when she complained? I saw this exact scenario used in a book on codependency recently and now I know why it bothered me so much. 
  • Ruth (the Holy Bible) -  She was patient, hard-working, and giving. She put herself last and waited for just about everything she got.
So what fairytale have I been living in? I don't think my life relates to any one fairytale specifically but somehow I wound up with this image that I don't really need anything or deserve anything in life that I don't get for myself. If I can't get it, then it must not be fate for me to have it. It's a weird kind of anti-self dilemma. It makes it hard to receive gifts and enjoy relationships to their fullest. I have a hard time integrating and mingling with others though I almost always do my best. Actually I should put a past tense on all of that. I used to feel/act that way. As I've grown and matured I've learned a lot about taking care of yourself and why that is important and won't damn you to hell.

The more I learn about this fairytale culture, the more I see it manifest in the people around me. I see it in my MIL, my mother, my dad, my husband, and quite a few other people. They have this ideal of what life should be and rather than accepting it, they cling to notions that mirror their thoughts. Several of them are quite aggressive in their views of proving why this or that specific facet of life must be real. They adopt some of these principles so strongly they can't see any other viewpoint, even when it comes from first-hand experience.

India is not free from this same concept. Instead of stories like Cinderella or biblical fables, they grow up with stories of Mirza Sahiba, Radha and Krishna. These stories shape the very fabric that is India. They justify behaviors, feelings and attitudes toward various subjects.

Now that I'm older and wiser, I can see a direct correlation between the fairytale stories I grew up with and stereotypes now in my adult life. Snow white was obviously a well-trained housewife who loved cooking and cleaning which relates to the Christian tradition and Hindu custom of 'a womans place is in the home.'

More subtly, there is no big bad wolf waiting to eat you if you go out alone (Little Red Riding Hood). That poor girl suffered immensely over trying to take a care basket to her sick grandmother. Hansel and Gretel had to worry about someone being kind to them. Not everyone in life has an ulterior motive, nor eats children. Of course, this does have some merit as there's no denying sick individuals exist. But then again, why were the children wandering alone and where were their parents?

My point is this, the stories we hear growing up shape us subconsciously. As we age, this turns into watching the news and hearing more stories to back up the claims. What is a minority or shallow percentage winds up looking and feeling like the norm in society.

How many of us seek out Prince Charming (US) or Raj (India)? How many that do wind up marrying for lust rather than love and stability?

What are some fairytales that have shaped your life?
How do those fairytales correspond to stereotypes you recognize as an adult?

I look forward to hearing your comments.


  1. I think that the greatest fairytale that shaped Indian life was Ramayana. Rama the perfect son, Sita the perfect wife, lakshmana the perfect brother. Even today Indian families have the romanticized notion of son, DIL and others based on Ramayana which probably is the cause of all kinds of domestic trouble. Imagine, being constantly compared to the gods in everyday life.

    The Mahabharata on the other hand is the exact opposite of Ramayana. It talks about greed, lust and violence. That is why, Indian households do not keep a copy of Mahabharata in the home as it is believed to disturb the harmony at home. The mind numbing violence depicted show that our ancestors were definitely not peace loving people.

    BTW, we tend to think of America as the most non-conservative nation in the world where everyone is having a party. But, I guess the southern states which are more rural are more conservative. The words "Conservative" and "American," just does not jell in our minds. There are lots of people giving discourse on Bible on TV, which suggests that even America is not free from Babas and Godmen. I specially like the way some Afro American preachers give lectures because Afro Americans have a typical language and style which is quiet entertaining. Americans generally have a colouful language. Its funny how same things happen across different cultures. Human beings, gripped by insecurity often take refuge in religion.

  2. I think the Mahabharata has shaped Indian culture quite a bit- especially in regards to women.

    "Sati Savitri" seems to be the basis for the martyred 'paragon of virtue" model that Indian women are pushed to aspire to.

  3. Mahabharata teaches that those societies which do not respect their women are doomed. At the end, the Kauravas did perish in the great war. Not only them, it is said that millions were killed. When morals are compromised, death and destruction is inevitable. Sadly, this lesson is lost to many. We seem to be heading that way.

  4. I think that in the Western fairy tales not one is actually telling girls to go get a life on their own. Snow White is the perfect housewife, Rapunzel pretty much a door mat that needs prince charming to be rescued because she can hoist Gothel up the tower with her hair but hasn't figured out tht she can cut it and climb down (that is the reason why I actually love Disney's take on that tale in Tangled, she becomes assertive and has actually a valid reason not to cut her hair). The Beauty and the beast lesson: even if the man in your life is a brutal beast you must love him (gasp!) Cinderella, slave all your life, you'll be rewarded one day. Sleeping Beauty: your only mission in life is to follow mommy and daddy's order and marry the prince, as you can only be saved that way. The little mermaid: if you make your own choices in life you will suffer and that will lead you to commit suicide (again I seriously prefer Disney's take on it, they emphasise on girls having options in life, because the orignal fairytale is really nasty).
    Hansel and gretel were not only making a point at never trusting kind people, it was also hansel that figured out a way to escape fooling the witch into thinking he was not gaining weight, Gretel just waited for her big bro to rescue them both!
    The little riding hood, little know fact about it, it was a story about sexual predators and how girls should know better than walk around in the world...ahem woods alone. I studied it in French lit in senior year in highschool, basically what this one tells you is that it's a man's world out there and women should know better...gah!!!!!
    And yet these fairy tales are still deemed children friendly these days, perpetuating antiquated patriarchal values. The girls must marry the prince, the boys can be jerks and that is ok because they will always get a girl regardless.

  5. And let's not even go into Draupadi - non-Indians can't get their head around this female icon. Is she an oppressed wife to 5 brothers or a warrior princess who wants to bathe her hair in Duryodhana's blood? And why is she proudly and reverentially called Krishnaa - "The Black One" - gasp! - not "Fair and Lovely"?!

    The problem with stereotypes is that India epitomizes and contradicts them at one and the same time. I mean, is Sita the ideal, long-suffering wife but if she is then why does she finally walk out on her husband and return to her mother, the Earth, leaving him to fend for himself? Was Indira Gandhi a "dumb doll" - but, but, this is the woman who handed the Pakistani generals their backsides to them, something no Indian male leader had done (some would argue ever since) India, India....enigma wrapped in a riddle shrouded in mystery. No wonder even those who hate her can't stop obsessing about her.
    And sorry if this is a double post - my first attempt disappeared into the ether.

  6. Absolutely agree! If we think about the stories we're being taught it's no wonder the world is so screwed up! We're leading our kids down some dark and pretty sadistic roads. I didn't know about Little Red Riding Hood. That's just terrible! Ugh.

  7. I love your tone for this comment! It fascinates me to learn of these things.

    I do sincerely hope you don't think I hate India. I know I've had some turmoil with her but please consider I was confined to a room 90% of my time there and that is enough to drive anyone to misery. I kind of feel cheated and robbed of the experience of India because of this. I went with some grand expectations of being a part of life there and that was taken from me. So my view is skewed by that. As difficult as things were for me there, I don't hate it. I just know I can't live in those circumstances.

  8. Oh, I don't think you hate India. It's a country that triggers very strong emotions, is all. I love it but then I also know just how hard it is to live your daily life there. There are all sorts of guidelines for conduct and others that contradict them at the same time. Don't wear short skirts but every gal in the Saket mall seems to be wearing tight, short and bling-y. White women are sluts, no wait, they are super privileged. Indians hate whites. Hang on, they also hate blacks, browns, East Asians, and even each other.

    In fact, given the melodrama of everyday life, I don't know how anyone in India gets any work done at all. Oh wait, no one does. And there you are - I'm exasperated just writing this. But I LOVE the place in spite of violence, crudeness, riots, and rebellion.

  9. Lol. I can see where you would get exhausted trying to figure out how things work there. I've seen most of what you mention. I don't understand how it works either. I try not to seek understanding either, lest I go completely mad over it.

  10. Our scriptures say "Yatra Nariyastu Poojante, ramanante tatra devta" (where women are worshiped, gods reside). At the same time, Manu Samitri makes disparaging remarks about women. These scriptures were written and re-written over a long period of time which is why you find contradictory things. Someone messed with our books big time. The real interpretation of our scriptures are lost. Some twenty years ago, both Mahabharata and Ramayana were made into TV serials. It was then, people got to know about the content of these two great epics.

    It is said that the real Sita was in the custody of the Fire God and Ravana abducted the fake Sita. Sita, Ram, Ravana, Hunuman were divine beings and were aware of each other. The whole story was a divine game played by the gods. As you delve deep into the epics all sorts of amazing things come up.

    India I believe is like an onion. You peel one layer and there is another one underneath.As far as India is concerned, one western observer called it "Controlled Chaos". If we can harness this nervous energy, we can put it to good use. India is like a sleeping giant put to sleep by the opium of religion.