Listen to this story, narrated by C. S. E. Cooney:
This story depicts violence against women and patriarchal violence.
The girl, pigtail-aged, tells everyone: “I want to be an astronaut.”
Not to shock her parents, but because it’s more practical in outer space, she uses her small kids’ scissors on the pigtails, and declares, wild-haired, that she will wear skirts no more.
“You look like a harlot,” says the girl’s grandmother.
For an intervention, they tell the girl fairy tales.
These are the rules for princesses:
1— You must brush your long hair out daily, one hundred strokes.
2— You must like the color pink.
3— You must apologize and be polite, especially to princes.
4— You must wear pastel-colored skirts that cover your ankles.
5— You must keep your virginity until you have found a prince to marry.
6— You must seem less smart than you are, particularly less smart than princes.
7— You must look at yourself in a mirror daily and find at least one fault.
8— You must love a lovely home more than adventure.
9— You must be happy, because being a princess means being happy.
10— You must carry a handkerchief always in case you have to cover shame and tears and other imperfections, in case you are bleeding.
This is a fairy tale:
There was a young girl, barely a woman. Her hair was smooth and long and beautiful, and her face was still girl-soft. Her skin was often bruised, and stone was being born underneath the bruises.
She was married young to a shifting man, a man who could turn at will into an eagle with plumage of pure gold. When the sun was out and people saw him gleam, they thought he was magnificent.
The girl didn’t want to become stone, she didn’t want to be a statue that endured the elements of his tempers. But she could feel the stone forming beneath her skin.
The girl, even though he forbade it, stole golden feathers from his plumage, one at a time so he wouldn’t notice. She kept them in a jewelry box with a dancing pink ballerina, a box that held pictures that were more precious to her than jewels.
One day, she took her stolen feathers, put on a red coat of courage, and left.
Her husband had wings. As she was leaving, he came after her, a great shadow of cold metal.
When he caught her in his claws he said: “You are bleeding.”
And she was. Underneath her skin, the stone pulsed red; the feathers, the pictures of love past tumbled from her unmoving statue fingers to the slicking ground.
The harlot doesn’t get a fairy tale:
The harlot brushed her hair daily, one hundred strokes. This should have made her a princess, thinks the girl, whose hair grows back slowly, stubbornly, because she secretly uses scissors on it, not one hundred brush strokes.
The harlot’s hair shone softly in the neon light of bars and clubs; no one ever called her a princess, and the girl with scissors under her pillow does not understand.
The harlot never hurt anyone, never hurt herself, she just liked to party, thinks the girl.
The harlot could hold her liquor and her short skirt fit her like a second skin.
The harlot liked laughing. She had stories! So many stories, because she lived, because she was unafraid to live.
The harlot was unafraid, until; the girl understands that princes can be beasts that hunt in packs and prey on those who dare to be unafraid.
“They found her, one morning, all her scanty clothing torn,” says the girl’s grandmother. “And she was bleeding.”
The astronaut was a pilot in the military. She did all the things pilots are supposed to do to be the guy you wanna know is flying your plane, and then some.
To become an astronaut, she needed to become a warrior first. It took them a long time to learn they could not stop her, and oh how they tried!
They never did stop her though, and she is proud of herself.
Still, the bitterness doesn’t end. Even now when the reporters come, they tell her: “You are bleeding.”
You are bleeding, the astronaut-that-was-once-a-girl says to herself. She tells herself so she doesn’t forget. Her sisters, all of them, are bleeding too, from the cuts and bruises.
We are bleeding, they tell one another, unafraid and free of dogma’s shame.
You are bleeding, the astronaut tells another girl who likes practical hair, but that is not what you are. Every drop is yours, every cut and every hurt. You are bleeding, but you don’t give up, ever; that is who you are.
You are bleeding, and life is not a fairy tale.