Friday, May 29, 2015

Why you can still tell your little girls fairy tales without feeling guilty even if you are a Feminist.

I have for most of my adult life considered myself a feminist. I believe women are equal to men in capacity for good and evil and should be given equal opportunities to achieve their will.  Recently though, I have been frustrated by what I call Noisy Feminists, women who are shouting the movement into places most women don't want to go. I do not hate men. I am married to one. I do not idolize men or demonize them.

But because of this new definition Feminism by Noisy Feminists, many women and girls have begun to shy away from being called Feminists at all. I sympathize. I have begun to consider calling myself an Equalist or Equalitarian.  This has been prompted by may things, but the last straw was the attack of Noisy Feminists on my beloved fairy tales. The accusation that fairy tales make women stay in abusive relationships is an unproven misrepresentation and a bit sensationalist.

Let us look at one of  stories Noisy Feminists consider an offender, one of my favorites, "Beauty and the Beast."  According to Noisy Feminists, love in this story is what keeps  women in abusive relationships.  "Where?" I ask.  Beauty leaves the Beast to die. She goes back to her family. She goes back loaded with jewels and clothes and money. So, how is this story telling women to stay with abusive men who would deny them the basic rights of being a human being much less gold and jewelry?

Was the Beast abusive?   Okay, he may have forced Beauty's father to give her up to save his own skin, but who is the bad guy here? The Beast or the father? What kind of father gives his daughter to a beast? You may then say, Beauty sacrificed herself for her dad when her sisters refused. So, she went of her own free will. She made a bargain and had to stick with it to save her father. That's terrible that she had to make that kind of choice, and guess what? That's life.  When we grow up, we have to make sacrifices we do not like. Life is not fair. That is a fact.  In this world where kids grow up believing life should revolve around them, a dose of reality is a good thing.

Besides, the idea that life is not fair to women is not a new one. It was even more of a fact when this fairy tale was made up. Women had to marry according to the wishes of their fathers or male relatives. They had no choice. They were given away without their consent. Young girls, rich or poor, did not choose whom they married, a male relative did (father, brother, uncle), and his decision was based on friendship, money, status or all the above. When a girl married in the past, she was taken from her parents' home and put into to a strange place, hopefully a better one but not always. This could happen if she was poor or rich, pretty or not.

Pretty young girls were wed often times to "beastly" old men who could afford to pay her father off, This fairy tale  could be a comforting story for a girl who found herself in that situation. So, this fairy tale may have some ugly truths in it. Some girls were actually considered lucky if this happened to them. It was better than dying in poverty. A girl might even become a merry widow (like in Chaucer's The Wife of Bath's Tale) and get some kind of freedom when her old husband died. This was a fact for a lot of human history. Scary huh? So, when we tell our little girls these stories, we should also remind them how lucky they are to have a choice of whom to marry. They should be told how women fought for that right and how it must be safeguarded and not taken for granted. Now that's a positive feminist message.

Was the Beast really a Beast?  The Beast  does not verbally abuse Beauty in any of the stories I have read. He does not beat her or humiliate or shame her. Abusers do these things. The Beast never got drunk, never slapped Beauty around. This fairy tale does not show a woman being hurt.. In fact, when Beauty asks to go home, she is allowed to do so. Yes, the fact that the Beast had to give her permission is disturbing, but remember this is an old story and men controlled women in those time. This is a good place to point this out to young girls that freedom of choice is an important right women have not always had.

One can also teach a girl about what abuse looks like. Unlike the Beast, an abuser would not let their victims go free. Abusers want to control their victims and do not want them leaving their sphere of influence. I know. My mother was abusive and did not want me ever leaving the house or having friends. Reading Beauty and the Beast helped me see that love can be kind and generous. The Beast learns to love Beauty and lets her go even though it will cause him pain, and he may die. Love lets you go. Love opens it arms and has faith you will return. Abusers are too afraid to trust anyone to do that.

If a woman finds herself in an abusive situation, she might tell herself that even though her husband/boyfriend/ girlfriend/ lover, is a monster, she should stay in the situation because her love will change the person, but she did not get that idea from a fairy tale. Most likely it was from the abuser who is begging her to stay. Abusers are like black holes that swallow all the light around them. If the victim leaves they have nothing to feed off. Staying for love is a sad excuse made up by someone who has been made too afraid to leave their terrible situation. For a grown woman to blame a fairy tale for her abuse is even sadder.  Love can inspire some people, but it cannot change them. People change because they want to, not for anyone else or because of love. They find the strength within themselves to choose another path. If they do not, they will not have the strength to maintain the change. We can love people all we want, but they have to find love for themselves before they can change.

How deep is the Beast's ugliness? The beast is ugly on the outside but beautiful and kind on the inside. He isn't ugly or frightened on the inside, which is the case with abusers. Beauty's challenge isn't in forgiving a cruel man but seeing the beauty inside the Beast despite his outward appearance. In our shallow, sex-driven, youth-and-appearance-obsessed society, I think this is a very important lesson. Finding a good person, regardless of appearance, who is kind to you is a very significant message for young girls. The inside and heart are more important than appearances that will change. You may marry a handsome guy but after fifty or so years, you both are going to look like frogs, so looking  for a good heart and a good person is the best option.

Does the Beast really change? Beauty is blinded by her desire for physical perfection. Let's face it: she is shallow. She is called Beauty after all, not Smarty or Brilliant.  In many renditions, she is also a bit slow to figure out that the Beast is cursed and needs her help. She just wants a handsome prince like most girls. To show my point, Cocteau and Disney added a handsome yet cruel counterpart to the Beast to show the contrast between a cruel and handsome guy and a kind and not-so-handsome one.   Beauty finally changes and realizes the Beast has given her a good life, so she returns his affection and returns to him. It is her loving heart that sees the beauty inside the Beast, that lets him appear handsome to her . This coincides with the saying "Handsome is as handsome does."

What to do with old fairy tales? Beauty has evolved and gotten a
little smarter, a little feistier over the years, and I am sure she will change even more as time goes by.That is the great thing about stories, they can evolve. Today when women can choose who they wish to marry, and they are not chattel to be given by their fathers, Beauty and Beast can take on another meaning. The idea that none of us marries a prince, that not every guy is going to be drop-dead gorgeous and physically perfect especially as we age, should be understood. It is silly and unrealistic and shallow to expect a spouse to live up to our physical dreams of perfection.  To realize that no one is perfect on the outside or the inside and to accept that imperfection (i.e., spouse isn't Brad Pitt, leaves dishes dirty, gets sick, gets tired, gets annoyed, gets sad, has a bad day... is human) as a part of the person and their beauty is still a lesson that is valuable and that we can take away from this story to help empower young girls to make good decisions when dating and choosing a boyfriend or husband one day. I think that is as Feminist as one can get.

The road not traveled.  Of course there are other stories one can read to a girl that shows a prince loving her for her inner beauty. Puddocky is a fairy tale where a girl frog, hideous though she is, wins the love of a prince. Or any of the Allerleirauh or Donkey-skin stories by Grimm or Lang that tell of a
girl covered in a hideous fur coat who wins a prince in the end. Sure, it's wrong that the guy has to be handsome and rich for a girl to want him but no story is perfect right?  Also, one could argue that girls should not be limited to finding a husband as a goal in life, but since most girls have read fairy tales and have grown up into women who manage to finish college, find jobs, get work, become CEOs, run businesses and find husbands and much more these days, I think its okay to read Beauty and the Beast. I did.

With that said, why are we taking Fairy Tales so seriously anyway. They are fairy tales, exaggerations and fantasies.  By the time I was a teenager, I had forgotten all about them and wanted to marry Legolas from The Lord of the Rings or conquer Dune and all the other male-centered worlds in Fantasy and Sci-Fi.  ; )

Candice Raquel Lee
Author of  The Innocent: A  Love Story 

and Effed Up: An Abnormal Romance

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

How believing in "Happy Endings" saved my life

Recently, an imaginary friend of mine asked me, "Why would anyone write a book with a happy ending? It's so cliche, unrealistic, and boring." So, I slapped her across the face. As she held her cheek, and her eyes welled with tears, but before she could burst out with the cliched cry of "What the hell did you do that for?"  I said, "Didn't you wish we had ended this conversation with a sappy 'happy ending' instead of a slappy, realistic one?"

All joking and exempla aside, I like to write happy endings. I do. Not because I don't know how much life sucks, but because I know intimately how much it can.  There have been times in my life where I have fallen to the floor crying just wishing god, any god, would cut to the chase and kill me instead of sadistically toying with me. I have nearly blacked out from hearing news that was so bad. I grew up in one of the worst projects in America. People died in the elevators and were raped in the stairwells.

I have been terrified and crushed under the weight of life. I have lain down pretending I was beaten, so, hopefully Life would get tired of kicking me and go on to someone else. But oddly, She never did. She just kept hauling back her foot until I got up and punched her in the face and said, " I am sick of this. I am not going to ever quit, and you are never going to stop testing my resolve never to quit. So, bring it!"

"Wow!" says my friend, still holding her swelling cheek. "Why don't you write about that? Why don't you write gritty stories about your tear-stained life? That's what I would love to read." Yes, well, that would be great if writing about that crap did not take me back into the abyss of the past. It has taken all my strength to crawl away, and I don't relish the idea of skipping back down the bloody and broken-glass-filled path of memory lane.  Besides, I believe in energy. If you seek the light the light will come. If you chase the darkness that too will come. I prefer to put the darkness behind me as much as possible.

With that said, I will tell you, that without the hope of a happy ending, without the dream that something can conquer hate, selfishness, madness, pain--something like Love--I would not have survived my childhood or most of my adult life. It was that belief that helped me get up when I was down, helped me find the light when I was surrounded by darkness. Believing in happy endings is not sappy or trivial or unrealistic. It is the battle-cry of the unvanquished, the song of the unconquered heart,  the light that will not fade. It is the belief that the true self, the bright soul will overcome all obstacles in time.

So, when my imaginary friend says her glass is half-empty and that life sucks,  I will agree with her some of the time. Then I will remind her, gently at first, and then with the zen-slap she deserves, that life glows, shouts, sings, and makes you fall to your knees in awe sometimes too. And maybe she will say, she hasn't gotten her happy ending and that is why she does not believe in them. I'll remind her that the phrase "happily ever after" like everything else in fairy tales is an exaggeration (there are no handsome princes inside frogs or big furry monsters). There really is no such thing as just one final happy ending. There are many happy moments and many sad ones because life is a cycle that goes on and on,  So, when the bad times come, I hold on because I know the good ones will return too like spring and flowers after winter. So, yes, bring me those happy endings, tell me that good conquers evil, that the pure of heart no matter what darkness she faces will overcome because I know she will again and again. I am living proof. I bet you are too.

Candice Raquel Lee
Author of  The Innocent: A Love Story  

and Effed Up: An Abnormal Romance

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Of Mice and Women: How I got rid of a mouse with peppermint

"Would you kill a mouse with a Teddy Bear?
This winter was cold, and some mice found their way into our house. My husband and I put down a live trap with cheese and peanut butter. We caught six. One time there were two together in the trap. They were so adorable, we considered keeping them as pets all winter, but we thought they might like being free, so we let them go. My husband drove them far away and dropped them off in the woods with a bit of seed near the drop spot. Unfortunately, one mouse seemed far too smart for the trap. He left poop on my counter top and in my sink. That is when we started talking about killing him. He was too smart to live.

"I would never poop in your house."

Still, I do not like killing things because they are hungry and can't find food except in my kitchen. It makes me feel like the giant from "Jack and the Beanstalk. "Fee. Fie. Foe. Fum. I smell the blood of a.. uh.. mousy-one?" So, I started googling mice. Of course, I came up with all kinds of pictures of people's pets and rats with teddy bears. I read that mice and rats were very smart. I told my husband, and then suggested we have funeral for the mouse once we had dispatched him. My husband suggested we donate our mouse's body to the raccoons, coyotes, and others scavengers outside our house. Then I saw an article that said that mice were allergic to peppermint. One very fastidious person suggested that I should pour peppermint on cotton balls and leave them in places mice frequent. Some people said this worked for them. Others said it did not. As I have stated, mice are smart.  I could easily see them over leaping my cotton balls, playing soccer with them or tossing them into the faces of the mice they hated most.
"We love everybody."

I had read somewhere that mice navigate through smell, and that they have a favorite path around your house delineated by their urine. I had mopped the house and cleaned the surfaces to discourage the mouse, but it kept coming back. It must also have a great memory. Soon my husband purchased a bottle of peppermint essence meant for candy-making or cakes. He had seen the mouse running along the baseboard in our kitchen before it disappeared. So, I sprinkled some peppermint on the floor and rubbed it along the path or anywhere I had found poop. Then I put a few drops on my sponge and wiped the counters.

Probably not peppermint tea

Ms. or Mr. mouse has not returned. I do not know if peppermint would have worked if we had a hoard of starving mice rampaging through our house to stave off death, but it worked with our mouse who was looking for a little snack or was just curious (its poop was very healthy looking. I was sure it was not starving.) I have since purchased pure peppermint oil and have applied a drop to trouble areas with a wet paper towel. I am also going to seal all the cracks in the kitchen to stop all access. Another plus with this situation is that the kitchen smells really good in the morning. I will be including a drop of peppermint oil in my homemade kitchen cleaner and mop bucket from now on.

Photo by Jill Robidoux

Candice Raquel Lee
Author of  The Innocent: A  Love Story 

and Effed Up: An Abnormal Romance

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Paranormal Romance's Deep Roots

Why are so many women and girls flocking to the paranormal romance genre? What is so hot about blood-sucking vampires anyway? They're dead and cold. They drink blood. And who wants a  half-wild, bestial werewolf humping on her leg? Are people nuts? Nope. Is this some crazy modern-day thing? No. Not at all. So, why are women dying to get their hands and thighs around angels, devils,  shapeshifters, and elves?  Because these are not new imaginings but very old ones.

The roots of the paranormal romance go back in time to mythic images of half-men-half-beasts painted on cave walls of our preliterate ancestors.  The vampire is reminiscent of the age-old stories of women and men going down to land of the dead and returning masters of both worlds. Psyche did it to become a goddess, and the Babylonian goddess Inanna took a trip down-under to see her sister, the goddess of death. Persephone and Hades have an epic tale. Ghosts come to the living and speak only after drinking blood in The Odyssey: "I led the sheep to the pit and cut their throats, so the dark blood flowed. Then the ghosts of the dead swarmed out of Erebus" (Book XI 1-50). There is also that little statement from the bible that blood is life and is forbidden to mere mortals: "as for the life of all flesh, its blood is identified with its life. Therefore I said to the sons of Israel, 'You are not to eat the blood" (Leviticus 17:14). Angels, also in the bible, came down and laid with as many women as they liked:"The sons of God saw the beautiful women and they took any they wanted" (Genesis 6:2) Satyrs and centaurs were always ready for a romp in the woods in Greek myth. Wolfmen inhabit European fairy tales and Native American myth. Incubi exist in stories from Africa.    

Okay, you say, so the paranormal is just dressed up myth, but why the romance?

Well, in women’s myth there is love (union with the sacred), loss, sorrow (or going down to death), and return.  In ancient rituals of the feminine,  union or sex with a god or wild man (think of Enkidu and Shamhat from The Epic of Gilgamesh) was an important part of ritual. Psychologically, it speaks of the union of the feminine and masculine aspects of the self, or of acceptance of the other, or the union of the estranged wild parts of the person. This act is freeing, it liberates the dark self, the powerful self, the beyond human self, the soul.

Therefore the craving for the paranormal is an expression of those ancient desires many women were killed to suppress. Pagans were killed by Ancient Hebrews. German Druids were hunted by Romans, and their sacred forests were burned. Europeans and Americans had their witch hunts. This yearning is an old one and speaks to a desire for freedom from the ordinary. It cries out for the adventurous and the mythic. It speaks to the oldest parts of us, to the deepest roots of when we began to raise our heads and ponder our not quite animal, not quite godlike state as bipedal and creative humans.

 Now, surrounded by so much technology, so much work, so much stress and suffering, it is no wonder that we turn again to myth in this new form. 

 Candice Raquel Lee