Subsequently, from the late seventeenth century onwards, the association between women and fairy tales was manifest more as an effect of their shared links to representations of romance and marriage rather than as oral traditions passed between generations of female story-tellers. Indeed, the social upheaval caused by the industrialization of Europe at this time led to dramatic changes in family structures, and ideas of individualism took hold that generated a need for new social arrangements that encouraged courtship between men and women.
Romance ideologies became instilled in courtship rituals in this period, encouraging the romanticisation of discourses of love and its association with women and marriage. The development of new and faster printing techniques and the significant increase in the numbers of literate and educated women also broadened the field of and changed the cultural contexts for romance genres.
In the early twentieth century, when mass produced romance fiction was steadily making its mark on the publishing industry, and in the homes of women across the western world Radway, , the film industry was also burgeoning. In the first half of the twentieth century, Walt Disney began reproducing animated adaptations of classic fairy tale romances, representing protagonists as passive, pretty, obedient and good heroines waiting to be rescued by their prince Lieberman, ; Stone, This reinforced an image of womanhood defined through the love of a husband.
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A New York Review of Books article by Alison Lurie inspired a particularly intense feminist debate over the genre. This claim inflamed much of the feminist community and scholars such as Marcia Lieberman , and Karen Rowe responded vehemently. Fairy tales encouraged women to idealize love and, as such, their role as subservient passive housewives.
As feminist debates developed it soon became apparent that associations between women and fairy tales were not solely a result of patriarchal hegemonies cultivating ideals of romance as a means of subordinating women. Readers encountered fairy tales as a means of escape and pleasure and in the hope they offered as a catalyst and framework for transforming their own lives. Feminist scholarship on fairy tales and romance has therefore moved away from a polarized debate, which claimed that romantic fairy tales either represented false notions about sex roles or were revolutionary sites.
Nonetheless, early feminist research on fairy tales paved the way for the discovery of alternative fairy tale forms and narratives and their relevance to contemporary popular cultures. As a genre that women both participated in and utilized as a cultural framework to negotiate individual subjectivities and relationships, feminists across multiple disciplines have engaged, debated and assimilated romantic fairy tale discourses into their work Haase, As feminism has developed and spread across multiple spheres of ethnicity, race, class, generations and sexualities, fairy tale narratives have visibly adjusted, reflecting cultural shifts and critical turns.
These feminist rewritings and theoretical re-framings of fairy tales in fact reinforced connections between women and fairy tale ideals of romance and love. As Carter claims, the Utopian idealism of fairy tales is a key ingredient generating hope in the minds of readers, not only as an escapist pleasure but a mechanism that propels them through an engagement with the complexities and struggles of the protagonist. However, delving deeper into their narratives, it becomes apparent that there is a lot more to fairy tales than their optimistic conclusions. Cinderella may end with a true love transformation but family struggle fuels the central narrative.
So whereas fairy tales may offer a promise or an ideal to strive for, they rarely offer solutions—instead providing an exploratory space for the discussion of social issues. Marina Warner XXI explains:. The happy endings of fairy tales are only the beginnings of the larger story, and any study which attempts to encompass it wholly must stumble and fall before any kind of ending can be made: the story of storytelling is a tale that will never be done. Escaping into chick lit can offer women readers both temporary respite and hope for resolving the very real negotiations of their own situations.
Yet chick lit protagonists differ from the heroines of earlier romance novels in the choices and opportunities available to them. Career and economic independence drives their narratives at least as much as romance, as Gill and Herdieckerhoff explain:. In traditional romantic novels, heroines are not normally seen as particularly career driven despite their spirited nature and intelligence.
Rather, they see advancement and power through romantic alliance with a man. In this respect, the female characters in chick lit novels seem markedly different, as they are invariably portrayed as employed and committed to the idea of career. Chick lit particularly invokes the experiences of single, mid-twenty to thirty year old women negotiating the complexities, contradictions and anxieties of feminist ideals during their peak years of independence.
Alison Umminger sums this up well:. An array of chick lit novels embody these postfeminist ideals in their plots. She decides that Nick—an unemployed writer whom she loves spending time with and who knows how to make her laugh—may be just what she wants. All I really wanted was a man. A wedding would be fun too. But married life?
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Not for me Heiss, —6. In these ways the novel frames the postfeminist ideal of wanting it all as the dominant narrative.
As Bridget records her daily vices, weight measurements, number of cigarettes, alcohol units and self-help mantras performed tasks drawn from her many self-help manuals she documents her desired renovation into a thin, beautiful, intellectual and successful career woman. The diary format resembles a kind of Foucauldian technology of the self Foucault, , whereby documenting and self-monitoring according to postfeminist ideals somehow productively assists in the project of self-transformation.
Bridget strives to take responsibility for and control of her life in order to become what she understands to be a successful contemporary woman. This list clearly highlights the contradictions within postfeminism, highlighting her anxiety over wanting a relationship but believing her own self-transformation as an empowered career woman should be more important:. Anyway, will think of some more later.
Happily Ever After: The Fairy-tale Formula for Lasting Love
Oh God. Do not want to go to scary party. Want to stay home with bottle of wine and watch Eastenders. As this example expresses, more often than not Bridget feels overwhelmed by the expectations postfeminist ideals create. Right, familial and financial success—and looking fabulous while doing so.
In this way, the fairy tale plot plays upon the postfeminist antagonism between the feminine and the feminist mentioned earlier. As Bridget develops her relationships with both Darcy and Cleaver, she explores and questions what she wants in a man, constantly referring back to her fairy tale ideals of love and postfeminism usually in one of her many self-help manuals. Here we notice another shift in romantic fairy tale genre and functions.
In chick lit, protagonists reflect on the futility of trying to change a man and the difficulty of actually finding one they like or that will make a commitment to them. Chick lit represents contemporary postfeminist women grappling with the instability of contemporary romance. The freedom and choice enabled for women by feminist interventions into relationship forms, along with related shifts in gendered power dynamics are in this sense portrayed as something of an ordeal.
Protagonists are shown to be frustrated, often disheartened, by the ambiguities of contemporary romance and the apparent lack of relationship guidelines that result in part from feminist questioning. As Whelehan argues:.
Whelehan, On the surface, chick lit narratives appear to echo popular postfeminist proclamations that feminism is over. However, delving deeper into the characters and storylines this is not necessarily the case. Protagonists repeatedly reflect on the conflicts presented by pursuing and negotiating relationships of equality that they certainly desire even while they often invoke a nostalgia for traditional marriage models.
Bridget is fixated on shaping her own contemporary womanhood, while quietly hoping her true love will come to rescue her from the endless challenges the postfeminist ideal of womanhood poses. Her constant daydreaming about Daniel Cleaver and the possibility of him marrying her acts as a nostalgic fantasy for the apparently simpler gender roles of the past McRobbie, This not to say that contemporary readers of chick lit are wishing for the patriarchal chains of previous times, or that it dismisses any chance of feminism offering them valuable perspectives.
It speaks to women who may not be comfortable calling themselves feminists, yet are interested in thinking about the real gender issues that affect them. It is these contradictions within femininity and feminism that makes chick lit so enjoyable and provocative for its readers. In the wake of the dismantling of an earlier universalized second wave feminist movement, and the continued proliferation of neoliberal projects of individualism, a void in collective mainstream feminist voices has opened up.
Arguably, popular postfeminism has situated itself in this void, coming to signify a mainstream site for the discussion of diverse feminist propositions and accompanying debates. At least, popular postfeminsm has emerged as a space that facilitates dialogues between various articulations of female identity and the contradictory forces that shape it.
This is precisely because, within its fluctuating contours, it encompasses inherent inconsistencies and contradictions in representation. Most critically, popular postfeminism is the site occupied by mainstream women, many of whom are not engaged in feminist politics. If there are to be further productive changes in the way feminism is perceived and enacted in public arenas, it is crucial for feminist scholars to continue to research popular postfeminism. Importantly, exploring representations of popular postfeminism, opens up avenues for finding out what women outside of the realms of academic feminism, those for whom it seems popular postfeminism is an active pleasure, are experiencing, thinking about and hoping for in their lives.
Haydon, D. The genre of self-help plays an active role in chick lit, operating as an important guide to the postfeminist transformation. In many ways trends in popular psychology, particularly the self-help genre, are heavily based on fairy tale ideals and forms. Beauvoir, S. London: Pan Books. Bernheimer, K. New York: Anchor Books. Brooks, A. Carter, A. London: Virago. Coppock, V.
Dow, B. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press. Driscoll, C. New York: Columbia University Press. Dundes, A. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press. Faludi, S. Fielding, H. London: Picador.
Fox, G The Cinderella Moment. London: HarperCollins Publishers. Foucault, M.