The Damsel Plus Other Roles and Ideas in the ‘Happily Ever After’ Narrative
I’ve read this in a book. You’ll laugh. It’s the story of a damsel. You’ll know exactly this story as soon as I start simply by the way this story begins.
Once upon a time …
… in a land [insert some adjective that indicates far, followed by one that suggests foreign and a third that insinuates strange], there lived a [insert a synonym for desperate] damsel by the name of [fill in the blank: suggestions for names that are liken to weather; end in uh or el; or that objectifies the female protagonist such as beauty.]
(You get an A+ for effort if you caught on to each of those references. Check your answers below.)
[Blank] damsel was kept [insert synonyms for enslaved, caged, captive] by a [insert adjectives like evil or horrific] mothering figure. Her father was dead. (You can replace ‘dead’ with absent, neglectful, or gone to war.)
[Blank] damsel, with the help of trusty friends such as [fill in the blank: suggestions for friends can include woodland creatures, fairies, dwarfs, or godmothers] manages to [insert verb like overcome, flee, escape] the grasp of her wicked mothering figure and go into blissful hiding.
There the damsel [insert verb such as longs for, awaits, dreams of] her true and everlasting love – a complete and total stranger who is [insert an adjective for rich, one for wealthy, and another for superficial.] But also maybe a little dumb.
And she hopes he will save her from her blissful hiding from her deranged mother figure who is [circle the option you like best: stalking her, attempting to kill her, trying to rob her of her beauty and youth.]
Not only does the damsel wait [insert synonym for helplessly and one for quietly], she fills her time with only [fill in the blank, suggestions: domestic responsibilities, singing and dancing, taking long walks in the woods, or experiencing delusions such as that she can converse with animals].
After a typical succession of three major attempts for the obsessive mother figure to recapture [Blank] damsel, said mother-figure usually [insert verb: dies, dies, dies]. Usually this death is at the hand of [insert the trusty friends from above] and/or the Prince himself.
The entire tale [insert verb like finishes, culminates or closes] with the damsel [insert synonym for unconscious or asleep] awakened by loves truest kiss and they all live happily ever after.
Sorry I didn’t ask you to choose your own adverb, there’s only one ever used in this tale.
Did you catch all of that?
See, I told you, you would laugh. And I told you, you would know exactly the story I was telling. I bet now that I deconstructed a majority of the fairy tales you grew up with, and allowed you to play along Madlib-style, you’re realizing how seriously fucked up these tales are. (As well as unrealistic.)
Essentially they say:
- mothers are evil, jealous, crazy people and
- fathers are absent pricks;
- be beautiful but not brilliant;
- sit still and be silent, help is on its way;
- your perfect partner is someone who saves you and has a lot of money and is ridiculously good looking.
And, the most important of all lessons: happily ever after is a damsel
not having parents,
living in isolation
only having animal-friends and
not having a sense of self-worth or gumption, but
IS winning the heart of a fine looking fellow with a shit load of money.
And yes, it’s always a man and the damsel is always a girl. Thank you heteronormativity.
No fucking wonder the divorce rate is 50% and we are all a bunch of miserable assholes. I mean what the hell are we teaching anyone about anything. Most importantly what are we teaching about love? I mean, love is pretty important. What are we teaching people, especially children, about love?
(Fill in your own blank to this hypothetical question.)
The good news, I guess, is that most of the examples I was thinking of in writing this are old folklore and certainly a depiction of gender roles (and “normative” sexual orientations) of the time they were first circulating. Hence my repeated use of the word ‘damsel’ which clearly demarcates the time period. And that time period is not now.
(Side note: I also used damsel repeatedly because I picked ‘damsel’ as my SEO keyword. Some of you geeky folks reading this totally understand what I’m talking about.)
There are plenty of better love stories now gracing the cinemas and being thrust in front of viewers who also happen to be children. Thank God for movies like Frozen which was about love between sisters and the romantic story line took a back seat. I mean the parents still died, but at least they died trying to protect their children not because they were sickos or poisoned or off to battle.
But the animated tales turned out by Disney and Dreamworks and any other network aren’t the only part of the problem. Many other movies with live actors and romantic story lines have some part of this ridiculous and wrongful ideology weaved throughout the them.
You know the types:
- good girl changes bad boy;
- bad boy chooses good girl to win a bet but falls for her- either way her virginity is taken;
- good girl changes for bad boy because he won’t change, so she must (obviously);
- good girl is victim to abuse or poverty or illness or single parenting and boy swoops in to rescue;
We like them because they entertain and fill us with hope. We overlook what is clearly wrong with them because we are enamored with the love-at-first-sight, soulmate, and/or rescuing narratives. But what is hope if it’s presenting unrealistic expectations to begin with? It’s an empty and dirty magic trick. These tales are not set up for us to have ‘happily ever after’ in real life.
So, I guess really instead of the story ending with “and they all lived happily ever after” it should be:
And they all lived happily ever after. Maybe. But probably not. Likely they didn’t. So, don’t believe everything you read. Today’s damsel will probably end up in a massive breakup realizing that Prince was not ‘the one,’ remarried later to someone smarter but less rich and with an average build and look, and they’ll have a blissful, modern, blended family with plenty of complication and real life shit to deal with. She’ll also be working or involved in the community or focused on her self-growth and not just doing the dishes or engaging in a delusion that her pets actually speak to her.
Someday, you’ll read at the end of a real book something like that or something shorter and sweet like this:
‘Once upon a time’ and ‘happily ever after’ is a bunch of bullshit.
That book will probably be mine.
ANSWERS TO THE POP QUIZ ON FAIRY TALE NAME REFERENCES FROM ABOVE:
-Sleeping Beauty (or just Beauty/Belle)