ELO Journal 5


Feminism and Bluebeard, Rose Lovell-Smith

Perspectives on Cowgirls; Humour and Images of the American West, Kristen McAndrews

Gender Troubles? How Clergymen’s Wives Constitute Gender Birgitta Meurling, Birgitta Meurling

Personal Narratives on War: A Challenge to Women’s Essays and Ethnography in Croatia, Renata Jambresic Kirin

Women’s and Men’s Storytelling: What is the Difference?, Gabriela Kiliánová

The Multilingual Subaltern: Creolization as Agency, Lee Haring

The Rebellious Girl Desiring the Perfect Man: Role Assignments in Folktales of the Bulsa in Northern Ghana, Rüdiger Schott

Looking for a Spouse in Mwera Folktales, Uta Reuster-Jahn

Gender and Magic in Jukun Folktales, Anne Storch, Sabine Dinslage

Recognising Female Sexuality: AT 313, The Maid as Mentor in the Young Man’s Maturation, Gerald Thomas

Speech and Gender: Indian Versions of The Silence Wager (AT 1351), Stuart Blackburn

Virgins in Brothels: Gender and Religious Ecotypification, Daniel Boyarin

The Wearing and Shedding of Enchanted Shoes, Isabel Cardigos

Gender, Culture and Folklore, Aili Nenola



Feminism and Bluebeard

Rose Lovell-Smith

Since it was first published in 1697, Bluebeard (AT 312) has had an especially lively history in written literature. The centrality of the tale in Victorian times was recently acknowledged in Jane Campion’s film The Piano, but Campion was following a series of women writers, including Katherine Mansfield, Angela Carter, and Margaret Atwood, who have felt compelled to rewrite this story from the heroine’s point of view. By referring to one another’s work, these women have even managed to talk among themselves, across considerable distances of space and time, about Bluebeard. Their readings of the tale are very different to male readings. Women rewriting Bluebeard in English have thus constituted something like a story-telling circle. The feminist critique of fairy tale may be carried out most powerfully by women writers retelling the tale they know.

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Perspectives on Cowgirls; Humour and Images of the American West

Kristen McAndrews

My presentation focuses on the role of humour especially as it displaces, through simultaneous inclusion / exclusion, audience in a contemporary narrative collected from Kit McLean, a horsewoman or cowgirl, who primarily works with horses for a living. I will examine the way in which this folk narrative reflects humour and what this humour reveals about issues of gender in regards to images of the American West. I concentrate on one community Winthrop, Washington, a legally mandated western theme town. The narrative emerges from a traditional community which aggrandises, through tourism, images of American West—especially the image of the cowboy. While telling her story, Kit Mclean employs traditional male narrative techniques, but stretches or undermines these strategies by introducing non-traditional images or themes. The nature of these gender dynamics can be glimpsed by examining how the narrative relates to the conventions of tall tales associated with the American West, and more specifically with this small Washington community. This is a non-traditional tale told within the framework of a very traditional but tourist-based community. My intention is to seek to understand how humour functions when gender, tourism and predominant notions of the American West predictably twist, knocking an outsider audience off-balance.

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Gender Troubles? How Clergymen’s Wives Constitute Gender Birgitta Meurling

Birgitta Meurling

The Purpose of this paper is to discuss how some Swedish clergymen’s wives constitute gender in relation to different cultural frameworks, which can be termed social culture and clerical culture. The individual life story is a story of several “femininities”, where “traditional” and “modern” gender constitution meet and where “traditional femininity” is expressed in one cultural context and “modern femininity” in another. Theoretical sources of inspriration nave been found in ethnology / folkloristics, gender research and in feminist theory.

The main material consists of life-course interviews with eight clergyman’s wives of various ages. Using themes such as education and career, the project of being the wife of a clergyman, motherhood and friendship I discuss how these women employ various strategies to constitute gender. The clerical calling is the hub of the clerical couple’s gender contract, and the analysis shows that the axes of masculine gender and positional power tend to reinforce each other, both understand how continuity and change are intertwined in a complex and dynamic manner, the concepts of constitution and regulativity are brought to bear. In this way the occurrence of different and sometimes contradictory gender phenomena in one and the same individuals becomes comprehensible.

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Personal Narratives on War: A Challenge to Women’s Essays and Ethnography in Croatia

Renata Jambresic Kirin

This article discusses how the accuracy of Croatian women’s ethnographic and literary portrayal of war experiences depends upon the ability to “translate” the war-induced personal and collective tragedies and impediments into general post-modern theoretical concerns. Whereas both discourses incorporate verbal traces of lived encounters with violence, pain and disillusion, as well as the dispute over the possibility of representing voiceless victims, they offer different viewpoints on postmodernist concepts of identity, hybridism, rootlessness, trauma, and the “storytelling right” based on the embodied voice of pain. Women writers and publicists combined feminist and socio-political critiques to observe critically nationalism and Eurocentrism as the main European biases from, intermittently, a narrow kitchen and a panoramic all-encompassing gaze. Croatian women ethnographers, on the other hand, embraced a multivoiced ethnography of war based on the assumption that the experience of extraordinary suffering could and should articulate its idiomatic and potentially subversive public voice. The aim of the war writings of ordinary people could help to democratise the historiographic discourse and establish an image of the Croatian nation forged through war suffering, solidarity and resistance the consensual cultural value of which reaches far beyond its misuse within the dominant national narrative.

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Women’s and Men’s Storytelling: What is the Difference?

Gabriela Kiliánová

The author discusses the different roles of male and female storytellers in the contemporary storytelling communities of Slovakia. The main questions raised are as follows. What is the difference between men’s and women’s storytelling? The author approaches this problem from the point of view of male and female activity in the male and female storytelling communities, from the point of view of prevalence of male in comparison with female narrators and from the point of view of the genre specialisation in the male and female storytelling repertoires. The final question is whether modernisation changes have already influenced the narrative communication in Slovakia. The questions discussed ont the basis of empirical data from one rural community where the author conducted field work from 1981 to 1983.

The author came to the conclusion that the different possibilities for men and women to perform their storytelling had influenced (among other factors) their development as narrative personalities and brought the prevalence of male leading storytellers in comparison with female ones.

The results of contemporary investigation still support the idea of genre or theme specialisation between male and female narrators. Even though in most cases male and female storytellers in the investigated community had a mixed repertoire the best narrators of humorous stories, both from the society’s and the researchers point of view, were men while the best performers of magic tales, legends and ghost stories was a woman.

Due to social “pressure” one can observe the prevailing decision of roles between the sexes in the performance, at least in the context of a mixed audience. Women’s storytelling activity still seems to be partially limited by social rules which expect women to perform within women’s circles, smaller groups, in an intimate environment. This tendency is especially stronger in the performance of humorous and erotic themes. In other words, the impact of the “new women” role in modern society can only be partially followed in the narrative communication of contemporary Slovakia.

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The Multilingual Subaltern: Creolization as Agency

Lee Haring

The islands of the Southwest Indian Ocean are a paradigmatic case for understanding transculturation. There, when ethnicities and languages meet and mix, the central agent of mediation and creolization is often a woman. In history as in fiction, it is the woman who is obliged to learn and speak or act across linguistic and ethnic boundaries. The Indo-Portuguese (Goan) and Malagasy women who became the wives of shopkeepers in eighteenth-century Île Bourbon, the Creole wives of Chinese shopkeepers in nineteenth-century Mauritius, the Grandmothers who are active bearers of tradition in the twentieth-century Comoros — all argue for seeing sex/gender system as a primary category of textual and social analysis. Southwest Indian Ocean women act as agents of creolization by adding newer cultural patterns to older ones. They act as gatekeepers for the new multiplicity of cultural identities which they experience in their lives. Thus creolization should be seen as a form of agency. Folktale and legend in Madagascar, Mauritius, and the other islands open a window into a much-needed are of ethnographic analysis. Feminist critique needs to find substantiation in the empirical evidence of verbal art.

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The Rebellious Girl Desiring the Perfect Man: Role Assignments in Folktales of the Bulsa in Northern Ghana

Rüdiger Schott

Girls are social misfits in patrilineal societies. Upon marriage, their social environment will shift from their fathers’ family to that of their husbands. This unstable social position of girls and the resulting conflicts of role assignments are reflected in the folktales of the patrilineal society of the Bulsa in Northern Ghana.

Quite a number of their folktales concern the ‘rebellious girl’ who either refuses to marry, i.e. to accept her role as an adult woman in society, and/or who waits for the ‘perfect man’. When the girl finally decides to follow a certain man who appears to her to be without any blemish, he turns out not to be a human being, but either a ghost or a wild animal, such as a bush cow, a leopard, a snake, or even a tree.

In other stories, the girl looks out for the morally ‘perfect man’: All suitors wooing for the girl are put to a test which is passed only by the one who proves to be really unselfish. However, the girl who is too fastidious in choosing her husband will find herself married to a leper or some other undesirable person. A girl insulting an ugly suitor loses her vagina etc.

Girls about to pass the threshold of marriage find themselves in a severe life crisis. Bulsa folktales warn them: if they do not accept somewhat ‘imperfect’ husbands, they and their families will suffer dire consequences. These moral threats, expressed in Bulsa folktales, prove that girls in male dominated West African societies do have their own will and wishes. In their search for the perfect husband, they rebel against the restrictions imposed on them by the social order of their patrilineal societies.

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Looking for a Spouse in Mwera Folktales

Uta Reuster-Jahn

Between 1987 and 1991 some series of folk narratives of the Mwera in Southeast-Tanzania were recorded. Approximately ten percent of the narratives dealt with the looking for a spouse by men and women. They are interpreted against the cultural background of matrilineal descent, cross cousin marriage and uxorilocal residence of the Mwera. These cultural features cause a difficult relationship between the family of a woman and her husband which Richards (1959: 246) called the “matrilineal puzzle”. This refers to the fact that a man has authority over his sister’s children while at the same time he must stay at his wife’s village and has little influence on his own children. The resulting conflicts for the individual in finding a spouse feature in many folktales of the Mwera. Their frequency points to the importance of the topic. The stories about a girl’s choice depict the girls as insisting in a physically attractive partner. The unmarried men create themselves a wife with the help of a supernatural power. Both, women and men loose their partners in the end. Stories of both types are interpreted in comparison to each other. They are seen as expressions of individual desires conflicting with social demands. Their rendering by female and male narrators differs from each other in the accentuation of details of the plot. Comparison is drawn also with the stories of the difficult girl from patrilineal cantexts in West-Africa.

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Gender and Magic in Jukun Folktales

Anne Storch, Sabine Dinslage

The Jukun of north-eastern Nigeria still observe, besides Christianity and Islam, their own traditional religion which is called maam. Within their patriarchally organised society the whole institutionalised ritual sphere of maam is taboo for women. The men seem to be superior in religious life, ancestor worship and political decisions. Especially the handling of the masks and the ancestor worship is a resort where the men use their dominance and superiority to betray the women in order to fulfil their own demands. The women in their own part practice a non-institutionalised worship and possess a particular secret knowledge. In a society where there is no natural cause of diseases as well as no natural death, the uncontrolled magic powers of the women mean a constant threat to the well-organised male domain.

In folktales of the Jukun of Kona which we were able to collect during various fieldwork sojourns since 1995, this latent conflict between the male and female spheres forms a central topic. It becomes evident in motifs of oral literature of Kona that in order to preserve the male dominance, it is inevitable to disarm potentially dangerous women by destroying their sexual organs. Various stories show in a complex way that men are constantly afraid of the hidden, unknown female knowledge and abilities, especially of the female sexuality. It is generally noticed that female sexual organs are treated in a mocking and ridiculous manner, whereas the male sexual organs are never mentioned. The ambivalent gender relationship in the Jukun society becomes more obvious by analysing and decoding the often hidden motifs and messages in the more oral traditions, where magic is always used as a clue to explain the unknown world of the opposite gender.


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Recognising Female Sexuality: AT 313, The Maid as Mentor in the Young Man’s Maturation

Gerald Thomas

AT 313 is possibly the best known Märchen in the narrative tradition of the French Newfoundlanders. Its rich and complex content offers numerous interpretive possibilities, but the novelty of the present reading is that it is rooted in a thorough knowledge of the living, contemporary context in which French-Newfoundland versions have been narrated.

This interpretation draws for its theoretical stance upon Benkt Holbek’s 1987 Interpretation of Fairy Tales, with particular emphasis on patterns of semantic oppositions in the tale, its thematic oppositions, and a Freudian-based interpretation of the tale elements defined by Holbek as symbolic, that is the so-called marvellous elements of the tales, which, according to Holbek, refer to “features of the real world as experienced by the storytellers and their audiences” (p.435).

Such a reading suggests that AT 313 offers to its audiences one (among others) pattern of socio-sexual development of young men and women, in which the male moves from juvenile immaturity to adult maturity, but does so under the guidance of females, most particularly with the initiatory help provided by his future partner. The young woman, whose power is sexual, initiates the young man sexually, overcomes her dependence on her father in the process, and ultimately enables him to achieve maturity in the tale’s conclusion.

This reading is permitted on the basis of familiarity with the human context in which the tale has been narrated. Furthermore, the tale, in this context, was most frequently told by men, suggesting an awareness on their part of the crucial role of women in the male maturation process, aptly summarised in the alternative title proposed for AT 313.

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Speech and Gender: Indian Versions of The Silence Wager (AT 1351)

Stuart Blackburn

This paper contributes to the folkloristic debate on silence and gender by presenting a new analysis of The Silence Wager (AT 1351), based on Tamil versions recently collected by the author (and on recently published collections from other parts of India). This tale, about a married couple who make a pact to remain silent in order to determine who will win a reward or avoid a penalty, is chosen because it expresses folk attitudes towards speech and silence. After proposing a new classification of variants and a south Indian origin for the tale, the essay discusses those attitudes in the context of Indian and south Indian culture, nothing other tales in which speaking or silence is prominent. The main argument is that in India speaking is associated with sex and life, and silence is associated with asceticism and death. Finally, rather than view the tale as an example of silencing women’s voices, it is argued that the Indian versions of the tale express a cultural ambivalence toward speech and silence.

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Virgins in Brothels: Gender and Religious Ecotypification

Daniel Boyarin

In this paper, two parallel versions of a narrative motif, the “virgin in the brothel”, are compared. Both are from fourth century AD, but one is in the Talmud and one in the Christian writer, Ambrose of Milan. Since it can be shown that the variations between these two closely allied texts are collated with different religious ideologies current among late antique Jews and Christians, it seems reasonable to refer to this type of variation as religious ecotypification.

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The Wearing and Shedding of Enchanted Shoes

Isabel Cardigos

The paradox involved in the concept of shoes — a constriction that allows one to move easily — is reflected in fairy tales in a variety of ways. Whereas the second term of the paradox (shoes as tools to help one move faster) serves mainly male protagonists, the first term is richly developed when the shoes are worn by women. A bird’s eye view of Portuguese versions of tales such as The Monster as Bridegroom and The Danced Out Shoes looking for footwear allows for analysis of the function of shoes across other such tales as Cinderella and Snowhite.

It is argued that heroines’ shoes are icons of a state of marital disjunction. This, in turn, is related to a state of enchantment that can only be broken when the shoes are either worn off or fall into the hands of a (future) husband. Wearing the shoes may appear under euphoric or disphoric registers, but the final immobility of the heroine (without the shoes) is always paradoxically connected with freedom or deliverance — most often under marital conjunction.

A literary tale, Hans Christian Anderson’s The Red Shoes, and it’s retelling in M. Powell and E. Pressburger’s film of the same name, will be used as confirmation of the conclusion to which we were drawn.

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Gender, Culture and Folklore

Aili Nenola


The main theme of the article concentrates around the Problem of how the oral tradition can b analysed from the point of view of consensus or contestation, whether it has been used to maintain or challenge the gender order of the community. It is stated that the functionalist interpretation of folklore has mostly paid attention to the forms and ways in which folklore has been used to maintain the status quo of a community. Another perspective has been presented by L. Lombardi-Satriani in the beginning of the 1970’s when he described folklore as “culture of contestation”. Using this concept the author has tried to see whether women have used folklore to contest their subordinate status or the domination of men over them.

Some examples from the Finno-Ugrian tradition are presented of this type of folklore. A special example is the tradition of women’s annual feasts where they could turn gender roles and gender behaviour upside down, take over the public space, get drunk and sing and speak obscenities and mock men if they happened to get in their way. The author’s interpretation is that if only for one day, women could this way tell what they thought of the status quo and the behaviour of their men. Besides this, other features of these feasts seem to point to solidarity between women and their awareness of the importance of their work for the community. So these traditions are an example of contestation, but not yet of revolution: next day the course of life went back to “normal”. Also some other examples of contesting traditions are given.

The author also makes the point that what we know of women’s traditions seem to point to the conclusion that it mostly represents culture of consensus, but we need not accept this conclusion at its face value, since most of the folklore collections and studies have been made by male scholars who perhaps have not been able to reach or appreciate women’s folklore of contestation or have not seen alternative ways of interpreting the sources. Anyway, she states, folklorists are in a better position to study the different sides of women’s lives and thoughts than scholars of literary tradition, since women in oral cultures were also regarded as culture-producing subjects and thus folklore archives usually include both women’s and men’s traditions.


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