Interdisciplinary Honors Seminars

#HerToo: When Women Reclaim Fairy Tales

Course # 01:090:295:H3
Index# 06041
T 10:20 AM – 01:20 PM
SC 220 CAC
Jennifer Tamas

Once upon a time a young lady called Beauty found a man asleep: he was so beautiful that she kissed him a hundred times to wake him up... Rewritten and altered, this tale became Disney’s famous production Beauty and the Beast, a movie designed for children that makes the Stockholm syndrome look fancy and trivializes domestic violence. This rewriting also prepares young minds to find pleasure in submissive relationships, the next step being Fifty Shades of Grey.

Now consider this other story: in a faraway land, a fine princess fell in love with a man that she tested in several ways to make sure he would suit her. He was so brave and so successful that his king became jealous and sent him to jail. But the fierce Princess delivered him, made him a king and married him. 

If you think this kind of story is a modern fantasy, you are wrong. If you think they were written right after the #MeToo movement, you are still erring. Madame de Villeneuve (The Beauty and the Beast) and Madame d’Aulnoy (The Fair with Golden Hair) – among others – lived in the 17th and 18th centuries. French women were among the first to write sophisticated fairy tales (as opposed to popular folk tales) to question the unfair laws and practices of their time, such as forced marriage, constrained sexual consent, domestic violence and conjugal rapes. Children were not the targeted audience. Written for adults, discussed in renown salons, those tales were translated into English, crossed the Atlantic and circulated in many countries. For some reason, their political and ideological content disappeared and we know some expurgated (and sexist) versions of them that set the foundations of our western culture.

This course aims at deciphering the cultural legacy of fairy tales by unveiling the male gaze that has been prevailing in films, paintings and drawings. How can the female gaze challenge our prejudices? How can equity find a new aesthetic form in visual arts? The close reading of classical fairy tales and their confrontation to cultural traditions will teach us how. As a final requirement, students will work on a collaborative project: they will write a script and perform a Radio Show about Women’s Empowerment.

About Jennifer Tamas

I left France in 2006 after I passed the concours to become a professor of Literature (CAPES and Agrégation de Lettres Modernes). I was granted a Fulbright fellowship to study in the USA. I now hold a PhD from Stanford University (2013). My dissertation [A Revolution in Rhetoric: Claiming the Authority to Speak in Early Modern France (1643-1793)], explored the intersection between politic, religious and theatrical texts through the lens of “declaration.” I also hold a PhD in Literature and Stylistics from Paris IV Sorbonne (2012) [Dire et ne pas dire. Du silence éloquent à l’énonciation tragique des déclarations d’amour chez Racine]. This study focused on the implications of the unsaid in Racine’s dramaturgy.

My teaching interests range from the Old Regime to the French Revolution and explore the boundaries between passions and politics. I published numerous articles on passions and theater. I am also interested in the linguistic power of silence. I co-directed with Hélène Bilis a volume entitled L’Éloquence du silence: dramaturgie du non-dit sur la scène théâtrale des 17e et 18e siècles (Classiques Garnier, 2014). This volume investigates the paradoxical question of how silence makes itself heard on the theatrical stage.