For the first four episodes of this season, we’re exploring the female archetypes (and stereotypes!) in old fairy and folk tales. First up – the Queen. To quickly recap – in the last episode, we learned about the sequel to Sleeping Beauty’s “happily ever after” in which she has to deal with her mother-in-law – the evil Queen Mother – an ogre and wants to eat her twin babies. If you haven’t listened to that episode, go back and do so, otherwise this second part won’t make sense. Today, we’re going to sink deeper into this archetype to understand what’s going really going on – and in the process, learn more about ourselves.
So, I came across a 17th Century version of Sleeping Beauty called Sun, Moon, and Talia, and oh heroine, did this really put the Queen in perspective for me. It helped me see her in a completely different light.
In this other version, the evil Queen isn’t the King’s mother, but get this, she’s the King’s wife. Yes, Sleeping Beauty– or Talia – is actually the “third” woman in this tale. That’s right, our homeboy King is a player. He already had a wife before he met Sleeping Beauty – it’s the part Disney doesn’t mention. He’s just doing what Kings did back then, sleep with whoever they wanted.
So we begin to see that there’s a complicated relationship between the King and the Queen. At one point in the tale, when The Queen thinks he’s eating one of his own kids (the kids he would have had with another woman), she tells him, and I quote “"Eat away! for you eat what is your own." What the King replies is fascinating, and I quote “"Ay, I know well enough that what I eat is my own, for you brought nothing to the house." Oh snap. That’s a rude response. The tale writes, “And at last getting up in a rage, he went off to a villa at a little distance to cool his anger.”
In other words, the King is annoyed that the Queen isn’t contributing “bread” to the table. This line could be interpreted many ways. Either he’s mad she hasn’t brought home the bacon or he could be shaming her for coming with a small dowry. But what options does a Queen have, locked in a Kingdom, in a patriarchal society, to go out and bring something to the house? Very little. In fact, in most of these fairy tales, the King is always quite mobile of course, traversing stretches of land, while the Princesses and Queens are confined within walls, or being ordered around to go from place A to B. It’s clear that the Queen is powerless in the patriarchy with her lead patriarch, very literally the King. At one point, when she confronts Talia who we know as Sleeping Beauty – the woman her husband is having an affair with – she says, “Are you the weed that has caught my husband’s eye and given me all this trouble? So so, you are come at last to purgatory, where I'll make you pay for all the ill you have done me." Obviously, Talia’s not the problem – the King is the main issue here, lest this becomes an episode of Jerry Springer. Both Talia and the Queen are powerless in different ways.
So, it’s obvious and quite justified – one of the ways the Queen has responded to betrayal, hurt, and feelings of powerlessness is to become a total Queen. Duh. In other words, she claims control because she’s been badly hurt. She’s wounded! When we see the full context of the Queen, we can see how she’s very connected to the inner victim...underneath Queen behavior is a feeling (and perhaps even a reality) of victimhood.
Ok, now it’s our time to turn it to you. How have you felt out of control in your life, and how has that made you double down on becoming more controlling? For some of us, we grow up in chaotic households, so we turn to controlling what we eat. In my case, I grew up moving around a lot, not having control in where I’d live or what community so I doubled down by becoming an hyper-achiever. Perhaps we’ve been emotionally, sexually, or physically betrayed or hurt by others, and as a way to defend ourselves, we turn up our inner Queens, and it works. The Queen is fierce.
She also has her merit. Yah! Let’s talk about her merit. One of the major strengths I see in women who have and own this archetype fully is that they know what they want, aren’t afraid to ask for it, and aren’t afraid to go for it. That’s the blessing of the Queen. Sure, in the fairy tale, that desire is directed towards evil, or fear, instead of good, or love – but this character is not a passive, floating character, waiting to be rescued. She’s a bad bitch.
Remember my friend Dionna, from last episode? She shared how being a Queen does help her own her womanhood and power. Here she is again, talking about what she actually likes about being a Queen:
Dionna: I went to West Point and so to be one of the few women in an environment, it'd be easy to shrink in that environment and take on really masculine energy. And so I think being able to stay in your womanhood but stand still as a leader among leaders, I think that's definitely a showcase of that part of me for sure.
I think in the end, the key is to direct this energy of desire – this flavor of Queen – towards authentic goals, and not ones that come from our wounds and feelings of powerlessness (many of which are subconscious). Now that’s a life long journey, if you ask me.
Don’t forget to tune into the episode on ApplePodcasts.com/HEROINE (or wherever you get your podcasts) to dive deeper, and let this one really sink in. The Queen is far more complex than she looks like on the outside. By understanding stories, we can begin to understand ourselves a little bit more.
P.S. Next episode, we’re going to explore her opposite – the Waif – the Passive Princess, the Good Girl...and archetype I’ve long been fascinated with and am even writing a whole book about, yes a book that’s coming out next year (May 2020, HarperOne).
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Brigid Cabry Nelson leads Lettershop, an award-winning creative studio that serves a wide range of clients—from boutique retailers to large corporations—approaching each and every project with vigor and enthusiasm. Learn more about Brigid and her work here.
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