The Sophia regional meeting in Sheffield focused on the depiction of women in ‘Fairy Tales’ or ‘Wonder Tales’ as they are also known. ‘Fairy Tales’ are an ancient and global form of storytelling dating back to pre-Christian times. It was interesting to welcome women to the regional group from around the world and to discover that ‘Fairy Tales’ are a common language between us. We explored together the place of women within ‘Fairy Tales’ and uncovered the far darker and more cautionary stories hidden behind our romantic modern day versions. ‘Fairy Tales’ were originally written for adults and some of the tales would be terrifying if read to children at bedtime!
We heard stories of sexual assault, murderous intent, severe punishment, cruelty and homelessness buried within our familiar stories of Sleeping Beauty, Snow White, Red Riding Hood and Goldilocks. Some illusions were brutally shattered! These original tales are a far cry from the sweet, sanitised and sentimental versions that many of us grew up with. In the original tales both women and men are capable of great courage and hideous evil, with tales of heroic acts portrayed by both genders. The saving kiss of Prince Charming is often non-existent and has been added on at a later date. The subject matter of ‘Fairy Tales’ can be very bleak, bringing into the light subjects which are often hidden away; rape, child abuse, vagrancy, jealousy. We discovered tales of women overcoming great obstacles while being attacked by both men and women but also while being supported and aided by both men and women. The presence of gender stereotypes within ‘Fairy Tales’ has been greatly exaggerated in more recent years.
What does all of this mean to us as women serving within the church? We discussed a number of issues arising from our journey into ‘Fairy Tales’ ~
- That the art of storytelling is an effective way of communicating very difficult issues. The oral tradition is very strong within the church and its importance may well grow within our more media driven society.
- Just as Jesus told familiar stories with hidden meaning, we used a number of the ‘Wonder Tales’ as parables drawing Christian conclusions from the stories told. Many people know these tales; they still resonate within society, and so can act as a bridge into Scripture and the sharing of Good News.
- The stories of women in the Bible are a glorious mixture of good and evil, from Mary to Jezebel, and yet often our told versions are romanticised and sanitised. Bravely delving into the real Biblical accounts reveals so much more to us about what it truly means to be Godly women.
- ‘Fairy Tales’ have often become stories of romantic love and happy ever after which clearly misses the original message or cautionary warning. By focusing on a narrow view of women in our Scriptures are we missing so much about the revealed character of God, regardless of gender?
- Stories which depict partnership between the genders are powerful illustrations and can act as a catalyst for discussion ~ ‘all stories contain truth, some are actually true.’
We concluded our meeting with a parabolic telling of ‘The Emperor’s New Clothes’ and explored the theme of ‘truth’. Thinking about the small boy who spoke up from within the crowd we left ourselves with these questions:
1. Whose voice do I need to be listening to? Who is speaking truth in our midst?
2. Where do I need to be speaking truth? Where can I be the brave voice of truth?
Nel Shallow works for the Methodist Church in Sheffield