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Arunima Maharshi

IWB Blogger

Illustrator Akshita Chandra On How Gender Notions In Fairy Tales Become ‘Grimm Reality’

  • IWB Post
  •  June 18, 2019

Generations have grown up reading the classic fairy tales of Rapunzel, Cinderella, Snow White and Red Riding Hood, and to say the least, loved them. But ever went beyond the surface and thought about the notions and perceptions they fed us with?

Illustrator Akshita Chandra did, and not just decoded the message, but took up on her to translate and share it with us through her an interesting art project. The project that has won her ‘The 2019 Adobe Design Achievement Awards’, btw. Drawing parallels from the four fairytales, I read on her website, the project looks at how the good-natured cautionary rules have been amplified and played out in our society in a way that they have now become more restrictive and poisonous.

“There is a reason why our parents and elders teach us to be cautious; I do believe being safe is our responsibility, but what I wanted to touch upon in the project is – how these very notions have now become moralistic parameters to judge women acutely,” shared Askhita talking about her project.

Grimm Reality

Having grown-up and conditioned in a patriarchy-rooted environment, do you feel that somewhere when dealing with certain situations in our personal lives, it still holds some control over our actions? 

I think so, yes. Some things are so deeply conditioned that it’s hard to break away even though we are trying to be very conscious of them all the time. The recent “Me Too” movement bears testimony of the fact. Even some people we rooted for in the past for being advocates of gender equality in India were also involved and acted rather dubiously.

The title ‘Grimm Reality’ intrigues us. Tell us a little more about it.

The original stories from the Grimm Brothers, called the Nursery and Household Tales, which were uncensored and published in 1812 and 1815, opposed to what the title suggested, were not meant for children. However, as the tales became more popular, the Brothers faced harsh criticism. Parents found the stories to be too dark, and the church thought they were not “Christian enough”. This is why the Brothers started editing and produced seven editions till 1857 – making them more child-friendly. During this editing process, they tried to preserve the essence of these tales, leaving most of the dark themes as is, but making the tales longer, adding more literary “fluff”, changing wicked mothers to step-mothers, removing allusions to sex and carefully removing some tales altogether which were way too grim.

Perhaps, if the Brothers didn’t carefully edit the tales, the tales might not have gained so much attention and could probably have died out by now. Today, two hundred years later, people still fondly remember Cinderella, Rapunzel, Hansel and Gretel and many other iconic fairy tales through the various tweaked and edited versions of them. Those edits created a wider audience for the books, and possibly ensured that their stories endured. Through these fairy tales and their multiple edited versions, the Grimm Brothers presented a successful model that conserved storytelling through time.

Learning about their historic roots, how they came to be provided perspective to these tales, and how they managed to survive through rounds of editing and censorship. The tales we remember are the ones popularized by Disney.

You decoded the deep moral meanings aka the “Grimm Reality” of the stories to which our parents’ generation connected in a very different manner (clearly!) – how would you cater to their curiosities and if in case, to their hostile reactions, without risking the very purpose of the initiative?

For all the fairy tales every recorded is that the informants or the carriers of these tales were women. Whether women accepted the patriarchal viewpoints of the society of how a girl must be – and that’s how these tales still perpetuate what a good-natured girl is or whether their deepest desires were altered while these tales were recorded tales by men, there is no concrete proof.

There is a reason why our parents and elders teach us to be cautious and I don’t intend to question that. I do believe being safe is our responsibility, but what I wanted to touch upon in the project is – how these very notions have now become moralistic parameters to judge women acutely. How the good-natured advices have been played out in our societies that they are now more toxic, biased, and always the blame put on the victim instead of the perpetrator.

What do you think makes ‘society’ threatened by a woman who owns her body, her sexuality? 

It forces to relook and reconsider the amount of dominance that can be asserted over the ‘weaker’ sex. The same case is with people from the LGBTQ+ community that has to face this. It challenges certain moral, cultural or personal views that are probably so internalized, which makes people nervous and apprehensive, and hence vehemently opposed to it.

‘Grimm Reality’ up on website and Behance! Go have a look and share if you like the project! . It’s an art project which takes restrictive actions and behaviours that validates victim blaming perpetuated by fairy tales and contexualised it in India. The artworks juxtaposes these traits to contemporary situations and notions that occurred in our country over the past few years. . Link in bio! 🤗🤗🤗🤗 . . . . . . #art #design #illustration #paper #papercut #popup #craft #cut #dynamic #india #fairytales #grimms #victimblaming #social #moral #girls #feminism

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Assuming that you were to narrate the same stories to a child in future, have you thought of an interesting way that’ll help you do it differently/rightly? 

There are numerous feminist re-writes of the classic fairy tales. And there are also a lot of books being written for children that teach valuable lessons.

Apart from that, Angela Carter is known for her feminist re-writing of the fairy tales that challenged the gender stereotypes. Her feminist rewritings do not reverse the stories but rather retell the same story by highlighting and simultaneously subverting the stereotypical features of the original ones.  Even though her rewrites were written over forty years ago, they are still relevant. To recognize that gender as a social construct is important in contemporary society not only for adults but for young readers as well.

Patriarchy likes to hide behind “normal” and “acceptable” – what, in your opinion, accounts as the most pressing dangers of this tendency? 

Normal and Acceptable are rather subjective words. Norms are the collective and common representations of a society’s thoughts and conduct. However, when influenced by moralistic parameters they become more poisonous and restrictive; and tend to do more harm than the supposed better.

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