I tell my girl a handful of fairy stories from memory, embellishing the tale to suit. For example, Red Riding Hood uses her own axe to free Grandma from the Big Bad Wolf’s stomach. Last week, she asked for “the three bad pigs”. After explaining it was the three little pigs. I started the set-up. I described each pig and their houses.
“..and he built his house from concrete and bricks, with a lovely big fireplace-”
“Where is the girl pig?” GJ asked.
I was, I admit, stunned into silence. Then I praised her for her question, and restarted the story with
“…and she built her house from concrete and bricks, with a lovely big fireplace-”
Given in my version, the first two pigs are eaten (“OMPH!”), this meant only the girl pig survived the horrors.
Sometimes, like with Red Riding Hood, it’s easy to gender-switch a story. You might question whether I should, but I see fairy stories as folk stories. They were designed to be spoken from memory, adjusted by the teller to suit circumstances or audiences. The underlying narrative remains the same. I’ve heard versions of the three little pigs in which:
- all the pigs live
- the wolf is turned into wolf soup
So my version, where the first two pigs are eaten and the wolf escapes with a burnt tail, is just another variation. There’s also endless plays on it, such as the gorgeous Wolf Won’t Bite by Emily Gravett.
I admit having a pig say “no, by the hairs on my chinny chin chin!” when the pig is female threw up another moment of uncertainty. The rhyme is ingrained in the story and gives a great rhythm to it. Pigs do have hairy chins, even the female ones. But hairy chins are not considered acceptable in female humans. Luckily, Laurie Pink suggested a solution on twitter, for the day my mini-Dworkin asks me why the girl pig has a hairy chin.
@magslhalliday And why not. Kudos to her for being comfortable growing them out. I imagine pigs have less facial hair bias
@lauriepink or she’s too busy building her modernist concrete and brick house to get the tweezers out…
@magslhalliday Good point. You never saw Frank Lloyd Wright pause for depilating, did you?
So there we are, a timebomb of a conversation about women and hair that we’ll be having in a few years time. However I am so stupidly proud that, at 2½ years, my girl is challenging gender bias. From now on, my question to myself when writing, or thinking a story is failing the Bechdel test, will be “where is the girl pig?”