A Head Full of Trees

wood-nature-walking-darkI sometimes wonder why I – priding myself to be an emancipated young woman – am so attracted to fairy tales (sexism and gender stereotyping, anyone?).

Maybe it’s the atmosphere of wonder and magic. Maybe it’s the illusion that anything – absolutely anything – is possible. Or maybe it’s just the presence of mysterious, dark forests full of ancient trees, strange beasts and deadly secrets.

Oh, I bloody love these forests. So much that when I dream, this funny space inside my head is covered in trees sometimes: I hear the rustling leaves, the whispering twigs, the wings of ravens and owls and whatever else might be hiding in there. I smell the earthy, green wilderness and feel the presence of thousands of eyes in there, making the whole forest seem like one big breathing entity more alive and much wiser than anything else on this planet.

And I wish I could be there for real, not just in my head.

Forests fire up my imagination unlike anything else. Somehow, this seems to be the case for most people, and it’s probably why they go together so well with fairy tales: Just try to imagine Little Red Riding Hood getting lost in a sweltering swamp or Hansel and Gretel leaving breadcrumbs on a sunny beach – the stories just wouldn’t be the same.

Not surprisingly, fairy tale forests are frequently interpreted to symbolise the human unconscious: both are mysterious places inhabited by beasts and secrets, and just like fairy tale heroines have to face what is hidden in the shadows of the trees, we have to come to terms with the beasts buried deep inside us – our fears, our desires, our dreams.

I should probably spend more time trying to find and tame the creatures inside me, but dreaming of unicorns and werewolves just seems a lot more fun.

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Screw the Prince

prince-and-princess-1473275137lbzFairy tales let me fall in love with storytelling way before I could read or write a single word. Little Red Riding Hood, Briar Rose and Hansel and Gretel have been my friends long before I had real friends, and I remember only too well begging my mum to read me just one more story before it was time to sleep.

Looking at fairy tales now, as a grown-up (at least according to my ID) and a feminist, they appear very different to me. They’re no longer the innocent stories I remember. Yes, they promote perfectly innocent values: virtue, bravery, kindness. But also heteronormativity and sexism.

I should have seen that all along, but of course, you only see what your eyes have been opened to. As a little girl, you hardly ever question why every female’s goal is to marry a prince they’ve never met, why every ambitious woman is a cruel witch or a spinster, why it’s usually the men who go on adventures and save the world.

A study from 1990 shows just how much this gender stereotyping influences children: when 2.500 pupils were asked to write their own fairy tales based on a given introduction, almost all chose a female protagonist if the first line indicated victimization and oppression; if the sentence promised adventure and autonomy, on the other hand, they chose a male protagonist.

Sure, fairy tales can have a positive effect on children: they boost their imagination, show them how to tell right from wrong, and teach them that life isn’t always easy or fair.

But if we don’t address the underlying sexism and stereotyping, they believe that’s normal – just look at all the girls still thinking it’s enough to be beautiful and to wait for a prince to come along and save them.

Screw the princes, ladies. Be brave and save yourself.

An Austrian in England

England and Austria are less than 2 flight hours away. 2 hours isn’t much. How different can 2 countries this close actually be? Vastly different. For all I know they could be on different continents.

Obviously, the first big difference is the language. This is not dramatic, though: I’m used to that. I’ve had so many English lessons in my life that I almost feel more comfortable with English than with standard German, so no issues here.

The more important difference is the traffic. The damned hell-yes-we’ll-just-drive-on-the-wrong-side traffic that almost killed me on my first day here. No joke. If my flatmate hadn’t pulled me back, I’d now be a rather pitiable red stain on Lincoln High Street. The good thing about this near-death experience: I definitely learned my lesson.

And then there’s all the other, smaller things: The different sockets. The weird food (pizza with chicken tikka, anyone? Or rather Toad in a Hole?). The habit of putting milk in your tea. The weird coin system. The abundance of pubs (there’s even one on campus!). The cashiers in supermarkets calling you ‘my love’. The train system with different fares depending not only on the time you want to travel but also on the time you book the ticket (that almost makes me think fondly of the ÖBB, the national railway company in Austria – yes, they like to be late, and yes, they can be quite expensive, but at least the fares are standardised).

It’s a lot to get used to. Now, after almost 4 weeks here, it all already seems a little less strange. I feel a little less strange. In a couple of weeks, it will all feel totally normal.

Maybe.