In case you were wondering, it’s completely nerve-wracking to talk to your colleagues for AN HOUR about your research. I’m so glad that’s over!
My Folklore Roundtable, about sex in fairy tales, was over a week ago, and I’m still recovering. (you can read the abstract here) I got my paper polished and practiced just in time, and while I spoke a little too fast due to being nervous, I think it went well overall.
I’d thought there were maybe two dozen people there, but one of my colleagues said they counted and it was over 35! And there were even more people who’d told me they wanted to attend but couldn’t make it! I’m kinda blown away by that. I mean, yes, I gave it a sexy title and it’s on a sexy topic, but still. I tend to think of academic talks as mostly of interest to other academics, as much as I’m working to create scholarship that is both accessible and relevant.
Briefly, I summarized the main kinds of sexual behavior we see in fairy tales (primarily heterosexual; some instances of rape and incest; occasional bestiality) and critiqued it from a feminist lens. It’s generally more permissible for men to sleep around than for women to do the same; even when engaging in the same types of serial monogamy (like remarrying after losing a spouse), women tend to face harsher consequences than men do. I described how many of our tools of structuralist analysis dovetail with notions from feminist and queer theory, such as Gayle Rubin’s traffic in women (which I’ve described in this folktale paper). In short, I tried to balance description (since not everyone’s as familiar with this body of narrative as I am) with analysis. The kinds of sex we see people having access to in narrative can, after all, impact how we model gender norms and sexual behavior, in terms of what we think should be possible or condoned. This stuff matters.
In some ways, I feel as though my work on sex in fairy tales is just beginning. I didn’t manage to squeeze in nearly as much theory as I’d been hoping. For instance, if you recognize the Foucault title in the pic, just know that I think there’s some connection between the gendered ways in which people have and talk about sex in fairy tales, and his take on repressive hypothesis, particularly how the mode of confession was a dominant one that broadened in the early modern period to make sex a discursive center of control in terms of public health in addition to morality. Sorry, that was a jumble, and perhaps you can see where I maybe couldn’t do it justice in a paper that was already getting to be too long where I couldn’t assume audience familiarity with Foucault!
Because the thing is, there were members of the general public in my talk and I thought that was awesome. It really resonates with my mission to bring more academic work outside the ivory tower, as that’s one of the ways I do activism.
Anyway, it was an honor and a challenge to give this talk, so that’s part of why I’m glad it’s over. I was a wreck that week, with all the stress leading up to it. My scholarly community was really lovely and supportive, though, which is another of the wonderful things about being in Berkeley. Here’s to enjoying the rest of my time there and not fretting as much about my other obligations!