Sexual Assault in Fairy Tales & AFS This Year

Sexual Assault in Fairy Tales & AFS This Year October 18, 2018

I’m off to the annual meeting of the American Folklore Society (AFS), and unlike last year when I presented on a bunch of hilarious (and socially relevant) Biden memes, this year I’m talking about sexual assault. Woohoo, party!


A colleague recruited me to be on a panel about trauma in tradition, focusing on women’s bodies, and of course I was like, “I’m here for this.” So I whipped up this proposal:

Not Happily Ever After: Sexual Assault in Fairy Tales

In global folk narrative, sexual assault appears in multiple genres, both as unremarked-upon background and as major plot device. This paper examines sexual assault, specifically rape, in fairy tales, with attention to both folk narrative texts and scholarship thereon. In the ATU’s Subject Index, for example, the categories for “Rape” and “Sexual Assault” point to well-known tales like “Sleeping Beauty” (ATU 410) as well as lesser-known tales like ATU 672*, “Testimony of the Serpent.” False accusations also appear in fairy tales, demonstrating the importance and continued relevance of attending to the power and gender dynamics of this topic.

(Recall that ATU numbers refer to tale types, or the way that folklorists classify folktale and fairy-tale plots using a numerical system because that’s how we keep track of them migrating across linguistic and regional borders)

In a nutshell, my argument is that while it’s anachronistic to apply the term rape culture to fairy tales, fairy tales basically uphold and scaffold rape culture by eliding consent and making men out to be unrapeable. I’ve also been asked to be a discussant about feminist folklore issue sand #MeToo so I’m excited about that.

Otherwise, I’m swimming in ambivalence, as I’m in year 6 of having a folklore PhD and being a contingent laborer in the university system. I love my job, which is more than most people can say, but it’s tough to plan for the future when I’m only on semester-long contracts (though this year it’s a year-long contract, yay!). I’ve had multiple acquisitions editors from academic presses contact me to see if I want to pitch a book project, but some combination of fatigue from my 4/4 load and exhausted cynicism about the whole scholarly endeavor has me inclined to politely say no thank you to yet more unpaid labor that will not “count” for much since publications mostly boost the careers of those on the tenure track. (I’m aware that it’s a bit different for folklorists working in public folklore rather than academic folklore, but I’m given to understand that they’re having a rough time of it too)

I continue to believe in the importance of studying folklore, and in the contributions my field can (and should) make to the rest of society. But damn if it’s not exhausting work when there aren’t many full-time, fairly-compensated gigs to go around and most of us end up doing it on the side as a labor of love, which is at odds with how my field likes to characterize itself as more oriented towards egalitarian practices and allyship, in our fieldwork at least.

Anyway, if you’d like to follow along with my conference adventures, I’ll be using the hashtag #AFSAM18 for my tweets. Here’s hoping it’s a fun and productive time, despite (or perhaps because of?) the downer topics I’ve got on my mind lately.

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