Monday, June 10, 2013

Of Keys & Bluebeards

Bluebeard by Benjamin Lacombe
Why Society Still Needs Feminism
"Because to men, a key is a device to open something. For women, it’s a weapon we hold between our fingers when we’re walking alone at night...
(from a list meme circulating Tumblr, Pinterst & Facebook)

I know. The quote doesn't seem like a Bluebeard reference at all, but bear with me. It has more in common with the tale than it first appears.

Fantasy writer and fairy tale lecturer Theodora Goss published a very interesting post, titled On Bluebeard, on her blog on Saturday (June 8, 2013) about the difference in the way men and women can perceive things and how it relates to Bluebeard.

Bluebeard by Alessandra Cimatoribus
The topic of how men and women view compliments, for example, has come up repeatedly in the media and in various social media circles. Although it's been an issue for feminists for some time, when President Obama complimented the Attorney General (to many minds, inappropriately) in early April, it became the hot topic of the nation (well, at least for a week, but the ensuing conversation ripples are still happening). The weirdest thing about it all, though, is this:

Unfortunately, in the aftermath... it appears that certain men are mega-befuddled about "the rules" of "when" they're "allowed" to compliment women. (from Jezebel Magazine)
As Ms. Goss explains:
Scenario: A woman passes a man on the street. He says, “Hello, beautiful.”
How the man perceives this: “I paid her a compliment.”
How the woman perceives this: “Is he going to attack me?”
Jezebel Magazine did everyone a giant favor and explained "the rules" on when men can compliment a woman, in clear and very entertaining detail. You can read it HERE.(Recommended!)

Because there's this thing: remember Joey? From the TV show Friends? He could make ANYTHING sound dirty...
And this is why it's so easy to get confused. For safety's sake, women will often err on the side of responding with "Back off Creep!", which, if there actually WAS anything irksome in the works, is probably the smartest response to have.

And here's a little bit of information that might help both sides understand all this a little better:

Did you know one of the reasons for homophobia in males is that men are genuinely scared of being viewed (and treated/hit on) by other men the same way they view (and treat/hit on) other women?*


(I'll just let you think about that for a minute as it touches on so many issues...)

Bluebeard by biffno
Girls and women are taught from an early age to be cautious: "Stay on the path", "Don't talk to strangers" and, unfortunately, this is still the smart thing to do. "Wolves" are bad enough. "Bluebeards" (and Mr. Fox characters) are downright terrifying. The tale of Bluebeard is, in some ways, a grown up version of Red Riding Hood and, despite a magic key** and otherworldly hair coloring, the story doesn't shirk from the completely horrific and all-too-real nightmare the heroine has committed herself to, nor the equally horrific implications for her future.

To my mind the curiosity caution factor in this tale isn't about unlocking secrets, the dangers of poking your nose into other people's business or even about doing a good background check on your spouse-to-be. It's about not letting yourself be lured by the romance, excitement and/or apparent appeal of a person - or career path - or lifestyle - or any other major decision! - without being prepared to deal with unforeseen consequences. Because, here's the thing:

by Erika Steiskal
You never know the whole story.

Heck, you never know the whole YOU.

We hardly know and understand the whole of our own past (think about how much people come to understand themselves when they find out something about an ancestor, for instance) and we certainly don't know what we will be like if situation 'x' happens to us (eg, Will we run? Will we freeze? Will we fight?), or how we will be in the future, let alone the same of someone - or something - else. We are always changing - even if we try really hard not to.

[Gosh - I never thought to connect Alice and Bluebeard before.]

And all this while falling down a rabbit hole, the type of which you never even knew existed.

[Curiouser and curiouser... ]

The Locked Door - Artist Unknown

There's nothing quite like, for example, having a life long dream, obtaining that dream then finding out it was nothing at all like you expected and you've placed yourself in the middle of a nightmare, without an idea of what to do, or where to go, next. You never completely escape that stain of a destroyed dream.

I could easily segue here into a whole new section on different ways to use keys and how important it is to have your own keys that work for you (not against you in favor of someone else) but this has already been a fairly weighty post and you're likely to come up with a lot of those metaphors yourself, so I will wrap it up for now.

For those interested in the art posted and in artistic representations of Bluebeard in general, you can see much more on my Bluebeard Pinterest board HERE.

In the meantime, I recommend reading Ms. Goss' post. She is far more eloquent on the subject. It should be noted that even with her careful and clear wording some readers still took issue with some of what she had to say. I'm just glad there is, at the very least, an open dialogue on this important subject.

12:51pm - June 10, 2013 
If you'd like to keep reading on the Bluebeard tale I highly recommend an article by Terri Windling on the Endicott Studio site. It's titled Bluebeard and the Bloody Chamber. You can find it HERE or click on the image above.

* I don't mean to imply it's the only - or even main - reason men are homophobic and I don't intend to lightly regurgitate an Urban Dictionary's tongue-in-cheek definition of what homophobia is. I state this with every respect to understanding that fear and the divide of differences because this IS a very real fear among straight men who are uncomfortable around gay men (& we're not even taking into account gay women here). The statement is not meant to prove anything, other than to illustrate that there is a very real divide between how men generally compliment/treat women and how that's often not taken seriously, or at least misunderstood as to how disturbing that is, until the tables are (potnetially) turned.

**I never did figure out where on earth that key came from. Why did it absorb blood and why did Bluebeard have it? Had he used it before? If so, why wasn't it already stained? Was it a device of his own making or was he enacting an even more sinister incarnation of the snake offering Eve the fruit of knowledge? I'm curious to know... ;)


  1. love this post!

    ** the key was blood-stained (& bluebeard had it) because it's that old saw, ye olde phallic wasn't bloodied until she opened the door for the 1st time, but thereafter displayed her, ahem, status, as clearly as a newlywed couple's bridal night sheets did, back when such things were displayed as proof of virginity (still are, in a few places). she used the key; after that, she "knows" things. another question is why did bluebeard---and men generally---find it so threatening that women should know things?

  2. nofixedstars:

    The same reason that corporations foster an environment where it's impermissible to talk about salary with other employees, and that the Catholic church (for a long time) discouraged the faithful from reading the bible.

    Because information is the first thing you need, before anything else, to liberate yourself from oppression.