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The Åland Islands Peace Institute

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The Åland Peace Blog

Since the very beginning (in 1992) the Åland Islands Peace Institute has
worked with questions of security, minorities and autonomy. The purpose is
to prevent and manage conflicts, always with a gender awareness. Throughout
the years we have gathered knowledge and strengthened expertise within these
areas, and a new phase was initiated in 2007 with the development of the
Peace Institute's research and investigation capacity. The Peace Institute
arranges seminars, conferences and courses within these areas and regularly
publishes reports and books. We believe that some of the knowledge and
the insights that we acquire should be disseminated to a wider public in a
shorter and quicker form. This is why we are creating the blog. It is
knowledge-oriented and analyzes or comments briefly - but quickly -
news, events and phenomena with the purpose of providing deeper
understanding. The staff and the board of the Peace Institute will
contribute to the blog.

Sia Spiliopoulou Åkermark
Director of the Peace Institute, Associate Professor in International Law



Jeanette Mauricio is a journalist with studies in Human Right and Master's degree in Feminism and Gender issues. Currently she is a doing the European Voluntary Service at The Peace Institute.

The blog is written by the peace institute's present or former staff, guest researchers, board members or invited guest writers. The opinions are the author's own.

There are different stories about the origin of Saint Valentine's Day, but all of them are related to Christian martyrs with that name. One story says that Valentine was killed because he was dedicated to marry couples even though the roman emperor Claudio had forbidden it. Apparently, at that time they believed that single men were better soldiers than the married ones. Another story says that Valentine was a prisoner who fell in love with the jailer's daughter, and before being executed sent her a love letter saying "from your Valentine."

Currently Valentine's Day is become a commercial gimmick where everybody has to express love, but not any but the romantic (heterosexual) love. This idea about romantic love is not a biological natural fact, instead it's an idea that constantly gets pushed down our thoughts. The concept "and so they lived happily ever after" is to be found everywhere with very few exceptions: in fairy tales, songs, movies, tv series, soap opera, commercials and so on. According to the idea about romantic love, everybody is an uncompleted until s/he finds her/his soul mate, half-orange or better half.

Fairy tales are the first media by which children learn the concept of romantic love, and what role boys and girls have to portray in a relationship, in a perfect love story. The prince used to be an active character that fights to save his beloved; he is brave, independent and secure. The princess used to be a passive character that waits to be rescued; she is weak, dependent and beautiful; and she is relegated to the motherhood and domesticity, where the sacrifice is present. They are willing to lend a hand to anybody without complain like Cinderella or Snow White, who works not for one man (dwarfs) but for seven. Why doesn't she work as a human being and earn more money for them meanwhile they clean the house and cook for her?

The vulnerability is another thing included in the fairy tales, girls are always at risk. Belle (in the beauty and the beast) is scared to death by the Beast however she still gives him a chance. Snow White eats a poisoned apple. Ariel, the mermaid, puts her life at risk trying to be a human. This well known them, are to be found in further more stories, films, songs, repeated as a broken record. In 1983 the band "The Police" published the big hit song "I'll be watching you". The lyric says "every breath you take/ And every move you make/ Every bond you break / Every step you take/ I'll be watching you...". The song was viewed as, and still are, a very romantic love song. One can wonder why not everyone has stated the obvious: this is the words of a stalker. Many years later, Sting realized the content of the lyric he wrote and posted a comment on his website "The theme of the song is ownership, surveillance, control. It's a very cynical and evil song, and that worried me". Even he is concern about the lyrics. So why do people still consider it to be a romantic song?

The "happily ever after" ending in most fairy tales is not a very appropriate way to explain what happiness is. Those characters fall in love with each other in moments where they have different positions of power. Sleeping beauty and Snow White are almost dead when the (necrophilia?) prince kisses them. This is a very unnatural process for two people starting a relationship. What is being portrayed to children concerning relationships in fairy tales, is that if you (men) love someone, they (women) will love you (men) back. There is not any time to get to know each other, to share time, to argue, they more or less marry instantly.

The same story is portrayed in the movie Pretty women. Julia Roberts' character begins the film as the poor streetwalker who refuses to kiss her clients because she is waiting to be saved for her ideal Prince Charming. Richard Gere turns on that Prince Charming in the suit of a businessman and rescues her. Is that story believable? And one more thing, is it even possible to picture it the other way around? That Julia Roberts, as smart power suit women, would fall in love with and save the adorable naive male prostitute? I'm still waiting for that film to hit the top lists!

Nowadays many people can say this is only fiction, theses stereotypes are not applicable in real life. Women can work, are independent and self sufficient, they are not subordinate like in the past (even though there are some people arguing we might not be as gender equal as we think we are). However, these gender roles in romantic love stories, are still widely expressed in a big part of all popular culture.

The problem with these romantic love stories are not that they are expressed, rather that they are the only story expressed. There is only one script to follow, only one role to play as a girl or as a boy. Girls are waiting to be rescued; meanwhile boys are doing nice things until suddenly they crash with the girl of their dreams. The disadvantage is that girl can get so obsessed with finding "true love" that it eclipses any other goal in her life, including physical safety -like in The Polices's song. Boys can get obsessed with thinking they need success and look tough to get attention from girls.

The African writer Chimamanda Adichie warns that if we hear only a single story about another person or country we risk a critical misunderstanding. This is exactly what happens regarding our understanding of true love. There is only one story that over and over shows the stereotypical way to live the relationship. Why can the princess never rescue the prince? Why is he never sleeping, waiting for the kiss of life? If we think fairy tales, songs, and movies are fiction - how come we haven't gotten a better sense of imagination? In other words, why can't we come up with at least one or two new love themes? It's time you start asking yourself what is being hidden behind these stories. In 1979, Angela Carter published "The Bloody Chamber", where she rewrites fairy tales. For example, in the opening tale which is a retelling of Bluebeard, instead of being rescued by the stereotypical male hero, the heroine is rescued by her mother. How refreshing one might add. It's time to start imagining some new stories, some that might be a little bit more up to speed on real life and gender equality!

Related literature

Angela Carter. The Bloody Chamber (1979)

Anne Sexton: Transformations (1971)

Chimamanda Adichie: The danger of a single story

Hellman, A. (2008). Kan Batman vara rosa? – färg, rörelse och röst som markörer då förskolebarn ”gör” kön. I Nordberg, M. (red) (2008). Maskulinitet på schemat - pojkar, flickor och könsskapande i förskola och skola. Stockholm: Liber Ab

Davidson, E. S., Yasuna, A., & Tower, A. (1979). The effect of television on sex-role stereotyping in young girls. Child Development, 50, 597-600.

Gustavsson, P. (2003). Så gör prinsessor (Andra upplagan.). Stockholm: Natur & Kultur.

Hamilton, M. C., Anderson, D., Broaddus, M., & Young, K. (2006). Gender stereotyping and under-representation of female characters in 200 popular children’s picture books: A twenty-first century update. Sex Roles, 55(11-12), 757-765.

McArthur, L. Z., & Eisen, S. V. (1976). Achievements of male and female storybook characters as determinants of achievement behaviour by boys and girls. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 33(4), 467-473.

Parson, L. T. (2004). Ella Evolving: Cinderella Stories and the Construction of Gender-Appropiate Behavior. Children’s Literature in Education, vol. 35: 2, ss. 135-154

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Bloggen skrivs av Fredsinstitutets nuvarande eller tidigare personal, gästforskare och styrelseledamöter eller av inbjudna gästskribenter. Åsikterna är författarens egna.

The blog pieces are written by the peace institute's present or former staff, guest researchers, board members or invited guest writers. The opinions are the author's own.