Life Stories: What They Are and How They Work

I recently realized that I write a lot about life stories here but have never actually defined that term. Here’s my explanation of what psychologists call narrative identity theory, the fact that we create our sense of self—our sense of who we are—by telling a story about ourselves.

Here are a few of the synonyms for life story that you’ll see on this blog:

  • life narrative
  • life writing
  • memoir writing
  • personal storytelling

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“We live forwards but we understand backwards.”

Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard (1813–1855)

Even though we may not be aware of it, we all carry within us a story about our lives that describes who we are. We’ve had experiences from which we’ve learned lessons, and from those experiences and lessons we’ve formulated a set of beliefs and values. Someone who has known the pain of being bullied at school, for example, may decide never to inflict the same pain on someone else. The story of being bullied becomes a focal point in his life story to demonstrate why he tries to treat others with kindness and compassion.

Our life story communicates who we are to both ourselves and others. Story in this context does not mean something untrue—“Oh, that’s just a story”—but rather a narrative, a sequence of events that have occurred over time. The longer we live, the more complex and layered our life story becomes.

We construct our life story in order to find meaning in our experiences and to describe how those experiences have made us the person we are now. In Western culture the process of creating a sense of self through building a life story generally begins in late adolescence or early young adulthood (roughly, ages 16 to 22). Young children may rehearse stories of specific events that have happened to them—“Remember the time I fell down Grandma’s porch steps?”—particularly with coaching from parents. Although such remembered stories help youngsters begin to develop a sense of self, children won’t begin to integrate those individual events into a larger, unified life story until they get older.

The Storytelling Animal
The Storytelling Animal

We communicate our identity through a life story because humans have a natural propensity to compose and tell stories to explain what is happening around them. (See the review of The Storytelling Animal ). This tendency toward storytelling is why conspiracy theories can gain such a foothold in the popular mind: They are stories that arise from our tendency to look for patterns and to fill in the blanks when necessary to make sense of what we perceive. Our love for stories also explains the power of stories in advertising.

Our life story represents a paradox that we all face as we grow up: We want to fit somehow into the society we live in, but we also want to carve out a unique identity, a personal sense of self. Our life story therefore has both a cultural and a personal component.

The Cultural Component

Where does our life story come from? The cultural component begins early, long before we are old enough to assemble a sequence of events into a coherent narrative. As young children we begin to assimilate unconsciously our culture’s expectations about how we should behave. These expectations include proper behavior for our gender, class, and age. Through religious education and common stories such as fairy tales and popular books we learn to fulfill such expectations as “Don’t talk back to grownups” and “Share your toys with others.”

Our cultural stories provide templates from which we begin to understand how we’re expected to live our lives. The story of Cinderella, for example, explains what happens to daughters once their fathers are no longer around to protect them and offers the solution to the problem: find a Prince Charming to marry and then live happily ever after. Although different cultures offer different story templates, all children begin at a very young age to recognize the life paths they’re expected to follow as they grow up. Just a couple of generations ago boys in the Western world assimilated stories that encouraged them to become doctors, businessmen, or astronauts. Girls, on the other hand, learned stories that taught them they could become teachers, secretaries, or nurses (but not doctors) until they fulfilled their true destiny by getting married and raising a family.

The Personal Component

story plateCultural influences pervade our lives so subtly that we learn them without being consciously aware that we know them—for example, heterosexual love, the notion of mothers as primary caregivers, which professions are appropriate for boys and which for girls. But grafted onto cultural templates for expected behavior are lessons learned, either implicitly or explicitly, from personal experiences.

The personal component of our life story emerges as we grow up and attempt to graft our own experiences onto the cultural templates we’ve assimilated. Many individuals never realize that there might be alternative life options available that are not sanctioned by their culture; for them, the creation of a narrative identity involves choosing from the cultural menu of options, and their life narratives reinforce the dominant culture’s patterns.

The personal component of our life story begins in the home. Our families teach us some lessons explicitly, such as instruction in specific religious beliefs that influence our outlook on the world and our own place in it, or expectations about achievements in school, athletics, or other activities. Some families also create stories about the children that become part of each individual’s identity: “This is Kathy. She’s the smart one. This is Cindy. She’s the pretty one. This is Jake. He’s the family comic.” Family stories like these may originate as descriptions of young children. But the life story not only describes our past and present situation, but also influences future behavior. Once cast in these roles, Kathy, Cindy, and Jake will probably continue to act so as to fulfill these expectations.

But some lessons that we learn at home and absorb into our life story are not stated so openly, such as the old Smothers Brothers refrain “Mom always liked you best.” Children who feel they are not loved as much or treated as fairly as a sibling will incorporate this belief into their life story. Or children of verbally abusive or emotionally distant parents will learn to keep quiet or to retreat from the adults’ presence. Conversely, children whose families encourage them to express opinions and ask questions will incorporate these supportive experiences into the identity story they create for themselves.

But people who live outside the normative options of their culture must decide how to narrate their life story. The current movement [#WeNeedDiverseBooks]( attempts to expand the life-story options available by featuring stories that showcase young people of both genders and of various ethnicities, ability levels, and sexual orientation succeeding in diverse pursuits. People who find no cultural models for themselves face two choices: (1) to silence the parts of their identity that are unacceptable to society, or (2) to use their life stories to contest rather than to reinforce dominant social practices.

A Constantly Evolving Story

We begin to construct our life story in adolescence but continue to revise it throughout our lives as we have more experiences. Our childhood experiences form the basis of our life story, but later experiences can alter our story and send us off on a different path. Our life story not only explains our past and our present, but also shapes our future by controlling the choices we think we have and the decisions we make. Narrative therapy is a process that helps people to change their lives by recognizing how their life story has come about and how changing the story can change their lives. Such a recognition of how our life story influences our lives is behind the common dictum “Change your story, change your life.”


Most of us will continue to seek meaning in our lives until we lose consciousness of what’s happening around us. Our life story is an ever-evolving artifact of how one person has interacted with the world over the course of a lifetime.

© 2015 by Mary Daniels Brown

Friday Findings

Outsource Your Memory, With an App

Interested in organizing your life story? There’s an app for that, called Memoir:

“More of our lives is being automatically recorded,” said Lee Hoffman, one of the company’s founders. “But it goes into a box and you never look at it.”

The box Mr. Hoffman is referring to is a smartphone, which often has hundreds, if not thousands, of photographs of friends, events, parties, particularly memorable meals or outings, plus data about where the photos were taken. That box also has a calendar and data from services like Foursquare and contacts, meaning it also has the potential to start assembling a smart scrapbook of a person’s life.

The app claims the ability to associate your photos with events from your calendar and with entries from social sites to create a scrapbook of your life.

This article gives a link for downloading the app. Do you think you’ll try it? As much as I love my smartphone, I’m still a little concerned about entrusting my personal data to yet another spot on the internet.

Three Times a Lady: Tales With Triple Witches

If two’s company, then three’s a charm, at least when it comes to mythic female characters. Whenever three magical madams appear in stories, you can bet some large, profound change is about to take place. They show up in tales regularly, most recently in the latest trailer for the new season of American Horror Story. . . . But the imagery it draws from is not new. In fact, the archetype of three magical females has been time-tested and audience approved for thousands of years. Triple goddesses and witchy trios have been with us at since the days of ancient mythology, and have risen to the top of the archetypal pot many times over throughout history.

Pamela J. Grossman examines the archetypal three sisters, from ancient Greek mythology through Shakespeare and up to current writers, particularly Neil Gaiman.

Introvert or extrovert? Most of us are ambiverts

This article examines the introvert-extrovert dichotomy and discovers that most people exhibit characteristics of both personality types.

One particularly salient point is that introverts are not necessarily shy. Many introverts interact very well with other people; they just need more solitude to recharge after social interaction. Here’s another interesting finding:

A comprehensive meta-analysis of 35 different studies of nearly 4, 000 salespersons combined with a recent study by Adam Grant of the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Management reports the difference between introverts and extroverts in a sales force is almost indistinguishable, with extroverts having a slight edge. The determining factor was sales performance with introverts generating sales revenue at a rate of $125 hourly and introverts $120.

11 Amazing Triumphs of Demand Creation

“Demand creation” isn’t new, but it’s the only game left for innovators and entrepreneurs. While billions of people still dream of toileting indoors, Americans flush with rage when Netflix sputters between Sunday naps. So businesses must tap into the complex psychology of the first world’s hunger for happiness.

Forbes contributor Steve Faktor offers his “list of the top ten triumphs of demand generation, the tactics they used, and the psychology of why they worked.”

You may be surprised by some of the items on his list. I certainly was, particularly monster cable and organic food.

The Dark Side of the Grimm Fairy Tales

Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm’s collection of folktales contains some of the best-known children’s characters in literary history, from Snow White and Rapunzel to Cinderella and Little Red Riding Hood. Yet the brothers originally filled their book, which became known as “Grimm’s Fairy Tales,” with gruesome scenes that wouldn’t be out of place in an R-rated movie. The Grimms never even set out to entertain kids. The first edition of “Grimm’s Fairy Tales” was scholarly in tone, with many footnotes and no illustrations. Only later, as children became their main audience, did they take out some of the more adult content. Their stories were then further sanitized as they were adapted by Walt Disney and others. As the 150th anniversary of Jacob’s death approaches—he passed away on September 20, 1863, about four years after Wilhelm—check out some of the surprisingly dark themes that appear in the Grimms’ work.

In honor of today’s anniversary of Jacob Grimm’s death, History Channel looks at some of the darker themes of traditional fairy tales that have been edited out of our picture book and Disney film versions. These tales originated as ways of teaching people about some of the darkest regions of their human nature.


Friday Findings

Mindfulness Training and Working Memory

New research suggests it’s possible to improve memory:

A person’s working memory can be improved through mindfulness training, new research has suggested. Published in the journal Psychological Science, the study found that as little as two weeks of training of this type can bolster working memory capacity, in addition to ability to focus and reading comprehension.

Folklorist follows trail of an Arctic classic

Once upon a time a spiteful mother blinded her son. Even in his sightless state, he managed to kill a bear, but his mother told him he had missed and kept the meat for herself. Then a kind loon restored the man’s vision. In retaliation, the son tied his mother to a line attached to a harpoon with which he speared a whale that dragged her screaming into the water.

For a thousand years or so, variations of this tale have been told from the Bering Sea to Greenland and from Barrow to Oklahoma. In a new book, “The Blind Man and the Loon: The Story of a Tale” (University of Nebraska Press), Alaskan anthropologist and folklorist Craig Mishler analyzes the legend and traces its travels across generations, distance and cultures, from antiquity to appearances in modern media.

A study of cross-cultural interpretations of a persistent folk narrative.

The Unanswerable Question

The unanswerable question of the title is this: How can a writer effectively represent in words the elusive quality of a dream?

Or, as Alberto Manguel writes:

Alice, whose experience of dreams is one of the deepest and most convincing in all literature, is quite ready to admit that words cannot be used to name the endless plurality of the world. When Humpty Dumpty tells her that he uses the word “glory” to mean “there’s a nice knock-down argument for you,” Alice objects that “glory” does not mean “a nice knock-down argument.” “When I use a word,” says Humpty Dumpty in a rather scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.” “The question is,” Alice objects, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.” “The question is,” Humpty Dumpty answers, “which is to be master—that’s all!” No doubt, the writer’s task is to embrace Humpty Dumpty’s faith in the powers of language, and be the master, while at the same time convincing Alice that he submits to the rules of a shared understanding, rules over which the words themselves hold dominion. Of course, both Humpty Dumpty and Alice, both writer and reader know, more or less consciously, that this is just a pretense to which we must resign ourselves if literature is to exist at all.

Why do we regard an only child as lonely, demanding, spoilt and selfish?

instead of being awed by the accomplishments of only children, we have been giving them a very hard time. Throughout history, only children have often been the victims of gratuitous stereotypes and misconceptions.

Only children have been stuck with labels claiming that they are lonely, selfish, spoilt and demanding.

Thanks to the Irish Independent for pointing out that these persistent stereotypical beliefs are unfounded.

Friday Findings

Trust your memory? Maybe you shouldn’t

CNN’s Jacque Wilson reports on the work of cognitive psychologist Elizabeth Loftus, an expert on the malleability of human memory. Loftus is famously controversial for her research into so-called “repressed memories,” which her critics say are actually false memories. But Loftus has also demonstrated the unreliability of eye-witness testimony and explored the use of memory manipulation to treat eating disorders and addictions such as alcoholism.

What writers see in life, language and literature

Roy Peter Clark knows that writers don’t merely look at things; they truly see:

I once heard of a clever writing prompt given to school children: “If you had a third eye, what could you see?” Writers, I would argue, already have a third eye. They use it to see life, language and literature in special ways.

This third eye has a number of different names. It’s called vision (and then revision), curiosity, inspiration, imagination, visitation of the muse. When an ordinary person says “I see,” she usually means “I understand.” If she’s a writer, she means that and much more. For the writer, seeing is a synecdochic and synesthetic gerund. It stands for all the senses, all the ways of knowing.

Take a look at his list of 50 “things I think writers see in life, language and literature.”

Thriller that delves into the dark side of fairytales

Fairy tales fascinate novelist Alison Littlewood:

Her second book Path of Needles was published last week and is a compelling read, focusing on a series of murders which, from the gruesome way in which the victims’ bodies are posed, appear to have a connection with fairytales. A young police officer, Cate Corbin, is part of the investigating team and on a hunch she calls in academic Alice Hyland, an expert in fairytales, to assist them on the case.

Fairy tales are enduring stories that deal with some of the more unsavory aspects of human nature. Says Littlewood, “I tend to write about things that personally scare me and I’m also fascinated by the fact that, despite all the technological advances we have made, there are still things we can’t explain.”

Does Prozac help artists be creative?

More than 40 million people globally take an SSRI antidepressant, among them many writers and musicians. But do they hamper the creative process, extinguishing the spark that produces great art, or do they enhance artistic endeavour?

In The Guardian, novelist Alex Preston takes an in-depth look at the question of whether psychiatric drugs help or hinder artistic creativity.

Friday Findings

Lots of interesting stories this week.

Fairy-Tales of “Conservatives”

election campaignerThis article is a good follow-up to last week’s Friday Findings in its addition to the discussion of opposing narratives at work in this fall’s U. S. election campaigns:

Conservative America confronts a profound and difficult choice this year: a choice between supporting a political philosophy that they generally disagree with and supporting a faction that is trying to turn America into a kind of dictatorship of the rich and powerful. This faction, which now controls the Republican Party through its control of funding for campaigns, will try to mislead you about what their real intent is.

They do this by constructing a set of fairy tales that make them seem to support Conservative values, but that are based on nothing, or on misrepresentations or even lies, or by demonizing their opponents by attributing to them opinions that they do not espouse. These fairy tales conceal their real intent, which is to concentrate power in a system that protects large corporations and wealthy families at the expense of everyone else. And the Democrats have failed to confront the falsehoods behind this assault.

There’s nothing like an election to demonstrate how archetypes, individual narratives, and political narratives can combine to become the narratives that underlie a national mythos.

Escaping One’s Own Shadow

Before we get started, you should know this about me: I’ve written short stories, news articles, essays, reviews and a couple of nonfiction books. In pursuit of my ambitions, I’ve put in long hours of reading, writing and rewriting. But because life unfolds the way life does, I also have a day job as a think tank researcher, where I spend about half of my time writing or reading in genres and styles that are — how can I put this? — less juicy than the ones I practice and aspire to produce.

I’m a dancer who walks for a living.

The biggest adjustment I had to make in leaving academia was the switch from academic writing to writing for a general audience. Here Michael Erard explains why. What makes this kind of change so difficult is “’structural priming’ or ‘syntactic persistence.’ Basically, earlier patterns in what you say or read or write ‘prime’ you to repeat them when you’re acting automatically.”

To help overcome structural priming, Erard advises looking at some texts that are different from what you usually write. But, ironically,

It’s not quite as easy, though, as simply doing “new” and “mesmerizing” things with the same old words. The challenge that structural priming poses to writers is that you can’t deviate from what’s expected by your readers so completely that you produce a sentence they can’t read.

Jonathan Evison on coming back from irredeemable loss

Cover: Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving

In this short essay the author of The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving explains how writing the novel helped him heal from a personal trauma:

This book represents nothing less than an emotional catharsis for its author. I wrote this book because I needed to. Because my sister went on a road trip 39 years ago and never came back. And my family has yet to heal from this terrible fact. This novel is about the imperative of getting in that van, because you have no choice but to push yourself and drive on, and keep driving in the face of life’s terrible surprises. It’s about the people and the things you gather along that rough road back to humanity. And in the end, for me, “The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving” is the van in which I finally bring my sister home.

Here’s to the memory of Gloria Steinem and the other women who struggled for equality

Kathleen Parker recently saw Gloria Steinem at a gathering that honored the documentary Makers: The Women Who Make America, a video production from PBS, AOL and

The documentary chronicles the history of the women’s movement and features women who have, indeed, made things happen so that subsequent generations could do what women were not allowed to do not so long ago — to become doctors, lawyers, legislators, secretaries of state and, perhaps, even president.

Among those assembled were seven of the Makers who appear in the film, including, in addition to Steinem, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, actress Marlo “That Girl” Thomas, Rebecca Adamson (founder of First Peoples Worldwide), Karen Nussbaum (executive director of Working America and founder of 9to5), Malika Saada Saar (executive director, Human Rights Project for Girls) and Muriel Siebert (the first woman to earn a seat on the New York Stock Exchange and namesake of the investment firm Siebert & Co.).

The documentary will be released in February 2013, to coincide with the 50th anniversary of Betty Friedan’s landmark book The Feminine Mystique. Parker emphasizes that women in the U. S. must remember that their rights “didn’t just happen.” Those rights were earned by the hard work of generations of women who refused to be constrained by their sex. Forgetting this fact could be catastrophic:

Steinem, her fire somewhat tempered by time and grace, noted that loss of memory is the source of oppression. For centuries, women’s stories weren’t told. Women had no place at the campfire, as she put it.

Women must keep telling their stories. And stoking that campfire.

What is narrative therapy?

The Dulwich Centre of Australia, one of the global repositories of narrative resources and instruction, offers the first two chapter of Alice Morgan’s text What is narrative therapy? An easy-to-read introduction.

An individual may have a story about themselves as being successful and competent. Alternatively they may have a story about themselves as being ‘a failure at trying new things’ or ‘a coward’ or as ‘lacking determination’. Families may have stories about themselves as being ‘caring’ or ‘noisy’ or ‘risky’ or ‘dysfunctional’ or ‘close’. A community may have a story about itself as ‘isolated’ or ‘politically active’ or ‘financially strong’. All these stories could be occurring at the same time, and events, as they occur, will be interpreted according to the meaning (plot) that is dominant at that time. In this way, the act of living requires that we are engaged in the mediation between the dominant stories and the alternative stories of our lives. We are always negotiating and interpreting our experiences.

Narrative therapy uses conscious examination and understanding of our various stories, followed, if necessary, by “restorying” aspects of our lives that may be causing us problems.

Fairytales with a Twist

Fairy tales are an integral part of any culture. They are stories used to demonstrate to children what life paths or options are open to them and what will happen to those who don’t conform to society’s expectations.

This blog entry uses television and film examples to illustrate “a recent growing trend – using known fairytale plots and characters in non traditional ways.” The use of traditional fairy tales in nontraditional ways suggests a society in transition. Most current examples of this usage demonstrate to girls that they have choices other than Cinderella and Snow White as models for how to live their lives.

Related Post:


Friday Findings

Can We Change Our Life by Changing Our Story?

“This is the dramatic question that I am exploring in my next book, Change Your Story, Change Your Life, which I am currently writing,” says Jen Grisanti.

What made me want to examine this idea of changing our life by changing our story? I am a story/career consultant and I have analyzed stories for 20 years now — including 12 years as a studio executive. I have probably seen a protagonist change in over 5,000 stories at this point in my career. I see that in stories (in film, television, novels, etc.) we can create and manipulate the idea of change. We have the control to do it because we can write whatever outcome illustrates the idea of change.

So, if we can do it in the stories we write and the stories we tell, why can’t we also do it in our own life stories? . . . What if we could learn to be the heroes in our own stories and move through our obstacles knowing that, in time, the growth will move us into a greater awareness?

What Grisanti is talking about here is narrative therapy, and there’s a whole body of scientific material about it.

But don’t let the word therapy scare you. This kind of personal change doesn’t require an advanced degree or a special therapist. In addition to the body of scientific literature, there are also a lot of books about this process written for a general reader. Here are two that I have found particularly helpful:

  • Michael White and David Epston, Narrative Means to Therapeutic Ends (Norton, 1990)
  • Daniel Taylor, Tell Me a Story: The Life-Shaping Power of Our Stories (Bog Walk Press, 2001)

In fact, the discovery of Taylor’s book was what sent me back to graduate school a few years ago for a doctorate in psychology with an emphasis on narrative identity theory and life stories.

So I look forward to the future publication of Grisanti’s book. Perhaps it will be a good addition to this list.

How to Write a ‘Lives’ Essay

Also on the subject of life stories comes this from the New York Times Magazine:

The “Lives” essay has been running in our magazine nearly every week since 1996. For those who don’t know, it is a place for true personal stories, running about 800 words long, and in the print edition, it’s the last bit of editorial content, right inside the back cover. Though we do solicit professional writers, it is open to anyone with a good tale to tell, and we try as best we can to keep up with the steady torrent of submissions. At the risk of making our jobs utterly impossible, I want to encourage even more writers to take the plunge — because the more stories we get, the higher the quality of what ends up on the page. In doing this, it is not our intention to set people up for failure. The truth is, while getting published is a wonderful achievement, the process of writing a story is itself a rewarding experience. You won’t be sorry for having tried.

This blog entry offers several suggestions for writing one’s own life, even for someone who is not intending to submit a life story for publication. In addition to the writing advice, this piece links to an index of the “Lives” essays, which offer good examples of how to craft an effective life story.

Why Interacting with a Woman Can Leave Men “Cognitively Impaired”

Movies and television shows are full of scenes where a man tries unsuccessfully to interact with a pretty woman. In many cases, the potential suitor ends up acting foolishly despite his best attempts to impress. It seems like his brain isn’t working quite properly and according to new findings, it may not be.

Scientific American reports on a couple of new studies undertaken to explore further “the cognitive impairment that men experience before and after interacting with women” suggested by earlier investigations:

A 2009 study demonstrated that after a short interaction with an attractive woman, men experienced a decline in mental performance. A more recent study suggests that this cognitive impairment takes hold even when men simply anticipate interacting with a woman who they know very little about.

Five hundred new fairytales discovered in Germany

What delightful news!

A whole new world of magic animals, brave young princes and evil witches has come to light with the discovery of 500 new fairytales, which were locked away in an archive in Regensburg, Germany for over 150 years. The tales are part of a collection of myths, legends and fairytales, gathered by the local historian Franz Xaver von Schönwerth (1810–1886) in the Bavarian region of Oberpfalz at about the same time as the Grimm brothers were collecting the fairytales that have since charmed adults and children around the world.

Von Schönwerth spent decades collecting these stories by “asking country folk, labourers and servants about local habits, traditions, customs and history, and putting down on paper what had only been passed on by word of mouth.”

These tales aren’t just for children: “Their main purpose was to help young adults on their path to adulthood, showing them that dangers and challenges can be overcome through virtue, prudence and courage.” Fairytales and other stories (e.g., fables and legends) are often a method for obliquely passing on a given culture’s values, beliefs, and directives.

You can read one of these fairytales, The Turnip Princess, through a link at the top of this article.


Feminist Fairy Tales

I spent last weekend in the Berkshires with friends. We ate lots of good food and attended two concerts at Tanglewood in Lenox, Massachusetts, summer home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. The Friday night concert included Duke Bluebeard’s Castle by Bela Bartok, and the Saturday night performance featured The Damnation of Faust by Hector Berlioz. After the Saturday performance one of my (female) friends said, “It was definitely not a good weekend for women.”

In the folk tales that inspired both of these exquisite musical compositions, women appear as nothing more than objects or pawns in the world of men.In the tale of Bluebeard, Judith, who originally hopes to bring light into the darkness and to dry the damp walls of the castle, ends up shut away in the castle with all the other women the duke has brutalized. And in the tale of Faust, when Mephistopheles wants to steal the man’s soul, he uses a beautiful woman, Marguerite, to tempt him. Granted, at the end of the story Marguerite is transported to heaven, but to get there she must be, after all, dead.

It’s time for a new perspective on the role of women in our folk tales and cultural mythology.

My friend and I were not, of course, the first to recognize this need. Rosemary Lake has written some feminist fairy tales and provides lots of information about other sources of similar material, along with suggestions about how this material can be used in the classroom. Nancy Keane provides a list of feminist fairy tales. And look here for an interesting article on the subversive value of feminist fairy tales. There are also a number of books available, such as Feminist Fairy Tales by Barbara G. Walker and Don’t Bet on the Prince: Contemporary Feminist Fairy Tales in North America and England by Jack David Zipes.

In a related note, I have always found it interesting that mythology and folklore provide us with the archetype of the wicked stepmother, who secretly persecutes and schemes against her husband’s children by another woman, but not the archetype of the wicked stepfather. But of course there can be no wicked stepfather in a patriarchal society, since all women, both a wife and her children, become a man’s property, to treat as he will, at the time of marriage. In such a society a man may treat his own daughters, his wife, and his stepdaughters however badly he wishes without being thought of as wicked.

© 2007 by Mary Daniels Brown