Changing the Winds: Reclaiming the Influence of Hetero-patriarchy in Literature
Leah Knowles WMS 500 Fm. Th. & Pr. 22 October 2009
The Girl and the North Wind There once lived a family of many children and their mother. The family was poor and the mother had to work all day to feed her many children. The oldest child was a girl, and she had to work as well. She helped take care of the children while her mother worked. It was the girl's chore to fetch the cornmeal from the storehouse and bring it to the kitchen to make the family's porridge. One cloudy autumn day, when supplies were low and the house was growing cold, the girl went to the storehouse to get some meal. As soon as she stood in the open air, however, a great gust from the north swept down and knocked the jar right out of her hands. The container smashed on the ground and the girl watched helplessly as the precious cornmeal was scattered across the dirt. She found a shallow saucer to get some more. It must be told that the girl was resourceful and quick-witted. After filling the bowl, she waited patiently as the wind died down and went to blow on someone else. As soon as it was calm, she quickly and carefully stepped from the door and was immediately met by a gale so forceful, she had to stand still and close her eyes to keep from being knocked over. She gripped the saucer tightly, determined not to let the force of the wind take it from her again. Once the wind receded, she opened her eyes only to find the bowl in her hands was completely empty. The wind had blown it all away. There was not a single speck left around her. Frustrated, the girl returned to the shed and was discouraged to find a very small amount of food left. She knew her family could not afford to waste any food, so before she attempted the chore a third time, she decided to go directly to the source of the problem: the great north wind. She informed her mother of her plan to journey north and seek justice for the goods which had been stolen from them. After all, without food, her starving family would soon lack health and strength; two things the girl believed should never be taken from anyone. The north wind was well on his way to leaving them ill, helpless, and sad. Her mother's reaction was pragmatic. â€œIf you go, who will tend to the children? Who will fetch and prepare the meals?â€?
The girl tried to explain to her mother that the journey was a matter of honor and she would not return until she was certain she could provide a better life with the rights she would be given. Her mother, a withered and pessimistic woman, simply replied, “good luck,” without faith or fervor. Without a true blessing from her mother, the girl set off on her journey to the north early the next morning. Along the way, she wondered how effective her arguments would be. All people feared the north wind. No one ever dared question his deeds or challenge his far-reaching authority. She knew she was alone in her quest and one of few who ever directly opposed the north wind's power and sovereignty. She realized she may face harsh consequences for her audacity. The great north wind was known for his uncompromising judgment and stubbornness on such matters. Most people were so accustomed to his influence, they barely noticed as he pushed them in this direction or that. But the girl had noticed, and she was tired of being bullied by the north wind and his whims. She knew in her heart he was wrong. She would tell him so and would not give up until he righted this wrong. Her journey proved long and arduous, and as she traveled farther north she felt the wind's power even more. She was frozen, but quite determined. When she finally reached the frosty palace that was home to the north wind, the girl bravely entered and approached the great, icy throne. Her small frame shivered in this immense castle of ice, but she stood there, undeterred. She did not wait for the north wind to address her first, hoping her boldness might gain his respect. “I have journeyed for days without stopping to demand you repay that which you so callously stole from my family. We have done you no harm and can no longer survive without the goods you have taken from us. I demand justice for the wrong you have done. Return to me the grain you scattered.” The north wind, who had been immersed in a very competitive game of chess with the wind from the west, gave the courageous girl no attention. He continued to concentrate on his next move
while the girl repeated her demands, her voice now shaking slightly. She had not expected this reaction. She had gained no respect from him at all. He treated her as a small stain on the shining floor of the great hall. When he ignored her a second time, she realized the north wind was void of shame and empathy, and there was no end to his air of entitlement. She decided she would have to test the bounds of his patience and ability to concentrate, no matter what the punishment might be. After repeating her speech a third time, the great north wind gave a tremendous bellow that resounded throughout the hall, shaking icicles from their perches to crash dangerously around the girl. She was terrified and prepared to flee just as the north wind calmed himself, looked up from his game, and gave her his undivided attention. The girl stared back despite the immensity of his powerful gaze, and was shocked to hear him casually answer, “I don't have your grain.” A moment of silence passed between them as the girl gathered the courage to press him further. Slowly and deliberately, she began her speech for the fourth time. The wind grew exasperated at what he considered a pointless interruption, so he decided to appease the girl, if only to rid himself of her pestering presence. “Alright, I truly do not have any meal to give you, but if it is nourishment you desire, take this magic tablecloth. Lay it on any table and command it to “serve a fine meal” and it will obey. Take it for whatever it is you say I took from you and leave.” He threw the tablecloth at the girl, who hesitated. She had not really received justice. She had not made him feel the sting of guilt and he was obviously giving her this treasure to be rid of her. While she knew he did not respect her, she had little choice but to be satisfied with what she had. At least she'd been given something for her trouble, and this would feed her family. Without thanking the north wind, the girl left him to finish his important chess match. Now that she had accomplished her task, the girl realized the full extent of the fatigue she felt from the journey and the boldness she had had to build up. On the way home, she checked into an inn
where she tested the enchanted tablecloth. The other guests cheered as a meal of the finest variety of ingredients appeared at her command. The innkeeper, who was an envious, calculating man, witnessed the power of the cloth and coveted it for his own. He could think of nothing more desirable than to possess and control the object for his own purposes. The girl posed no threat to him as far as he was concerned, and the innkeeper respected her rights even less than the north wind had. So as not to seem suspicious, the cowardly innkeeper used his master key to enter the girl's room as she slept peacefully unaware. He came equipped with an ordinary tablecloth to replace the girl's, and then he stole her priceless treasure as she slept. The act overpowered the girl's will when she had no way to defend it.
Those who steal will surely burn, for they desire and do yearn for that which they could never earn To take a girl and common turn her beauty pure they soon will learn to good they never can return... When the girl awoke the next day, she began her journey home with the tablecloth. When she reached the cottage and was welcomed by her family, she eagerly related the events. To prove herself to her skeptical mother, she spread the tablecloth over their bare table and spoke the command. When the cloth remained empty, her mother scolded her for wasting her time and believing she could influence someone so exalted as the north wind. She told her daughter to use her time in more productive ways and as the girl stared into an increasingly barren storehouse, she knew she had to face the north wind again. Her mother was angry at this news, and called her daughter selfish, even as the girl tried to explain her reasons were altruistic and just. Her mother could not understand how they had been cheated; how she had gone so far only to be treated as a na誰ve child. Her mother was much like the rest of the villagers who coped with the wind's abuse of power and never considered the wind might shift under another person's authority. The girl could not be certain of the outcome, but she could not
surrender her family to perish. She left for the north again, her mother's imploring yell following after her. After several days of weary travel, the girl found herself once again facing the north wind's kingdom. This time she was interrupting a gigantic game of billiards among all four winds. The sound of the billiards balls cracking together was thunderous and the girl was even more intimidated than her first visit. But their self-satisfied laughter fueled her rage as she realized these great forces only existed to amuse themselves. She took advantage of the quiet as the north wind focused on lining up his next shot. After she lodged her complaint about the tablecloth he had given her, she repeated her original demands. The wind scoffed at her puny form with great scorn. “I believe I may have mentioned once before: I don't have your common meal,” he reminded her condescendingly, “But by all means, take the goat in my stable. Say, 'fill my purse' and you'll be rewarded riches the likes of you has never dreamed of. Now kindly leave so I can take my shot.” The wind's condescending tone was harder to take than any physical torture he could inflict upon her. Since the conversation was over, the girl led the goat away in disgust. On the way home, she spent the night in the same inn and paid for her room with the gold issued forth from the goat's mouth at her command. The innkeeper's eyes glittered with jealousy as he watched the girl lead the goat to her quarters. That night, as she slept in quiet ignorance, the man switched her treasured gift for a plain goat of equal size and coloring.
Those who steal will surely burn, for they desire and do yearn for that which they could never earn To take a girl and common turn her beauty pure they soon will learn to good they never can return... The journey home was long as the girl pulled the ordinary goat along behind her. When she reached her home and the goat refused to give her gold, the girl became dejected. Her mother berated
her for her foolhardy quests for justice and for abandoning them as winter loomed. The little ones cried for lack of nourishment. For weeks, the girl stretched their ever fading supply of cornmeal and began to feel sick as the wind from the north brought new chills of taunting derision. The girl had addressed the great north wind twice and was insulted with gifts which gave no recompense. They had failed her when she needed them most. In the dead of a crisp autumn night, the girl set off on her third journey northward. She did not wish to face her mother's cynical wrath, so she stole away after her family fell asleep. She was more determined than ever before to force the north wind to take responsibility for his cruel actions. She marched for days through heavy frosts and bitter gusts, until she stood on the familiar threshold of the north wind's palace. Upon entering, she was met by a roar of cheers and moans. A great polo match was commencing between the four winds, the sea, the mountains, and the sun. The girl had never felt so insignificant as she faced the very forces of natural power and destruction. She knew she'd never get the north wind's attention over the noise and commotion of the game, so she was obliged to wait patiently until there came a break. In the calm she knew would last a very short time, she took the opportunity to demand some real justice from the wind. As she had feared it might, his patience with her complaints had finally run out. Without looking at her, he blew what looked like a common walking stick across the floor. It stopped at her feet as he hastily explained how she must command it to “lay on” when someone bothered her and when she wished it to stop striking her enemy, to say “lay off” and it would obey. Just as the game was about to resume, however, the girl spoke. “You were wrong to take our grain.” The north wind looked at her. She met his gaze and challenged him to admit his folly in the presence of the forces of nature. Her boldness was met with an admonishment never to return and a gale so strong she was swept two miles south of the palace. Bruised and dizzy, the girl took her walking stick and began her final journey home.
When she arrived at the inn, she noticed the innkeeper's wife was dressed in fine linens and silks when she had been in rags before. The innkeeper had also set out a feast with familiar trappings, but the girl kept these observations secret as she took a room for the night. She realized what had happened to her treasures and although she was not able to find any sympathy in the north wind, this covetous, thieving man would be taught a lesson. The man recognized the girl and although he had not seen the stick perform any magic, he was certain it was enchanted because of the girl's history. He was filled with avarice and lust. That night, the innkeeper found a stick that looked much like the one she had, and used his key to enter her room as she dreamed. But the girl, discerning his plan to violate her trust once again, merely pretended to sleep as he crept into the corner where the stick leaned. As he reached out to take it, she suddenly sat up in bed and screamed, â€œlay on!â€? The stick beat him mercilessly in all his vulnerable places just as he had wronged her in her vulnerable state. He begged the girl to call off the stick, but she refused until he confessed his wrongs against her and returned her prized possessions. He admitted his theft and promised to return her belongings, and only then, did she let him alone.
Those who steal will surely burn, for they desire and do yearn for that which they could never earn To take a girl and common turn her beauty pure they soon will learn to good they never can return... When she finally returned home, her mother was forced to acknowledge the merit of the justice the girl had sought and eventually earned. She fed her starving family and left them the gifts so they might thrive and prosper. Satisfied that her family could survive without her, she left her home to go out into the world, taking only her walking stick with her. She did not take it for protection, but to teach others that there's power to be had if one questions those who have it.
The north wind blew fierce and frigid no matter how far south she traveled, but the girl found greater strength in the cold. Her resilience grew from the knowledge that although he was too proud to admit it, she had made a mark on the great north wind.
Epilogue The process of reclaiming the story of the boy and the north wind was an interesting creative project, but it also had its difficulties. When I started writing, I realized I often write fiction in the spirit of imagination and for entertainment purposes. Having to concentrate fully on the message I wished to convey in my story proved difficult throughout the writing process. It was also quite fun to inject a subtext into the very basic plot of the original story. I like to believe I took a skeletal structure and gave it life. At the very least, I attempted to infuse the kind of life only a woman can give to a story. Complicating the simple plot-line allowed the feminist perspective to add color and personality to the characters, and that was a practical task. I gave the north wind a new, entitled attitude and the girl a bravery which doesn't come through as much in the original tale. The conclusion of the boy and the north wind is very much the traditional “happy ending,” in that the boy returns to his mother with his magical items and they both use them for themselves and are generally satisfied with the outcome. In my re-telling, I wouldn't call the end a particularly happy one. The girl feeds her family and seems to have influenced the power structure to some degree, but her life from then on is one of constant diligence and determination. I hoped to conclude the story in a realistic way since the life of a feminist is never easy or comfortable because of the nature of revolution. There are obstacles at every turn since what we are trying to do is considered abnormal. We face opposition from those who wish to keep their power simply because we ask that they share. Specifically, the story I had written when I was finished (which was surprising because it's not at all what I intended in the first place) came to represent and symbolize for me the injustice of the criminal “justice” system in our society. The great north wind, who has all the power to use as he sees fit, continues to throw solutions at the protagonist without offering any real care or help. Those gifts continually fail the girl in her hour of need. I have discovered in the theory we have studied thus far and in my personal experience that there is a profound solidarity in the hetero-patriarchal power
structureâ€”particularly among those in the military, healthcare, and criminal justice. The north wind represents the institutions that have failed to prevent violence while also neglecting to respect and rehabilitate victims. Many times the system is permitted to commit violence itself. One tragic example of this trend is the pervasive sexual violence committed by border patrol officers at the US-Mexico border. The few rape victims who do overcome their shame and fear so as to seek justice for their rape are often re-traumatized by the members of the criminal justice system, who care more for their colleagues than to act on behalf of the victims (Falcon 126). The failure to achieve justice has led many women crossing the border to expect sexual violence, which shows how systemic and pervasive this trend has started to become (Falcon 122). Another institution that has affected women in a negative way is the medical complex. Cases of domestic violence have recently become medicalized. Medical professionals have manipulated what is really a social issue and turned it into a disease (Rojas Durazo 180). For example, the â€œbattered womanâ€? has been categorized as a syndrome which all medical personnel must be trained to recognize and diagnose as primarily a medical issue as opposed to a social one (Rojas Durazo 182). In this way, the system is insidiously creating a solution that is unrelated to the root causes of the problem. Even within the feminist movement, there are abuses of power. Battered women's shelters are run in much the same way a prison is (Koyama 213). The survivors are treated as criminals who cannot be trusted, and in this way, even feminism is part of the system that has failed us (Koyama 211). In my own experience, I was taught the true colors of justice as a prepubescent. My step-father is an alcoholic and was physically and verbally abusive towards my mother and his step-children throughout our childhood. One evening, my parents had what began as a verbal argument and ended with my mother threatening to call the police. My step-dad proceeded to give her the opportunity to do so by pitching the phone at my mom's head. As children, we were terrified at our mother's powerlessness and his drunken rage. When my mother did call the police, the one memory that has stayed with me is the image of my step-father outside our house, laughing and joking with the police
officers. They never came inside, and only talked to my mother for a few minutes. As far as my young mind could tell, my step-father hadn't even received the proverbial “slap-on-the-wrist.” The system failed us that day, and I became painfully aware of the intense solidarity that exists among the privileged males. This kind of loyalty can be found from small-town, rural America to the border thousands of miles away. That instance proves to me that violence against women and minorities is permitted on a societal level. The wind may choose to blow on whomever he wishes, and it is difficult to track and prevent his ubiquitous and institutionalized violence.
Discourse on Feminist Theory & Practice in Other Disciplines Feminist studies and activism are closely interrelated to disciplines such as sociology, psychology, philosophy, urban studies, media studies, anthropology, and the general humanities. For my purposes, I would contend that feminist theory and literary theory alternately inform each other. I am particularly interested in the influence feminist practices and theory have on the process and result of creative writing. I would like to combine my passions for enhancing women's rights and the beauty of the written story. In doing so, I must ask myself: how do I represent women in my work in a way that challenges the very statutes of hetero-patriarchy? Furthermore, how am I readily hindered by burdens of racism, sexism, hetero-sexism, classism, ageism, ableism, etc. and how might I create literature that seeks to transcend those issues? In re-structuring a Scandinavian folktale, I attempted to inject character, personality, power struggles, and the frustrated helplessness of the oppressed into a very basic plot. I tried to bring these themes to life and I hope that the hero of my story (who was originally male) can be a unique example for those facing an unrelenting struggle for justice in the harsh realities of our world. I believe that literature and language in general contain the potential for power and influence. “...reclaiming, reconstructing, and 'stealing' the language are therefore essential activities and metaphors for feminist work and feminist theory” (Kolmar & Bartkowski 50). This power is especially important in the
literature read by the adolescents in our society. Although gender socialization begins very early in a child's life, the hierarchy and values based on gender become cemented in the minds of young adults (Zittleman 238). I believe women have a distinct voice that has long been silenced by rules of propriety and decency, and it is time we see the beauty in female â€œindecency.â€? Literature still features white males as protagonists and if minorities are present, they are often secondary characters with little individuality or depth. They are comprised of little more than that which categorizes them as a minority. Adolescents find it difficult to relate to the same archetypal character, especially if they are not white, middle-class, heterosexual males (as many of them are not). Most recently, the debates have changed to include the lack of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered characters in young adult literature. Perhaps there have been some books written which include these themes, but I cannot think of a single classic or even popular piece of fiction that does. Literature from other genres has begun to adapt, but the young adult world is often influenced as much by parents as it is by the adolescents themselves. I would imagine many books with LGBT characters or themes would face the threat of censorship. Either way, it is imperative that the discipline of creative writing and young adult fiction find a way to be culturally sensitive and variable.
The Dynamics of Feminist Theory & Practice: Literature as a Form of Activism As an undergraduate student, I majored in creative writing, and it was only after taking an undergraduate course on banned books and then learning about feminist theory this semester that I realized my goal of turning creative fiction into a form of activism. As any artist creates, she or he should always be acutely aware of the messages that they wish to send with any given piece. Especially with fiction written for my intended audience (young adults), the influence of literature is profound on its readers. The concepts we convey to adolescents are especially important because it is at this stage
that they are forming their gender ideologies and general philosophies on life. I feel that activism can be realized through writing and publishing because many basic attributes of YA perspectives and their behavior toward their fellow human stems from the literature they read. For many, it can be a significant part of their socialization. The theoretical precedent behind the craft and practice of fiction writing as activism comes from writers like Sandra Cisneros, Maxine Hong Kingston, and Tony Cade Bambara.1 In their writing, they masterfully combine their feminist message with engaging and often heart-wrenching stories. We hear their individual voices through the passions and the struggles of their authentic characters. Their fiction teaches us. It gives us concrete images of the problems we need to address in society. Their stories make us ask ourselves, “do I treat people that way?” or “is that what it feels like to be used?” It is through fiction we can live vicariously and see the world through the eyes of a trampled prostitute who has lost the will to live, a chicanita who just wishes she had a decent pair of shoes, or an old woman who doesn't remember being abused in a nursing home. This brand of theory doesn't come from empirical data or statistical analysis. Rather, fiction is, like poetry, “a vital necessity of our existence” (Lorde 15). Fiction can be a tool for learning and healing, just as a manifesto can enact change. I believe Audre Lorde succinctly conveys the traditional primacy of rational thought over the emotional beauty in poetry as she writes, “...feelings were expected to kneel to thought as women were expected to kneel to men” (16). We must have theory, such as literary technique, in conjunction with the practice of creating and publishing activist fiction. A surface issue often missing in literature is the presence of a strong female or minority protagonist. One might argue that there in fact are powerful female characters in literature, but I don't mean those who utilize powers of manipulation or seduction. There is power in creative writing and in reconstructing language in the form of a story or novel to change the notion of women writers as indecent (Woolf 154). The power in a story would not exist if the author behind it were 1 Sandra Cisneros' Woman Hollering Creek, The Woman Warrior by Maxine Hong Kingston, and Gorilla, My Love by Toni Cade Bambara are all examples of memoir or fiction as forms of feminist activism. See works cited for full bibliographical information.
powerless. To create “acceptable” fiction, one needs to at least be literate. I personally do not believe higher education always helps writers create better fiction (much influential fiction is born from the raw material one gets from experiencing the dregs of society). Still, every person should be given equal educational opportunity. Unfortunately, not everyone is given this opportunity, and is therefore unable to express the authentic and beautifully cultural experiences of their lives. Marginalized persons are born with certain life chances, and educational opportunities aren't always included. Minorities might be better represented as characters and authors if the theory of intersectionality were applied to literary theory. The theory of intersectionality can inform the characters, events, and relationships in any book. It challenges the writer to create multifaceted characters whose identities are complex. It is relatively simple to include race, class, and gender in a story, but the challenge comes when attempting to undo the hierarchy and prejudiced value system based on those intersecting traits. An author needs to be careful not to simply add a minority character whose identity is based solely on that which makes them a minority. The marginalized character should be the protagonist, not the secondary character, and that person should be fully human. Let the white, middle-class, heterosexual male take a lesser role for once. “Intersectionality is a product of seeking to have our voices heard and lives acknowledged” (Dill & Zambrana 3). Therefore we should let them have a character that acknowledges those voices we have yet to hear.
Conclusion Reclaiming this story has inspired me to reclaim more, and perhaps form an anthology of reconstructed folktales. If I had children of my own, I wouldn't want them to be socialized with the prejudiced, hetero-normative literature that is still being published today. This process has also commissioned me to be more aware and intersectional in my own creative writing. It has helped me to see that although there are traditional forms of activism (protests, advocacy, etc.), there are many ways to change the world, in subtle and nuanced ways. If the system can use underhanded ways to control
and oppress the populace, why shouldn't feminists use the same methods of subliminal influence to create positive change? Then again, perhaps we should come up with new methods, and keep fighting even as our ideas go up in flames at book burnings. I truly hope the future of literature will be more inclusive and challenge the law of hetero-patriarchy. The effect of literature on its readers can never be fully quantified, and it's for that reason that we, as writers, must fight to change the history of the story.
Works Cited Bambara, Toni Cade. Gorilla, My Love. 1st ed. New York: Vintage Books, 1981. Cisneros, Sandra. Woman Hollering Creek and Other Stories. 1st ed. New York: Vintage Books, 1992. Dill, Bonnie Thornton, and Ruth Enid Zambrana. “Critical Thinking about Inequality: An Emerging Lens.” Emerging Intersections: Race, Class, and Gender in Theory, Policy, and Practice. Ed. Patricia Hill Collins. Rutgers University Press, 2009. 1-21. Falcon, Sylvanna. “"National Security" and the Violation of Women: Militarized Border Rape at the US-Mexico Border .” The Color of Violence : The Incite! Anthology. Ed. Incite! Women of Color Against Violence. Cambridge Mass.: South End Press, 2006. 119-129. Kingston, Maxine Hong. The Woman Warrior: Memoirs of a Girlhood Among Ghosts. Vintage International ed. New York: Vintage International, 1989. Kolmar, Wendy K, and Frances Bartkowski, eds. “Lexicon of the Debates.” Feminist Theory: A Reader. 2nd ed. Boston: McGraw-Hill Higher Education, 2005. 50-52. Koyama, Emi. “Disloyal to Feminism: Abuse of Survivors within the Domestic Violence Shelter System.” Color of violence : the Incite! anthology. Ed. Incite! Women of Color Against Violence. Cambridge Mass.: South End Press, 2006. 208-222. Lorde, Audre. “Poetry Is Not a Luxury.” Feminist Theory: A Reader. 2nd ed. Ed. Wendy K Kolmar & Frances Bartkowski. Boston: McGraw-Hill Higher Education, 2005. 15-16. Rojas Durazo, Ana Clarissa. “Medical Violence Against People of Color and the Medicalization of Domestic Violence.” The Color of Violence: The Incite! Anthology. Ed. Incite! Women of Color Against Violence. Cambridge Mass.: South End Press, 2006. 179-188. Woolf, Virginia. “From A Room of One's Own.” Feminist Theory: A Reader. 2nd ed. Ed. Wendy K Kolmar & Frances Bartkowski. Boston: McGraw-Hill Higher Education, 2005. 149-154. Zittleman, Karen. “Being a Girl and Being a Boy: The Voices of Middle Schoolers.” The Gendered Society. 3rd ed. Ed. Michael S. Kimmel. Oxford University Press, USA, 2007. 235-260.