Myths and fairytales are particularly vulnerable to feminist analysis, as they so transparently buttress male privilege, reinforce gender stereotypes, and promote acceptance of rape culture. Grumpy Princess does a superb job on Disney princes in her video, above, whilst Mary Daly, in her 1978 feminst classic Gyn/Ecology (available from the WAAC Library, sisters!) obliterates The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein. Here is Daly’s analysis:
Chilling Children’s Tales
Postchristian mind-poisoning begins in earliest youth. Studies have demonstrated abundantly that infants are given gender identity messages even before they can understand words – messages which are conveyed through touching, voice intonations, choice of clothing. (31) It is not unusual for parents to use television as a tranquilizer for infants. While all of this is becoming recognized and documented, it is essential that Spinsters search out the symbolic content lurking behind obvious messages.
Children’s books provide chilling evidence of mind-control through dismembering myth. Fairy tales are particularly gruesome examples. An apparently genteel contemporary type of disguised mind-dismembering myth for children is exemplified in The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein. (32) It is the story of a tree – consistently referred to by the pronoun she – who gives absolutely everything she has to a boy. This begins innocently enough, with her shade, leaves, and fruit. But, the boy grows up and cuts off her branches and then her trunk. Finally, in his old age, he uses her stump as a seat. As a result of all this nonreciprocated giving, the tree is “happy”. The jacket blurb of this book, published in 1964 but still a big seller, describes it as “a tender story … a moving parable for readers of all ages”. The story, in fact, is one of female rape and dismemberment. It draws upon sources in the Background of female identity, taking the Tree of Life – who is the Goddess – and making her a willing participant in her own mutilation, which makes her “happy”. Her degradation is total, for the “Giving Tree” wallows in self-destruction. Here is a model of masochism for female readers of all ages, and of sadism for boys of all ages. This chilling children’s tale is an extension of christian myth. It is a superrefined, invasive, and deceptive offspring of self-satisfied secularists secure in their superiority to christian crudity. The saccharine sweet story of a little boy who “loves” a tree – a young Apollo who crowns himself with her leaves – has “healthier” appeal than overt S and M biblical tales of a dead godman crowned with thorns. Thus the postchristian (that is prechristian) parable has deceptive acceptability, extending its tentacles into unaware minds, guiding them to a more primal Fatherland, inhabited by paradigms of patriarchal matricide. It thus brings its parental purchasers and readers into unwitting compliance with primary programming for gynocide.
Whether or not the authors, illustrators, and promoters of such books “understand” that they are communicating gynocidal messages is beside the point. Since self-deception is of the essence of doublethink, they undoubtedly would respond with incredulity/ amusement/indignation to such an analysis. For they themselves have been programmed not to recognize gynocidal reversals. Within the massive public relations business of patriarchy, the promotion of rape and dismemberment has top priority, and it is essential that the promoters make this fact invisible to everyone, especially to themselves. As George Orwell wrote of his character, Winston Smith, in 1984: “For the first time he perceived that if you want to keep a secret you must also hide it from yourself”. (33)