Fairytales, Folklore and Femininity: Making Sense of the (Un)Sexed Female Body across Time and Space



Publication Details

McKay, K., Dune, T., MacPhail, C., Mapedzahama, V. & Maple, M. (2014). Fairytales, Folklore and Femininity: Making Sense of the (Un)Sexed Female Body across Time and Space. In L. McLean, L. Stafford & M. Weeks (Eds.), Exploring Bodies in Time and Space (pp. 15-26). Oxfordshire, United Kingdom: Inter-Disciplinary Press.


Through the ages, and within myriad cultural contexts, fairytales and folklore have taught children and adolescents morality and socially acceptable behaviours. In particular, fairytales and folklore propagate ideals about the ways in which female characters should best behave, and the ways in which others interact with them. On the one hand, women who were perceived to enact the correct behaviours were rewarded with marriage and motherhood. On the other hand, women who deviated from such behaviours were relegated to spinsterhood or witchery. There is underlying assumption that women are not only seeking to have their bodies inscribed by heterosexual sex, marriage and motherhood but that this is their only reward. They cannot be the heroes; they are always and simply a prize. Our aim here is to make sense of how fairytales and folklore construct a values system where a woman's worth and place within a society is based on the type of sexuality she is attributed. Considering the enduring nature of fairytales and folklore, deconstructing the ways in which they portray women, and their bodies, over time is important to problematising the assumptions that women should - be virgins, get married and become mothers. It problematises the fact that women have to be obedient, and require men, in order to be of societal value, to exist - without which, women are banished and exiled. We attempt here to demonstrate that such enduring representations, well into the twenty-first century, have tangible implications for women's wellbeing - mental, physical and sexual. Within a multidisciplinary and cross-cultural frame, we will examine the following aspects: 1. Marriage as 'happily-ever-after' in European fairytales; 2. Shona-Zimbabwean folklore and labia-pulling; 3. Virginity-testing and South African folklore; and 4. 'Realistically'-ever-after in Zimbabwean folklore.

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