Tale As Old As Time

Beauty and the Beast has always been my favorite fairy tale. Favorite Disney movie, favorite Robin McKinley fairy tale retelling, favorite original tale … basically, I’m a fan. So you can imagine that I was beside myself excited when Disney announced their live-action remake of my favorite fairy tale. And yesterday, I finally got to see it.

It’s been a while since I wrote about fairy tales, so many of you probably don’t know that I’m not just a fan of Disney. I love the original tales as well. In many cases, I like them more than the lighter, tamer, happier versions. It’s hard to believe there was a time when it was considered normal to read children bedtime stories where stepsisters hack their own toes off, children throw witches in ovens, and princes fall from towers into thorns that blind them.

They weren’t just creepy stories for kids, though. Fairy tales represent a rich folkloric tradition passed along and refined by both male and female storytellers. And plenty of research has gone into documenting these stories’ histories, discussing their role in society, and cataloging the different styles. Beauty and the Beast, for example, is 425C in the Aarne–Thompson classification system. It’s one of a surprisingly large number of animal groom fairy tales and most likely has it’s roots in the story of Cupid and Psyche.Tale As Old As Time: Thoughts on the origins, meaning, and newest adaptation of my favorite fairy tale | marissabaker.wordpress.com

Fairy tales have always generated discussion and debate. This time around, people are talking about bestiality and wondering why this “tale as old as time” has endured for so long with such twisted ideas at its roots. But if we equate the Beast with an animal we miss the point of the tale. Psychoanalyst Bruno Bettelheim believed the “animal groom” stories were “intended to reassure virginal brides about sex” (i.e. he seems scary, but once you get to know him he’s not so bad).

Beauty and the Beast goes deeper than most tales of this sub-type, though. What we know as Beauty and the Beast was first written by Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve and published in 1740. In this earliest version, as in subsequent versions, the Beast has to prove himself worth loving. Continue reading

Let’s Talk About How Our Personalities Develop

Traditionally, Myers-Briggs theorists have taught that people develop their primary function first, followed by their secondary function up until their 20s, then their tertiary function in their 30s and 40s, and sometimes they’ll go on to start using their inferior function later in life. It’s a neat, orderly formula. Too neat for my tastes. (If you felt lost when I started talking about functions, click here to read a post explaining that aspect of Myers-Briggs personality types.)

When you start talking about type development in more depth, though, Myers-Briggs experts will add that environment and an individual’s commitment to personal growth does influence when our functions develop and how well we learn to use them. They’ll also talk about life-long type development and offer tips for dealing with your less developed functions before the age you’re “supposed” to develop them. And I’ve also talked with people who feel like they developed their tertiary before their secondary function, or had to go back later in life and become comfortable with their dominant function because they’d been suppressing it. Clearly, there’s more going on than a neat developmental progression from one function to another.

Personality Hacker proposes a different look at how we develop functions, or “mental processes.” I’ve not seen them directly address the question of type development from childhood on, but they do see our secondary function as our growth position. We’re most comfortable using our dominant function and (baring some kind of trauma) it’s typically also the one you’ve spent the most time developing. This function is either introverted (i.e. focused on our inner world) or extroverted (i.e. focused on the outer world). Your secondary function is focused in the other direction — if you’re a dominant introvert, your secondary mental process it extroverted (and vice versa). But your tertiary function matches your primary one in terms of introvert-extrovert, so it can be more comfortable (though not as healthy) for us to spend time in that one rather than cultivate our secondary function.

What About Culture and Family?

I think our early experiences and upbringing have quite a bit to do with which mental processes we develop and when. For example, an introverted child leads with an inward-focused mental process. How their society and family treats their introversion will have a huge impact on their development. They might develop their extroverted side more quickly as a defense mechanism for fitting into an extroverted world. On the other hand, the same thing (developing their secondary introverted function early) could also happen if given support for their introverted development as well as encouragement to stretch themselves in the outer world.

Alternately, our hypothetical introvert might reject the push to be more extroverted and end up developing their tertiary process more quickly than their secondary process. That could be a reaction against the external push to be something they’re not, or in response to a particular subculture that values their introverted traits. If no one’s telling you to cultivate a less comfortable aspect of your personality, then why bother?

The same can hold true for extroverts. Many cultures, including the United States, have historically held extroverted traits up as more desirable. If you’re constantly being admired for your outgoing personality, social skills, and ability to navigate the outer world, why focus on developing your un-cool introvert side in high school? Or maybe you’re an extrovert growing up in a family of introverts who constantly ask you to give them alone time or be quiet, and you suppress your dominant function’s development until you’re older. I’ve seen both happen.

There are other factors in play as well. An ExTJ guy would typically find encouragement for his dominant function, where a woman with the same personality type could face criticism for not “acting like a girl.” An ExFJ girl would fit more easily into what society expects from young women, while a guy with the same type might be told to “man up.”

Messy, Beautiful Variations In Type

Personally, I feel I developed my dominant function first (as an INFJ, that’s Introverted Intuition/Ni), stunted my own secondary function’s growth by being incredibly shy (Extroverted Feeling/Fe), ended up using my tertiary function trying to make sense of things (Introverted Thinking/Ti), and was completely blind to my inferior function (Extroverted Sensing/Se). That described me pretty much until age 19 or 20. At that point, I’d been in college for about a year and started working to overcome my shyness. That finally gave my secondary Fe a chance to develop into a healthy version of that function. At the same time, I think I started using Ni in a healthier way, too, while still occasionally tapping into Ti. As I started learning more about my personality type, I’ve also started trying to develop my Se (though I’ll admit it’s with little success so far). But since I’m not even 30 yet, I “shouldn’t” be consciously using either my tertiary or inferior function yet.

I’m certainly not trying to argue that Myers-Briggs gets everything (or even most things) wrong about type development. The MBTI is a fantastic tool for describing how people’s mind’s work, how we typically learn information, and the ways we interact with our worlds. And the typical type development model has lots of truth in it, including the fact that our primary and secondary functions are the ones we develop most fully. It’s just that there’s more influencing the nuances of type development than how old we are.

These variations are one reason why no two people who share a personality type will be exactly the same. We all have different circumstances that shape our type development, different levels of comfort with our type’s functions, and different ways of expressing how our minds work. If you feel like you didn’t follow the standard model of type development, don’t worry — you haven’t missed out on your chance to grow and there isn’t anything wrong with you. Our personality types aren’t boxes we fit in neatly or hoops of development we jump through. They’re a way of describing how your mind works and a tool we can use to accelerate personal growth, including developing all facets of our personality type more fully.

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Wanting Children While Single

You snuggle babies every chance you get, longing for the day when you might hold your own child. Or perhaps you don’t hold babies any more because the ache of wishing they were yours is just too much. That’s the kind of grief and longing we associate with women in relationships who want to have a child and can’t get pregnant. Yet this desire isn’t confined to women with a man in their lives whom they love.

I’ve always felt guilty for how much I sympathize with the barren women of the Bible. As far as I know, I could have children if I found the right guy to marry and it seems rude to compare myself with women who are physically unable to have children. It also seems out-of-order to long for children before meeting the man I’d want to be their father.

I’m not alone, though. A woman I met through this blog while working on The INFJ Handbook shared her desire for children by asking why so many children are born into broken families while we, who would make good moms, are left barren. Since then, I’ve come across other women who feel the same way. If you’re committed to not having sex before marriage and/or not having children without a man in your life, then single women can know the pain of empty arms that long to hold a child.

Cultural Back-lash

Longing for children is unpopular in today’s society. We’ve become so obsessed with the fact that women are more than “baby producing machines” that the notion of being a mother has becomes synonymous with female oppression. Instead of seeing motherhood as a beautiful thing that many women desire, we’re told kids should take a back-seat to your career, your other desires, and your empowerment as a woman. And if having kids is actually one of your top life goals? well, clearly you’re still living in the pre-feminism dark ages. Continue reading

Female Difficulties

The Wanderer; or, Female Difficulties #ccwomensclassics post | marissabaker.wordpress.comMy title for this post is the subtitle for Frances Burney’s final novel, The Wanderer. It was one of the first books I put down when compiling my Classics Club Book List, and I’m reading it this year for the Women’s Classic Literature Event. Finishing this book means I’ve now read all Burney’s major fiction works (that is a grand total of 3,133 pages of text, so it’s a pretty big deal). I am Reader, hear me roar.

Note: spoilers follow for this 202 year old book.

The Wanderer, or Female Difficulties is the tale of a penniless emigree from revolutionary France trying to earn her living in England while guarding her own secrets. Combining the best elements of the gothic and historical novels, this newly appreciated work is an extraordinary piece of Romantic fiction. Burney’s tough comedy offers a satiric view of complacent middle-class insularity that echoes Godwin and Wollstonecraft’s attacks on the English social structure. The problems of the new feminism and of the old anti-feminism are explored in the relationship between the heroine and her English patroness and rival, the Wollstonecraftian Elinor Joddrel, and the racism inherent within both the French and British empires is exposed when the emigree disguises herself as a black woman. (Goodreads summary)

This is probably the Burney novel that I found most frustrating. Evelina, her first novel, is the easiest to read, though it still engages with the darker side of 18th century romance. Her next two, Cecelia and Camilla, are more difficult (especially if you’re expecting an Austen-style romance). The heroines are persecuted relentlessly, in grave danger several times, and the heroes fail to live up to the name.  The Wanderer takes these themes a step further. Instead of giving her characters ineffective guardians, Burney doesn’t leave the Wanderer, who goes by the name “Ellis” for much of the book, anyone to turn to at all. Instead of revealing the plight of a young woman having difficulty navigating the marriage market, Burney shows the struggles of a woman completely alone without name or resources to protect and support her.

The Wanderer; or, Female Difficulties #ccwomensclassics post | marissabaker.wordpress.comThe Wanderer is a scathing rebuke of society on many different levels. Burney takes full advantage of her lengthy text to discuss the French Revolution, snobbery in the upper classes, gender inequalities, racial stereotypes, modern suspicion of an afterlife, suicide, social perceptions and stereotypes, abusive/coercive relationships, and duty to family (just to name the ones that come to mind within a minute). The amount of ground she covers is really quite impressive. Even more impressive is that she manages to show both sides of most issues. Sometimes you can easily tell where Burney stands, but not always. For several of the ideas discussed, it seems she just wants readers to open their eyes and see that things aren’t always black and white.

What frustrated me when reading The Wanderer wasn’t the issues being discussed or even so much the drawn-out plot line. It was Ellis’ character. The narrative stays with Ellis but maintains a distance that makes it very difficult to sympathize or identify with her. For the better part of the book, we don’t know any more than the other characters about who she is and what her motivations are. We rarely even know what she’s thinking. What’s worse, we seldom hear her say anything. There are a few scenes where Ellis speaks clearly and decisively, but mostly she stands mute. She is silent while other characters misconstrue her motivations, put words into her mouth, accuse her unjustly, and even propose romantic connections. A few words pass her lips, but mostly she stands in acute emotional agony hoping the other characters will understand her inarticulate protests. Even Mr. Harleigh, the heroic figure in this story, becomes so frustrated by this that there are times he is almost violent in his insistence that she give him a straight answer.

Silencing the main character frustrated me, but it also draws attention to the difficulties Burney is discussing. It might be tempting to read the subtitle “Female Difficulties” simply as a critique of the challenges women faced in 18th century society. We could say that it is the other characters who make life difficult for Ellis because society is set-up to be suspicious of a woman alone and to limit her options. But it goes even deeper than that. The type of femininity ingrained the naturally elegant and lady-like Ellis make her situation even more difficult. She is one of her own worst enemies because of her limiting view of her own role as a woman. It’s not seemly for a lady to perform in public, so she refuses to give a concert until she’s shamed into it by a need to pay her debts. It’s not ladylike to accept pecuniary aid from a man, so she becomes entangled in a host of embarrassing situations trying to return gifts that were made anonymously to spare her delicacy. It’s a shame for a woman to run away from her husband, so she conceals the fact that she was forced into a marriage that’s barely recognizable under the law even when it means leading on another man who’s falling in love with her.

Like today, 18th Century culture was struggling with ideas surrounding gender definitions, roles, and expectations. Burney recognized that the problems regarding inequalities between men and women weren’t just external, but also ingrained in prevailing ideas about what constitutes masculinity and femininity. I argued when writing my undergrad thesis about her other novels that Burney countered the gender crisis of her day by advocating for a return to Biblical gender ideals where men and women are recognized as having unique strengths and roles yet also viewed as equally important. In this book, published 18 years after Camilla, there’s little evidence of that hope. Burney seems more cynical about society’s ability to change and points out problems without offering a way to fix things. It’s up to us, the readers, to try and find a solution or to live with the consequences of inaction.wanderer

 

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When Should We Value Human Life?

In the abortion debate, one of the things people like to argue is at what point the fetus qualifies as a living human being. Is it when the heart starts beating around 3 weeks? Is it when we can detect higher brain functions at at 22–24 weeks? Is it when the fetus is “viable” without the mother? Or after the baby has been born?

There’s plenty of science to indicate that a unique human entity is created either at the moment of conception or at cellar division about 24 hours later. The zygot, and then the fetus, is alive when a genetically unique cell forms that can grow, metabolize, and respond to stimuli. You can click here to read an excellent white paper on the subject written by Maureen L. Condic, Ph.D, Associate Professor of Neurobiology and Anatomy at the University of Utah School of Medicine. She concludes,

This view of the embryo is objective, based on the universally accepted scientific method of distinguishing different cell types from each other, and it is consistent with the factual evidence. It is entirely independent of any specific ethical, moral, political, or religious view of human life or of human embryos. Indeed, this definition does not directly address the central ethical questions surrounding the embryo: What value ought society to place on human life at the earliest stages of development?

I was on a pro-choice action network website, and they’re perfectly willing to admit that the fetus is alive and that it’s human (click here for the article I was reading). What they contend is that the fetus isn’t a human being yet (they distinguish “human being” from “human”). They also contend that a fetus does not have the right to live parasitically at the expense of its mother if she doesn’t want to carry to term because her person-hood and right to choose is not in dispute. They’ll then turn the argument to the “rights of the woman,” asking why we’re so ready to sacrifice her right to decide whether or not to have a baby on the altar of a fetus’s “hypothetical” right to be born.

Even at this point in the argument, you can see it really isn’t about science or objective fact. The facts are that the fetus is genetically unique, human, and alive from the moment of conception. That’s not in dispute. In reality, the question we should be asking is not, “When does the fetus become human?” but rather, “At what point do we value human life?”

When Should We Value Human Life? | marissabaker.wordpress.com

Photo Credit: “hello in there!” by Adrienne Bassett, CC BY via Flickr

The main leg the pro-life movement has to stand on is convincing society that we should value the life of unborn people so much that killing them is legally considered murder. We can use the science, but ultimately that’s not going to convince people to fight against abortion. People who support the legal right to terminate pregnancies know fetuses are alive — they just don’t think it matters. Our battle needs to be fought on philosophical and moral grounds.

Recent polls show that while more American’s describe themselves as pro-choice than pro-life right now, 51% think abortion should only be legal “under certain circumstances” verses 19% saying legal “under any circumstances (Gallup Polls). Getting into more detail about exactly what this means, we see 84% of Americans want tight restrictions on abortion: 25% say it should be legal in the first 3 months, and the others are divided between only in cases of rape or incest, to save the life of the mother, and not legal at all. (Marist Poll).

The Marist Poll also reports that even though only 13% of respondents favored banning abortion under every circumstance, 60% believe abortion is morally wrong. In today’s America we hate the idea of imposing our morality on other people, but we still do that every day we continue to (rightly!) maintain that murder, rape and pedophilia are wrong. Why is it so hard for us to extend that moral stand to protecting unborn life? And how far are we going to let this go? When we as a society set arbitrary limits on what makes a human life qualify as a human being, we’re on a very slippery slope. In 2011, two researchers in Australia published a paper titled “After-birth abortion: why should the baby live?” I’ve not read the whole paper, but this is the researcher’s own succulent abstract statement of what their work is about:

Abortion is largely accepted even for reasons that do not have anything to do with the fetus’ health. By showing that (1) both fetuses and newborns do not have the same moral status as actual persons, (2) the fact that both are potential persons is morally irrelevant and (3) adoption is not always in the best interest of actual people, the authors argue that what we call ‘after-birth abortion’ (killing a newborn) should be permissible in all the cases where abortion is, including cases where the newborn is not disabled.

While these researchers were not widely supported and later claimed their argument was taken out of context, it was a step in a disturbing trend. Informal evidence suggests college students are increasingly in favor of “after-birth abortions” up to 4 or 5 years old because they believe children that age aren’t “self-aware” yet (never mind that psychologists say children become “self-aware” between 1 to 3 years, usually 18 months).

It’s ridiculous to suggest that a fetus suddenly becomes a human being at 3 months, or at birth, or whatever age you decide to go with, but that he or she isn’t a human being a few minutes, hours, or days earlier. When you take such an argument to it’s farthest extent, you either have to believe human life is precious from conception or arbitrarily define a point at which humans are protected and before which they are not.

While we’re on the subject of valuing human life, I want to point out that a pro-life argument should never be anti-women. As one blogger who works with at-risk women points out, “Abortion isn’t so much about a woman having a choice — but a woman feeling like she has no choice at all.” While I want abortion to be illegal because I firmly believe no human being has the right to decide they can kill another, I also want to create a world where women don’t feel they have to or should have abortions. Where violence against pregnant women who want to keep their child stops. Where people are honest about what actually happens to both the mother and unborn child during an abortion. Where we consider the physical, emotional and psychological risks to the mother and stop pretending abortion is pro-woman.

It is our right and it is our duty to stand up to injustice, to speak out against moral wrongs and fight to correct them. And if we’re Christians, this is doubly the case. We’re called to “choose life, that both you and your descendants may live” (Deut. 30:19). God talks about knowing His people pre-birth and calling prophets and judges “from the womb”  (Judg. 13:5; Is. 49:1, 5; Jer. 1:5; Gal 1:15). Other verses talk about Him forming children inside the womb and being involved in birth (Job 31:15; Ps. 22:9; 139:13; Is 44:2), and about in-womb children reacting like and being treated as people (Gen 25:23; Luke 1:41). For Christians to say that murder is wrong but killing an unborn child is not just doesn’t add-up. There are certain areas in which we cannot be like our culture, and this is one of them.

Evelina: A Darker Look At Courtship

When I first read Evelina, my observation was that Frances Burney’s style “represents a shift nearing the latter part of the 18th century from fiction as a didactic tool to fiction as a pleasurable reading experience.” While I’m good as saving my literary observations (I have copies of everything I wrote in college), I’m apparently not very good at taking my own advice. This is the first time I’ve read Evelina for pleasure rather than analysis

I chose Evelina for a reread on my Classics Club Book List, and it also fits neatly into the Classics Club’s year-long Women’s Classic Literature Event (Tweet about it with #ccwomenclassics). The first time I read Evelina was in Spring 2010 for an upper-level course on The Early British Novel. Though I didn’t hate any of the other 4 books in this course, Burney’s little epistolary novel from 1778 was by far my favorite.

It’s no wonder, then, that when our professor asked me and one other student if we’d like to read more Burney in an independent study I said “yes.” We read Cecelia (1782) and Camilla (1796) – both weighing in at a solid 900+ pages. Then we branched out into Ann Radcliffe with The Romance of the Forest. That lead me to my first undergraduate research project titled “Unmanned Heroes: 18th Century Female Writers and Male Sentimentality. That turned into a 25-page research paper titled “Biblical Answers to the 18th Century Gender Crisis” (click on the title if you’d like to read this), which led me back to reading Evelina academically.

Reading "Evelina" for #ccwomenclassics | marissabaker.wordpress.com

Me at the Denman Undergraduate Research forum in 2012

Now, 4 years later, I’m back reading Evelina and enjoying it more than ever. Frances Burney was a fantastic (and, sadly, under appreciated) writer. Though Evelina was first published anonymously, Burney never hid the fact that she was a female writer. Her novels were quite popular with the general reading public and in artistic circles even during a literary age we often think of as belonging only to “dead white man.” Her style and success paved the way for writers like Jane Austen. In fact, Austen took her title Pride and Prejudice from a scene in Burney’s second novel, Cecilia, and when Austen’s father was seeking publication for that novel he described it as “about the length of Miss Burney’s Evelina.”

Comparing Burney to Austen (another favorite writer of mine), there are clear similarities, especially in Evelina. Both writers focus on a young woman who “marries up” by the end of the novel. Both critique society and social norms with a thinly-veiled sarcastic wit. But the differences are at times even more striking than the similarities. Nowhere in Austen will you find a scene like the one in Evelina when Captain Mirvan impersonates a highwayman and drags Madam Duval into a ditch where he terrifies her for sport. And, though Austen does have her Mr. Willoughbya and Mr. Wickhams, you’ll not find any of her main characters in situations so dangerous as Evelina’s.

Throughout the course of the novel, Evelina is persecuted by a man named Lovel, hounded and even kidnapped by Sir Clement, affronted by a staring Lord (in front of his fiancee), and rudely accosted by strange men at Vauxhall. To quote an essay by Judith Newton that appeared in a 1976 edition of Modern Language Studies, there are few places Evelina can go “without being forced, intruded upon, seized, kidnapped, or in some other way violated.” Newton describes this persecution as a “woman’s fate” once she entered into the marriage market in the 1700s, and points out that Burney “is one of the few writers in the century to take the discomfort of it seriously.”

Indeed, while I’ve frequently thought I might like to visit Jane Austen’s England, Burney’s is much less appealing. It’s populated with aggressive and vulgar people, the public places are unsafe without a large party and/or male protection, and it’s painfully obvious how vulnerable and option-less women were without family and fortune to their name. But it also feels more real. Sense and Sensibility came out in 1811 and Pride and Prejudice in 1813 – a scant 33 and 35 years after Evelina. Things had changed, but not that much. Much as I love Austen, I wonder if Burney was in some ways the braver novelist for calling out her contemporary society on its darker sides.click to read article, "Evelina: A Darker Look At Courtship" | marissabaker.wordpress.com