Here are some insights behind the process of writing Leandra’s latest story, “Snow White in the Woods,” including some further reading.
Leandra and Gwen
In the Author’s Head: “Snow White in the Woods”
I wrote this story to address the defensive othering and queen bee syndrome I saw modeled in a lot of traditional fairy tales, including the traditional tale of Snow White. Defensive othering is when “subordinates distancing themselves from other subordinates and reinforcing the legitimacy of a devalued identity in the process” (Ezzell 111). Queen bee syndrome describes a women-specific type of defensive othering that involves “a tendency for some individually successful women in male-dominated environments to block the advancement of junior female colleagues and to be intolerant of competition from members of their own sex” (Colman). On top of these problems, even normal, constructive disagreements between women tend to be viewed as more problematic then they actually are (Aquino and Sheppard 701). These themes are scattered throughout fairy tales, such as the tension between the stepfamily and Cinderella in Charles Perrault’s “Cinderella” and the stepmother and Snow White in the Grimms’ “Snow White,” to the point that I would be uncomfortable reading them to children of both genders. Therefore, I set out to write a tale that portrayed female conflict as constructive, older women as mentors, and both traditional feminine traits and more stereotypical masculine ones as being acceptable for female possession.
As this story does contains only traces of defensive othering or queen bee syndrome, it is easiest to see its themes when it is compared to the more traditional versions of this tale. In order to achieve this, I used a fairy tale tone with the traditional phrases and settings. From here, I used Snow White’s father as the male voice pitting the women against each other, which also references the theory that the mirror is the father’s voice, as he does the role the mirror does in the original tale. His reasons both put one women in competition with the other and are a slightly more age-appropriate reference to “All-Fur” (in which the father lusts for his daughter), as I did want to keep this as something I would be comfortable reading to a child. However, after my research, it was important to me that I keep female conflict in the story and treat it as a positive to address Drs. Aquino and Sheppard’s research. I also wanted to show that there are reasons beyond true belief for people to construe female conflict as bad.
Once I got Snow White into the woods, I got to introduce her to the old men. I was uncomfortable representing them as dwarves because I was demonizing them and there is a medical condition of the same name, so I kept their height ambiguous. Then, I was able to use them to point out how people can often be forced into roles they do not fit into through stereotypes and how easy it is to take advantage of someone in poverty, such as Snow White. Therefore, they load jobs and other conditions onto Snow White that are not fair because she needs the job and cannot say no. This opens up an opportunity for Snow White to be saved by cleverness and a female role model, not a kiss. From here, I also wanted to make it abundantly clear that this whole adventure was not helpful in Snow White’s development. Therefore, I emphasize the fact that she loses time she would have spent learning skills to help her be a leader due to her time in the woods. It has come to my attention that this might encourage a reading similar to Robert Bly’s of “Iron Hans,” which encourages same gender mentorship to the point of dismissing single parent households. This is one of the many advantages of keeping the stepmother a stepmother instead of a mother; though it does not perfectly correct the problem, it does suggest that the desired role model does not need to be as closely connected to the child as being the biological parent.
As well as dealing with female conflict, I also wanted to explore multiple ways to be a women. To do this, I have two heroines: a young women, who has the typically masculine trait of courage and feminine curiosity and sociability, and a stepmother, who fulfils both the feminine role of nurturer and the masculine role of leader with equal capability. I then positively portrayed all of these traits. To further make the point, I had them solve their problems with a mixture of masculine and feminine tactics. They use a plot that would fit well with the traditionally masculine trickster archetype but use objects associated with femininity and female sexuality. This also gave me a chance to bring in a piece of the original source material.
For additional fairy tale elements, I continued to use there and seven as thematic numbers and kept the same basic premise as the source material. I also ascribe to the idea that of nature and civilization as woods and man-made dwellings, respectively, and wanted to remove the gendering of those spaces by subtly making Snow White and her father at home in the woods while the old men and the stepmother prefer buildings.
In this story, I hoped to be both educational and entertaining, and to create something that I could read to children, especially girls, so that they could see a model of constructive female conflict and the pressures society places on them to create destructive female conflict by either instigating it or misconstruing the positive conflict.
Aquino, Karl, Leah B. Sheppard. “Sisters at Arms: A Theory of Female Same-Sex Conflict and Its Problematization in Organizations.” Journal of Management, vol. 43 issue 3, 2014, pp 691-715.
Bly, Robert. Iron John: A Book About Men. Boston: Da Capo Press, 1990. Print.
Colman, Andrew M. “queen bee syndrome.” A Dictionary of Psychology. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008. Oxford Reference. 2009. Date Accessed 21 Mar. 2017.
Ezzell, Matthew B. “‘Barbie Dolls’ on the Pitch: Identity Work, Defensive Othering, and Inequality in Women’s Rugby.” Social Problems, vol. 56, no. 1, 2009, pp. 111–131.
Grimm, Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm. “All-Fur.” The Complete Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm. 1812. Rpt. in The Complete Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm. 3rd edition. Tr. Jack Zipes. Bantam Books. 2003. 239-242. Print.
Grimm, Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm. “Snow White.” The Complete Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm. 1812. Rpt. in The Complete Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm. 3rd edition. Tr. Jack Zipes. Bantam Books. 2003. 181-188. Print.
Schade, Silke. German 2444. Wilson 126, Vanderbilt University, Nashville. 30 Jan. 2017. Class Lecture.