This is a post by Actualizing Change program participant Monique. Be sure to check out some awesome pictures of gender-swapping fairy tale characters by Yudi Chen in a series that can be seen at Design Taxi.
As someone who works with children, I frequently read children’s picture books aloud. A few months ago I was reading Hansel and Gretel to a young girl and boy, and I felt bored and frustrated with the gender representations. In the story, Hansel is characterized as the funny, clever one while Gretel is portrayed as a nag and a follower. The Witch character reinforces the classic binary: nurturing mother/independent evil bitch.
In an effort to subvert these representations (snicker away), a quarter of the way through the story I gender-swapped the characters. Gretel got some good funnies in there, Hansel was sensitive and prudent, and the witch became an evil wizard. One of the kids was distracted and made uncomfortable by the gender-swapping, so we struck a deal: on alternate pages I would gender-swap. After this critical reading of Hansel and Gretel, the three of us had a great conversation in which they told me about some struggles they were having regarding gender.
The kids’ reluctance to swap genders, and the conversation that ensued, showed me that the queering of fairy tales is needed. This gave me the idea to create a zine for children that questioned the representation of gender in a fairy tale. I’m trying to create a way to read and enjoy these tales critically so that neither adults nor children internalize the outdated gender dynamics.
The zine, Cinderello, will be printed mid-summer thanks to Check Your Head’s “Actualizing Change” program. They will be sold in local stores for two or three dollars a piece, and the proceeds will support Girls Rock Camp Vancouver. This is in an effort to further support kids of one gender who have an interest in a behaviour or activity that’s usually reserved for the other gender.* Girls Rock Camp encourages girls to form rock bands. Without Girls Rock Camp, many girls in Vancouver would not have as high of self-esteem or such an empowering community of female artists and role models.
*If I ever make a similar zine, I will use proceeds to support a local organization that would empower boys who wish to behave outside of expectations of their gender. Please contact me via the comments below if you know of programs that specifically support boys in embracing alternate gender roles/activities traditionally reserved for girls. **