As a culture we are talking a lot lately about the many subtle and not-so-subtle ways men have of sabotaging female power. Here Dave reflects on what this says about the power dynamics between the sexes. Hint: Perhaps it has something to do with (unconscious) male fear of female superiority?
The Story of Allerleirauh and Her Cloak
Dave: Allerleirauh is one of my favorite fairy tales. It is a bit long and difficult to summarize. I think of it is a story about the inaccessible in-depth dynamic complexity of women. This tale is a bit obscure. It puzzles me thus turns on my imagination. It is not about women as objects of curiosity, rather about the being of a woman, the complexity that goes with being a woman in the world.
My family therapist friend from Vienna, Raluca Jacono points out that Allerleirauh is in part about the effect of the female gaze on men. I could say, “…the complexity that goes with being a woman in the world and the effect of the complexity embodied in the female gaze on the world.” The story shifts from the male gaze in the beginning, the King wants to possess and marry his daughter regardless of her wishes, toward the female gaze, a complex web including female erotic lure as well as the protection and healing of the hurt feminine. The female gaze contains desire without shame or passivity. As Mulvey wrote in 1975, women are characterized by their “to-be-looked-at-ness”. Woman is “spectacle”, and man is “the bearer of the look”. The Female Gaze flips the usual so that the man is characterized by their “to-be-looked-at-ness” and woman is the “bearer of the look”. Raluca thinks the television series, “I Love Dick” is a modern fairy tale, a provocative dynamic example of the female gaze. I won’t say more in this essay, but, when you read the story, keep the female gaze in mind.
Here’s a link to read the complete Grimm’s Fairy Tale of Allerleirauh:
“Allerleirauh” means “of many different kinds of fur”, fur is a partial sign of identity, thus when we get to the end of the story we will have heard of someone with multiple identities. If you have been reading the blog you know I believe we all have multiple personalities, many personalities, for most of us our multiple personalities are not seriously disordered, they are in fact enhancing (See 9/17 post Meditation on Personhood: How Do We Know Who We Are?).
Fairy tale back story: The Princess Wondrous marries Prince Charming, and they become the King and the Queen. After their baby is born the Queen turned Mother changes; in her relationship to others and in her relationship to herself. The Queen turned Mother may think the Queen died when the Mother came alive. Sometimes the Mother may feel child-like, one with her baby, thus no longer competent in the world of adults. Symbolically speaking, if she is a child she feels like her husband’s daughter. She discovers, in this new dream reality, she has married her feary father, the King, and now the marriage is incestuous. This means she must hide her sexuality from the king. The story Allerleirauh starts off with a King married to a Queen with golden hair. The Queen was so beautiful her equal was not to be found on earth.
At the beginning of the story it came to pass that the Queen of nonpareil beauty became ill, she knew she would soon die. She called for the King and said, “I am about to die. If you wish to marry again after my death, take no one who is not as beautiful as I am, and who has hair as golden as mine. This you must promise me.” In the hours after the King made this promise, she closed her eyes and died.
The King was grief struck. But he gradually recovered. He wanted to marry again and sent all his councilors to find the most beautiful woman in the world. They searched the wide world over. When they told him they found the most beautiful woman, he learns it is his daughter. He is King, he can do what he wishes and announced his intention to marry her. He was warned by his councilors that “God has forbidden a father to marry his daughter. No good can come from such a sin, and the kingdom will be involved in the ruin.” But he is the King. He rules. None is greater than him. He will marry the woman who is his daughter, because his councilors have declared her the most beautiful woman in the world. He made a promise to his now dead wife.
The story says nothing of the relationship between mother and daughter. But as the story unfurls I am convinced someone helped the daughter, Allerleirauh, to understand that women were equal to men. In fact, I suspect Allerleirauh came to understand that women are in many ways superior to men. It is hard to be clear what I mean by superior to men. It is not to say they can run faster, throw further, dominate better, be smarter. Superior means something about beingness; naturally more complex, aware of complexity, capable of enjoying ambiguity, possessing superior emotional awareness and energy, more attuned to people, thus smarter about relationships. It turns out that Allerleirauh is smart.
Let this issue hang here and say it must be explored with subtlety…
From my years as a therapist I came to be concerned that some men can be impossibly difficult emotionally. That of course can make marriage difficult. But marriage is further complicated because women tend to think men are as complex as they (women) are. We are not. I recall from early in our marriage, 47 years ago, I could hit all kinds of balls with a wide variety of sticks, and I could strum folk and rock and roll tunes on the guitar. I was astounded by how much Noel knew (and I didn’t) about food, cooking, color, fashion. When we would come home from a party at a friend’s house, 8-10 things had happened to me. 100 things had happened to her. She commented on the furniture, what the women were wearing, the color of the drapes, the subtlety of flavors and subtlety of interactions. I didn’t even realize there was so much to know about everyday life. Men tend to be intimidated by the complexity and the implicit power of women. This is a simple explanation for how patriarchal institutions became so deeply established in our cultures; to control these feminine forces that seemed perplexing and uncontrollable.
Back to the story: When Allerleirauh finds out she is to become her father’s bride. Her response is “no way, this cannot happen.” But the King was not to be shunned, he persisted. She said, “Very well, if this is to be I want three gowns made for me, one as gold as the sun, one as silver as the moon and another as bright as the stars.” Then she added, “Finally, I demand a large cloak made of the fur from every animal in the King’s forest.” She makes this request thinking he will be unable to accomplish it. But he is a powerful and determined King and the garments are made. Many furs, many identities.
I recently had consultative meeting with Christine Matteson, a creative arts and family therapist. She described a couple’s therapy case that brought Allerleirauh to mind. I told Chris the story. In her clinical case the woman was frustrated by the limitations imposed by the relationship. She felt constrained by the marriage, she restrained her Self in order to maintain the relationship. That is she puts the relationship ahead of her Self.
The day after our conversation, Chris called to describe a dream influenced by Allerleirauh. Curiously her dream was about Donald Trump and Melania. In her dream Melania was daughter to Donald. She was married to her father, the King.
In my view of her dream, the marriage of the King to his daughter is symbolically incestuous. That is, there is a power imbalance which insists Melania suppress her Self in order to be in the role of wife. Thus in the story, Allerleirauh, does not refuse marriage because of the moral taboo issue, she refuses marriage because he is not choosing her for who she is, but rather because of how she looks.
Quirky personal note (take with grain of salt): I remember when I was a little girl, I was very pretty. But I did not like being told I was pretty. I wondered if people loved me for being pretty, or for who I was? I was afraid life would be far too complicated if I grew up to be a beautiful woman, I decided I wanted to grow up to be a daddy. And so it came to pass. Now I wonder what I missed by not being a woman.
My friend Christine knows a great deal about Jungian analytic psychology and added a helpful perspective for this essay about Allerleirauh. The tale illustrates a common theme of immature and controlling men wanting to marry their anima projections; their inner feminine projections, which are typically of the easy to manipulate and control naïve feminine. When the woman wants to be a full self, a whole self, to grow and be more than a set of projections, problems develop. The man may become angry, reactive and defensive, build in distance, push her away, view her as domineering. He views her as domineering because she is challenging his dominance.
A suppressed woman hungers to reclaim her “instinctual” self; often represented by animal-like qualities, many furs, forest, dirt-covered skin. The woman viewed as innocent girl on the projection screen of the man, wishes to reclaim her “wild woman”, the self that is lost as a result of thinking she needs to settle for being the projection of the man’s anima, for being the most beautiful, in order to survive. There are many stories about this theme.
Allerleirauh received the four garments she requested. The King announced the wedding would be the next day. That night she put on the cloak of many furs, she put the gowns in a nutshell and concealed them in her fur mantel. With soot she darkend her hands and face. Then undercover of night she stole from the castle and wandered until she came to a dark forest. In the forest she hid in a large hollow tree and fell into a deep sleep. A king’s huntsmen were in the forest the next morning. Their dogs were attracted to the tree where Allerleirauh was hiding. The men discovered this foul and mysterious beast, took her prisoner, then took her to the castle. They gave her to the cook who put her to work in the kitchen carrying wood and water, plucking the fowls, scrubbing pots and raking ashes. She did all the dirty work. She was given a windowless cubby under the kitchen, and there she lived in wretchedness for a long time.
She heard the cook talking one day about a feast the King was holding in the castle. The cook has to prepare the meal for the feast. Allerleirauh wanted to go to see the feast. The cook said he would allow it if Allerleirauh made the bread soup for the dinner. She made the soup; the cook found it unusually delicious. Allerleirauh returned to her hidey hole, cleaned the soot from her body and put on the golden gown as radiant as the sun. At the feast and ball she stayed on the edge of the dancing as an observer, but her beauty was radiant and the King saw her. He sought her out but she slipped away and he could not find her.
After some time the King planned another feast. At this point I suggest you read the story, it is deliciously complex and multi-faceted, likely to arouse your reflections as it did mine. Ultimately Allerleirauh married the King and they lived contentedly until the end of their lives. The wild woman regained her freedom to be a full-fledged person, not an over-controlled set of projections, far more than a beautiful object, an object does not gaze back. Allerleirauh’s cloak was a patchwork of many kinds of fur. This essay is something like a patchwork of many fragments. We hope it activates your imagination.
Check out what Cass Elliott has to say about it: “Wild Women Don’t Worry, Wild Women Don’t Get the Blues” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aWTpnmjb2wQ