Monday, January 31, 2011

Finding magic

I might have mentioned earlier how I see magic as the ways in which we channel our will to bring about change in the surrounding world. And I’ve been wondering lately whether we can use it to bring love into our lives. That one big true magical love everyone is talking about. I recently read a lovely article on finding and using magic in our everyday lives and I now believe it is not about grabbing that love by the balls, but about inviting it in and not drawing deadlines, about making room for it and being able to fully embrace it when it comes along.
We might not realize it, but we all are magical beings. We perform rituals every day, we use spells and potions to get closer to the objects of our desires. We just don’t do it consciously. Living a magical life is about living consciously. That thing others call living in the now. But as magical creatures we don’t have to let go of all of our desires, but to acknowledge they are all means to greater ends. That what we actually seek are not the material things, but rather abstract concept that make us happy. When we want clothes or perfumes we actually seek beauty and appreciation. When we want cars and money we want status and the thrill of open possibilities. When we want somebody we want company or love or support etc. And when we seek these things we perform rituals that are either of our own making or behaviors we have been socialized into. Every time me take a bath we perform a beauty ritual, or a cleansing one, or a social acceptance rite if that’s our only motivation. When we go to work we perform a daily ritual of ensuring security and prosperity. And so on and so forth. The trick is to actually acknowledge the real reasons behind what we do. They actually reveal our true values. Lying is not about not having principles, for example, it’s about seeking acceptance or even peace of mind. "No man chooses evil because it is evil; he only mistakes it for happiness, the good he seeks", Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley once wrote.
Once we are conscious of the higher motivations behind our desires and actions, we can transform them into more efficient rituals. It doesn’t take a witch to cure our deepest wounds or give us the highest high (although sometimes we do meet one in disguise who turns our lives around). We can use our own rites to make each day more meaningful, to enhance the magic in simple moments. Turning our beauty endeavors into self-love rituals, each meal into thoughts of gratitude towards all the Earth’s miracles that have landed on our plate, every reading into a trip to foreign lands and a chance to make new friends. Because once we start seeing the small things in a magical way, we’ll unconsciously add quality to our lives. We’ll want the fresh and tasty veggies and we won’t let others tell us what beauty means. We’ll be able to enjoy a good conversation and move on from people who only spread bad energies, or maybe we’ll make their day and that great feeling will come back to us threefold.
The great things we want for ourselves will be easier to see. I used to think I was spoiled by fate because I usually got what I wanted in life. The big things. Like a good education and finding a job, or like getting a guy. But the truth is I wanted some of these things so much I could see them. And visualization is one of the best ways to attract the things we want. The first step is enjoying what we have and through that realizing what we want. The second one is getting the best of that. And things don’t just come because we want them, sometimes is takes a lot of hard work. But keeping in mind the real reasons we do that work usually helps a lot. Talking about it, thinking of the best ways to get it and being patient helps a lot. Not putting deadlines or time frames on things keeps fear of failure and desperation on the side. Being able to wish for something but not feel pressured is what makes the difference between “things” and motivations.
So when we seek love we must understand it doesn’t just grow on trees. If we want it for the right reasons, if we really want love and not just company, not just social acceptance, not just a cure for loneliness, then we get one step closer to it. And we might meet love, but can we tell? Do we know anymore what it feels like, after being stomped over time and time again? We can, once we regain our innocence. Once we understand all those reasons for trusting others and even for allowing ourselves to get hurt. Once we let it all go as lesser attempts to get what we want and we believe that every time we give it a try we get better at it. And once we find it, we finally get a partner in magic. Now all the rituals will be in two. Rituals of spiritual nurturing, rituals of pleasure, rituals of security.
Humans are magical creatures because they can use their will to make the world a better place for themselves and others and they can do it consciously. I didn’t want to sound like a guru, but spending time in top of snowy mountains has really given me fuel for thought and magic is my new favorite word.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Single and fabulous

Once I used to believe I was addicted to love. A lovaholic. A relationship person, somebody who could not function well without being attached from the hip to somebody else. I’ve been in serial relationships most of my dating life and all that time I was never single for more than three months. And now it’s been more than two years. And I’m just now starting to realize why it is so. It’s not because all guys are jerks and there’s nobody out there or I just haven’t met him. And it’s not because there’s something wrong with me or I’m not ready to go back to being in a relationship. The one great reason I’m still single is because I chose so.
Whenever my grandmother asks me if I have a boyfriend or a concerned auntie wants to know when I’m getting married I keep wondering why is it that people expect us to pair up all the time. Is being single like being homeless or unemployed? Is there still such a great social stigma associated to it? We all know that some decades ago for a woman it was more tragic to be single than unemployed. Actually, it was the possibility to work outside the home and support ourselves, own property and decide upon our own bodies that created this ever growing pool of singles nowadays. And so we should ask ourselves, are more and more people single because there are less options on the dating market or just because they can and choose to do so? I would rather agree with the latter. You see, we can now choose to spend our lives experiencing multiple relationships or none at all, instead of being in an oppressive marriage we never wanted in the first place. We can choose to get out of a dysfunctional relationship instead of enduring it all just for the sake of not being labeled with the oh so scary sticker of old maid.
I enjoy being single for both the perks of said independence and for being able to avoid the pitfalls of relationships. The independence doesn’t just mean “you can do what you want”. You can actually do as you please in a healthy relationship as well, because I trust in a good partnership you will want the things that are right for you and your partner. It’s more about escaping that constant scrutiny. You’ve read about it a thousand times in women’s magazines, it’s awesome to be single because you can wear granny panties and you don’t always have to look great and smell nice, nobody will notice that extra couple of kilos on your hips after the holidays and your hair doesn’t always have to be shiny. Yes, they say they love you just the way you are. But we notice stuff. We notice the cavity in that tooth and the dirty fingernail and the pimple on the nose. And we know men notice far more things and expect far more effort to be put into our looks. Yes, we all love to be pretty every time we go out the door, but sometimes, at home, we just want to sit around in our pajamas with our hair stuck to our head, eating cheesy puffs and watching bad TV. And you can do that when you’re in a relationship too. But not whenever you please. These are just examples, but the bottom line here is that the constant scrutiny of a partner we want to spend every breathing minute with is quite heavy on our shoulders. And singles have it easy that way.
And then, we don’t get to worry about all those things people who are dating do. Like what he’s thinking of every second, is he having doubts about us, is he checking out that girl, is he cheating on me, is he really over his last girlfriend, why did they break up anyway, is there something wrong with him I haven’t noticed yet, where is this going and why won’t he talk about it, are his parents going to like me, is my father going to break his legs, how many children are we going to have, should we move in together, will we ever earn enough to buy a house and build a family… That kind of stuff. We don’t think about it all at once. But over one year, most of these questions are bound to pop out in our heads. And some of the things we worry about might happen on the way, bringing about a lot of pain and a need to reconsider our whole existence.
My biggest concerns as a single person are what to have for lunch and whether to build a career in this or that direction. I sometimes think I would have no time for a relationship, between my work and education, my family and my friends I hardly get to read and the pile of books and magazines waiting for me is getting larger by the day. But the thing is I don’t feel the need to or want one. I believe this is an awesome time to enjoy myself and know all the things that make me happy. To push myself and see where I draw the lines and to grow in whichever direction I want without having to adapt my future plans to future plans I’ve made in my head with somebody else. I don’t look at it as time between relationships when I get to become a better person for somebody to love me more when I finally meet him. It’s a transition time between school years and junior level jobs and the days when I’ll actually be working at securing a bright future for myself. Maybe I’ll meet someone, maybe I won’t, maybe I’ll have children, maybe I won’t. What I can tell you right now is that I feel fabulous about being single and I can’t even put in words all the great things about it. And for anybody to change that, they’d have to be at least as pretty damn awesome as I am.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Karma and its army of demons

Some girl in a movies said that faith is for the weak, an excuse not to go grab whatever we want then and there. In that line of thought, I believe a lot of concepts like that actually help us deal with reality, give us a sense of order in a universe that is so much beyond our understanding that we need to oversimplify it. But what if there is certain equilibrium? A law of compensation that keeps things straight. A strange way of this cold impersonal universe of taking care of us. Karma is a rather comforting concept in a way. It gives us the peace of mind to leave pain behind knowing that we would be avenged. It helps us get off the door in the morning, knowing that whatever keeps the balance out there will make all things right in the end. But when it comes to relationships, I’ve noticed karma is a pretty scary word.
When they are in love, people want to be loved for who they are and not just because they love the other. So nobody gives it too much thought. But when things get ugly, some of us have that fear in the back of their heads that however they hurt their partner, it’s coming to bite them in the ass. That’s why we persevere in our mistakes in a way. Fear has never been a good partner.I saw this card on Post Secret which said “my wife left me because I wouldn’t admit I cheated on her. I never did”. 
This kind of makes me think about two things I observed quite often and wrote about before. One is that when we start lying, it’s always about little things, so as not to make our partners worried or angry. We start with the most basic thing, saying we’re fine when we’re actually not (well, men know that when women say everything’s all right, there must be something fishy). Then we get to things like “going out with the girls/guys for coffee”, when you’re actually going dancing and drinking till morning. And we end up lying about working late when in fact we’re with somebody else. One of the worst case scenarios. Thing is a lie will always lead to another and no matter how many white lies we tell, eventually we’ll lie about something big. I see people after decades of marriage who resent each other in one way or another and they never say it. The other thing the card reminded me was that we mirror our behavior in our partner. Yes, there are genuinely jealous people. But some of the most violently jealous people I know are those who cheat. You lie and cheat so you expect your partner to lie and cheat. And sometimes being labeled the bad guy actually turns you into the bad guy. Instant karma. We don’t really need a force of the universe to bite us in the ass. We do a great job ourselves. Hurting other people will eventually hurt us. Because we’ll live in fear. Because we’ll lose trust. Because the weight of lying will be so heavy on our shoulders, we’re bound to drop it.
And what happens when we hurt bystanders? People involved in our relationships in a way or another, who suffer by association. Do we really have to think about each and single one of the people our relationship felonies affect? We make and lose friends, we get close or become strangers to families, we step on some toes whenever we are with somebody. Every relationship at the time, I believe. Somebody is bound to be unhappy with our choices, every time. We’ll win some and lose some and sometimes we’ll get away with it.
Ah, getting away with it! Nothing as scary as that. Can being a bitch in one relationship pay up in the next one? Does cheating now make you bound to be cheated on later? Somehow I’m sure it’s not how it works. The problem is that when we expect these things to happen, it’s like inviting them in. When we believe we are sinners and deserve the wrath of whatever is out there, we end up punishing ourselves. When we see ourselves as monsters, we are the ones that take a little bit of our beauty away each day. It’s maybe karma, it’s maybe conscience, it’s maybe fear.
I am actually a strong believer in the Wiccan Law of Threefold Return. The one that says that whatever benevolent or malevolent actions a person performs will return to that person with triple force, or with equal force on each of the three levels of body, mind and spirit. I also believe this whole belief system to be based on the power we all have to channel our will to transform what others call faith. So for now let’s just look at karma as a motivation we give selfish people to be altruistic and build our own laws of return. What is certain is that love and positive thoughts will always give good returns. Treasuring others' affection and trust can’t hurt and living as a free open fearless person beats the dark shadows of karma any day.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Eastern Europeans don't speak romance

After having my mind blown by Bertolucci’s “Last tango in Paris”, my first thoughts went to my amazing Western lovers and to how movie-like our relationships have been. It sounds a bit farfetched to make generalizations based on such few cases. But maybe I can extend my sample by also considering my most favorite men, who are directors or writers or just some of their characters.
I’ve always found Eastern Europeans to be a bit on the dark side. They have this obscurity that somehow makes you feel like you could never penetrate to a level where they would lose the grip. There is something about them that is never satisfied. Like they could always get better, but they’re not even bothering to look. I do believe that all of this brings along a lot of frustration. Of the Eastern Europeans I got to know better in time, I find Serbians to be the most shady. I think they pair a nice imagination with some serious case of always feeling wronged. Hungarians are still a mystery to me, they do have a potential for romanticism, but maybe they’re too well programmed to roam free. Bulgarians are nice guys, but you can never be sure they’re not being sarcastic. I don’t think it’s a national trait, but maybe a case of Romanians being lost in translation. The latter speak a really weird kind of romance. Because they’ve always experienced it second-hand. That kind of traditional courtship inherited through the ages is almost gone. The one where you would dance with the girl on Sunday and then try to get her alone when she’s out working or whistling over her fence and then eventually stealing her in order to oblige her parents to give you their blessings. Romanians have borrowed bits and pieces from Italian or French and now American fashions of the times and forgot how to pursue women in their own way. The most obvious example is the toxic bachelor syndrome, where men figured after a certain age there is a flip in power and now they can sleep around and convince women it's all right for them to do so because they call it open relationships and everybody does them nowadays. However, I believe women much rather adopted platform high heels than fancy-named polygamy.
What I’ve always loved about the French, for example, is that openness to however sophisticated or absurd approaches to courtship. That ability to see women as means and not ends, to not think about whether tomorrow they may still belong to them. And that gives them a freedom that Easterners’ fear or ridicule would never allow them to experience. The freedom not to think twice before they speak and not to have to hide behind words. And the ability to be there and not somewhere else when they’re with a woman and treat her like she’s the only one left on Earth. When I talk about darkness I don’t refer to mystery. I refer to being impermeable to intimacy and in that sense the more you go East, the thicker the barrier gets.
Latinos are not big on intimacy either, but that fire that everyone talks about, it’s there all right. These guys know what they want and they take it. And they hold on to it. Not by always fearing it’s going away and bitching about it, like Eastern Europeans do. But by being a bit overly possessive and mostly by being insatiable lovers. They are maybe not the most fancy guys you can find, but I believe they know how to enjoy the really good stuff. The sun, the sand, the food, the wine and especially the women. Uncomplicated lovers, I believe they make it to our hearts easily because of that warmth they effuse. But what I like the most about them is that they can really fight. Not just stand there and look angry, not just offend you and walk away. They argue the way they love, spending a lot of energy and burning all of the tension then and there.
It’s a pretty sensible subject and I’m sure anyone could disagree with my experience. It’s always been a bit wrong to put people of a certain nationality in the same box based on traits we consider to be inherent to their ethnicity. But I believe some of the cultural heritage does express itself in our everyday lives, and why not in our relationships.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Toxic crushes

This morning a friend of mine posted a song I couldn’t get out of my head. I’ve attached it below. Looking at the comments it got, I realized there’s lots of us out there. People who have their very own Jessie. That one person we cannot say no to, even though they don’t treat us well, are not good for us and when we think we’re off the hook, they just show up out of the blue or mesmerize us from the other end of the line.
One day I thought to myself I’m really over it, but while writing this post I realized I still get the chills and my knees would still melt if I saw him on the street. He could sell me any bullshit any day and maybe I wouldn’t even realize it. But how did I get here? The easiest way is to want it really bad for a very long time and never see it happening until it does. And then being denied the whole thing. Getting just bits and pieces and being driven crazy. However, I believe the mind games were not as effective as the incredible attraction. Because I knew all along he wasn’t good enough for me, but I could’ve spent days and days just looking at him. And doing other stuff. And every time he showed up, he would sweep me away. And every time he’d call, I’d drop the pajamas and walk out the door at 3 a.m. Nothing is as toxic as a desire we manufacture ourselves. It’s like drinking our brains out and waking up the next day feeling intoxicated. When we went out we were all like “yaaay! I’m getting smashed tonight”, but the next day it’s “what on Earth was I thinking?”. It’s the same with these irresistible crushes. We say to ourselves, “what’s a fun night gonna hurt?” but a few days later we do stare at the phone and think of how the best way to a man’s heart is through his stomach (stab in and thrust up).
Some people are lucky. They get over it pretty easy. It usually takes a few years. You rarely get to be with your toxic crush, or have a healthy relationship with them at least. So you’ll always have the “the one that got away” syndrome. The big difference being these people are bad for you. They either use you and abuse you or just ignore you, it’s no way you can get out of this without a bruise here and a scratch there. One of my friends had this crush on a guy she usually met at parties. They made out in the broom closet and so on, but she never asked for more, figuring the guy was such a free-spirited person. Even when she was in relationships, he would still hit on her and most times convince her to hook up at least for the night. Eventually he got a plain girlfriend and will be married soon. Someone’s Jessie may be someone else’s Prince Charming. My friend still wonders why she couldn’t be the one. Other people I know just got tired of waiting. Or got tired of being used. They had the balls to call it quits, no matter how badly they wanted to let go and no matter how strongly the other one insisted.
I noticed a few of the comments said “I’m married to/ going to marry my Jessie”. I find that really hard to believe. Someone who doesn’t like and respect you enough to give you more than a few dreams is rarely going to change and decide he’s suddenly ready to settle down and you’re the one he wants to do it with. I could never trust a person who stringed me along for years and I wouldn’t commit to someone who used to tell me he has nothing to offer me (but maybe to someone else he did?). We buy any dream they sell, but somehow we also know it’s a game and we’re willing to play it. We like to play along this make-believe that we could be the one who’s worthy of it all. When in fact we don’t deserve any of this. And choosing to do it to ourselves is utter stupidity. We don’t deserve the booty calls and the last-minute hook-ups, the feeling we’ve made ourselves optional and disposable and going along with it just so that we can lie to ourselves a little bit more.
So seriously, the Rolling Stones had this great chorus we may want to keep in mind, “you can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes you get what you need”. Things that are bad for us may look sooo attractive, but at the end of the day we need to let them go. When we choose to be used and abused it’s our cross to bear, but allowing somebody to do us wrong thinking they’ll eventually grow to appreciate us is not an option. Because we deserve the best we can get and hanging on to a toxic crush is not it. 

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Growing up? What's that?

One of these days I looked myself in the mirror and asked what did I want to be when I grow up? Where did I plan to be now in that scenario of my life I played out in my head as a child? And then I smiled and I thought “this is it”. I was raised to believe education is the best way for women to make it big. To reach for independence. To enjoy the simple little things in life. I wanted to be a detective and a writer and a student for ever and ever, and the way things work, I'm living the dream. I wanted a place of my own and a handful of friends I can hang with and count on. I’m here, but somehow there are plenty of people who still think I have a lot of growing up to do. As in get married and have babies. Make big bucks and move to a house in the suburbs. Buy a car and take the kids to piano lessons and soccer.
I see growing up as something different. I believe most of the roles people expect us to play have to be tried on. To see if they fit. That’s why we play all kinds on enactments of adult life as children. We try different jobs and we play house. We do the same as young adults. And some people decide it’s the real thing. But I believe in taking chances and knowing yourself. When people just assume the roles they were set out to play from early childhood, can we really call that growing up? Marrying your high school sweetheart fresh out of college and having a baby a couple of years after finding a stable job. Is that what growing up is all about? Because I’d rather call it settling. Not just settling down. Settling for what you were told your life should be like. Like microwaving a frozen diner instead of trying some amazing Thai cuisine. It’s true that most generations before us had a clear path before them and that saved them from experiencing a quarter-life crisis. But shouldn’t we consider ourselves lucky? With the amazing variety of options we now have, we can be the architects of our own lives.
My childhood best friend used to tell me she wants to graduate from college and get a job in a nice office and marry her one true love and have kids and live happily ever after. I guess this is it for her. I think she is soon to marry her first boyfriend, they’ve been together for the last seven years, if you don’t count the one when they first met in junior high. She got a job working for a multinational corporation and her parents must be really proud. Her life was a straight line towards her childhood dreams and I’m nobody to say that she is stuck or just settling. What I’m saying is that most of us don’t get to be like that.
Most people I know and hang around are actually extremely indecisive about their future even in their mid-20s. It might be that there is a common denominator that brought us together, while maybe people who couple early in life and marry at our age eventually  have friends that are more similar to them. What I wanted to say is that we are just as grown up as they are. And maybe more. Because we got to experience so many sides of life and we’ve been on our own and played house and tried all kinds of other wacky combinations. We traveled at least as much and met tons of people, we’ve questioned ourselves more and got to know ourselves better in the process. We didn’t take things for granted, be it religion or taste in men, and most times chose to think for ourselves instead of caving to the majority’s opinions and precepts. As far as relationships go, we’re the ones who won’t ask ourselves what would that have been like, because we went there and we already know. Being experienced and open-minded is what I consider to be grown-up. Because growing up should be more about growing than moving up towards a position set for us from birth. These indecisive people I know might marry and have children as well. But they will be the ones who make a grown-up decision to do so. The ones who can fully enjoy being mothers and wives/fathers and husbands as a personal decision they can celebrate, without looking back and thinking they could have taken a year off to back-pack around the world or given a chance to that cute person they used to know in college. So yes, I am all grown up now and I’m where I’m supposed to be. And I can go anywhere from here.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Freaks and monsters and what not

Now it’s common knowledge that there are different levels of knowing a person. Different depths, if you allow me. I always thought I may not seem much at the first glance, but when people get to know me they find I am quite something. But what I fear for as long as I can remember is that they might get to know me too well. Reach the dark depths where my freak lives. The little monsters in my head. That scary place you don’t just walk into. I’ve met people who introduced me to their own, one way or the other. Sometimes we even paired our freaks, gave them matching slippers and let them walk around while we were busy doing other things. But it is rarely that we can meet people we can accept entirely. Knowing the little monsters they can be. And there are maybe fewer people who can see and live with our own.
Most obvious type of freakiness we think of is in the sexual sense. When it comes to sex, it’s a mine field. Or a fence race. There are as may boundaries as people. Or even more. And the ones on the other side of the line are the freaks. Because people judge. Oh, they judge all right and their favorite thing to point a finger at is whatever is different from them. And in our sexual preferences we are all different. Now it maybe depends on how thick the line is. Some people say no, some people say maybe, others would never go there. We’ll probably hit a lot of those fences in our lives. Granted we draw the line farther than most of our sex partners. What I find funny is that the world is still full of people who hide in tiny little boxes. You know, the kind that do it with the lights off and just lay there. But some of the fences we’ll bring down and some we’ll just turn our backs to. When it’s worth it, even tanks can be in order. Some people will make us climb our own walls, take us further. And there will always be some people on the side labeling whoever is not on their side of the line. Screw them. Sex freaks are fun and at some point we’re lucky enough to find a freak or more that match our own. If we were all “normal”, we’d still be wearing night gowns with a hole around our genitalia. And say “Hail Mary” while waiting for it to be done with.
We are also freaks in the intellectual sense. People will always like weird stuff. They will listen to music that is too violent or too moronic for us to bear. They will watch movies we’d never be able to stay awake through and enjoy things we can’t understand. Lots of people we meet will not be able to have an argument without absurd statements or without a fight. Intellectually, it is very difficult to find a match. Tuning freakiness is a question of finesse when it comes to the brain. I’ve met so many attractive men who could make me laugh but when it came to conversation, they turned out not to be the brightest crayons in the box. Giving good conversation is maybe more important than giving good head. People are sometimes appalled by my tastes or preferences or social standings. And I am of those of others. We all meet freaks every day. But to some people we just feel like home.
The biggest freaks I’ve met so far were the emotionally handicapped. And I’m not only talking about commitment freaks. There are freaks at the other extreme as well. People who can hold on to someone with such violence they eventually drive them away. Those who threaten they’ll commit suicide if left astray. The ones that take you on guilt trips for every phone call you make or don’t take, for every person that looks at you funny on the street and so on. The crazy insecure possessive type. Of course the commitment challenged are more often met today. Probably because the other freaks already paired up. And this guys might never do. It should be easy by now to spot the difference. But it’s not, because our egos make us blind and stupid. I guess we somehow think we could be the ones to change that. To take a commitment freak and turn him into a white fence, barking dog, two kids kind of guy. But I’ve heard so many excuses I’m afraid to say I’ve heard them all. Most of us will never be that girl. The one who turns the available sign on. This is a form of emotional freak as well, this unavailable bachelor hunting. However, I believe whatever freak we run into, if we can’t fit it in our own crazy monster zoo, we’d better let it go. You can’t really change freaks, you can only pat their heads and kiss them goodnight.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Fairytale conditioning

Now I know I’m probably stating out things that most people already know, the feminist critical literature has been tackling this subject for years now. But after referring so often to the concept of Prince Charming, I really felt like a talk on fairy tales was in order. There are many ways in which we are socialized and even socially conditioned and I believe gender roles to be one of the strongest ways in which nurture builds characters.
In early childhood we are told stories that fascinate us, but also give us guidelines to who we should eventually become when we grow up. Apart from the gender-specific behavior we learn from our families, there is this powerful effect stories have upon us. They answer to our need to enjoy our imagination and also to our spirit of adventure. But the things we eventually end up learning may not be just human values and qualities like kindness, courage, determination, integrity and so on. We learn that as girls or boys we have separate places in the social world and that we don’t succeed in the same way.
Women in fairy tales are most often portrayed as helpless, damsels in distress waiting for their prince to come find them. They lack initiative and they lack any distinctive personality traits. The only thing that we know about most of them is that they are beautiful and that is their main worth. They are usually passive to events that come about in their lives and are only thrown into adventure by outside forces and with the help of supernatural creatures. Cinderella dreams of going to the ball, but it is only after the Fairy Godmother gives her a dress and a carriage that she can actually act upon her desires. Most main female characters in fairy tales are still stuck in the domestic realm. Snow White, even when she runs away to the dwarfs’ house, takes care of the cleaning and cooking and Cinderella does that all day long for her family. Even in some of the Romanian stories, where the main characters are girls and they are revered for being more that pretty faces, their smarts and kindness are put to the service of their families and they all do housework and care for others and that is the only thing they are rewarded for. Moreover, their devotion to men is religious. “The Poor Man’s Smart Daughter” eventually marries the town’s judge and when he gets upset with her and wants to throw her out, the one thing she chooses to take back with her (given the option to pick anything) is her husband. In stories where the main character is a prince who goes on a great adventure to rescue his kingdom or a princess, the women’s role is purely of d├ęcor. They sit around waiting to be saved from the evil grip of the monster and then indiscriminately marry the one that saves them. They are envied not for their personality, but for their beauty, which is what gets them in trouble and saves them at the same time. The evil forces want to kill or kidnap them just because of their looks, they pose no substantial threat as persons, but rather as a better and improved model of the female charms.
Talking about evil forces, the alternatives to the beautiful submissive soon-to-be-housewife in all fairy tales are women with supernatural powers. The good ones are Fairy Godmothers or kind old witches who give a helping hand. The others are evil witches or bad mothers. Any unmarried woman in stories has to be a witch. One of my anthropology teachers believes that witchcraft is strongly associated to women’s sexuality. So one way of explaining why some women chose to live outside of society’s clearly ascribed roles was witchcraft. The years of witch hunting were, in his opinion, just a measure to reinforce traditional gender roles.
So the templates for being a woman we get from fairy tales as little girls are nice and simple. You can either be a beautiful homebound princess, who is patient and kind and submissive and lives to meet her prince. Or you can be a witch who is forever alone and lives only to help or maim others.
The role models boys get from fairy tales are completely different. One annoying thing is that almost all male heroes are royalty or at least really rich. They are good looking and great fighters, fearless and intelligent. Men are part of the public sphere in all fairy tales. They roam around looking for adventure and saving damsels in distress. They don’t wait for things to happen, they go and take it. In a way, these are all attributes that are more difficult to live up to than those ascribed to women. And they create unrealistic expectations for the female readers about what a worthy suitor is supposed to be like. It is rarely that we find that knightly strength and courage in a man. They don’t fight monsters for us and don’t take us away to a castle on a white horse. We don’t instantly fall in love with the first one that rides into our lives and don’t live happily ever after with them. We rarely meet any male evil characters, though. In German fairy tales they are  barely existent and Romanian folklore has created this semi-human creature, similar to a basilisk, that kidnaps young princesses and is always defeated by Prince Charming. They are also secluded and, the way I see it, have all the psychological traits of a sociopath.
So boys and girls, we’ve all been taught by stories adults told us that there are two ways to go: comply with our gender roles, get married, have babies and live happily ever after, or stay bachelors and turn into monsters or slutty witches. Even though the world has changed so much, we still have these patterns of how we are supposed to be and live our lives buried conveniently in our subconscious.
If I ever get to have children, I want them to hear the real stories. About women who worked their way through school or even went to prison for their convictions who eventually got to run some of the largest or most powerful countries in the world. About real life princesses who raised money to feed the poor and give as many children as possible an education. About those who were laughed at and discredited, but kept fighting for our right to now be better educated and reach parity in economic power with men, for our right to choose whether to and what kind of family we want to dedicate ourselves to, for giving us the horse and the sword to be our own Prince Charming.