Q&A with director of workshop on gender stereotypes in fairytales at JW3

Magic Maverick

Magic Maverick - Credit: Archant

Molly Pharo is artistic director and producer at Magic Maverick theatre company which runs a Feminist Families afternoon at JW3 examining gender sterotypes in fairytales and a ‘cartography’ workshop using writing art and performance to ask questions about what gender means.

Q What’s wrong with fairytales, they’re just stories aren’t they?

A Stories fundamentally form our cultures and identities. They contain the messages that we tell our children and embed the rules of society. What happens if a girl goes out alone? She’ll meet a big, bad wolf.

These archetypal and gendered assumptions become one of our primary ways of setting expectations and social norms.

Magic Maverick question where these beliefs come from, and aim to have inclusive conversations with audiences.


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Stories give us models of what is possible – who we can be. Ask a child who they want to be when they grow up and they might say a princess, dragon, Buzz Light-year or a space chicken. These are characters from stories, be they on screens or pages.

Q Why empower children to create their own stories?

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A The gendered messages in fairytales don’t reflect the abilities of children or the diversity of gender.

We are interested in interrogating and reframing these messages with our audiences so they may continue to question expectations of gender roles in their own life.

We also consider who gets to tell stories – they are such powerful tools, and looking at who tells them is an insightful way to measure inequality. Hopefully our audiences come away with an awareness of these power dynamics.

Q How do you make these issues fun?

A Gender can be an intimidating subject. We smash through that by presenting performances and workshops that are gentle and engaging. Instead of explaining answers, we ask questions and make space for participants to voice their own opinions and identity.

Our work is based on principals of inclusivity, which means that we acknowledge and value difference – be it cultural, gender, (dis)ability, or otherwise- but we also promote a value system based on what makes us similar; human.

Our workshops use drawing, writing, moving, and the option to speak about your thoughts or to share in a way that is right for you.

I promise it’s not scary.

Q Do you think gender identity is less entrenched today?

A We are currently in the fourth wave of feminism, whose general aims are giving a platform to diversity and addressing the more subtle forms of sexism in everyday life.

Yes gender is becoming a more open conversation, as reflected in shows such as Bryonny Kimmings Credible Likeable Superstar Rolemodel, and festivals such as Women Of The World and Calm Down Dear, at The Camden People’s Theatre.

But it’s also important to discuss these ideas with children, as they are the generation who will have more global access and platforms to communicate than ever before.

Addressing concepts of gender roles we can hopefully encourage children to look to the future instead of the past for answers about what to expect and accept in the way others treat them. We want them to grow up in a world where they make the rules and can be whoever they are without fear.

Q Some people are nervous about feminism?

A Gender and feminism often get bad press, which can be alienating for people wanting to be involved but finding it difficult to navigate all the voices.

Our workshops make a space that’s open and safe for participants to explore these concepts without thinking they are saying something stupid or not ‘right.’

We don’t think these conversations should be pressured, being open and playful allows people more confidence and freedom to explore, question and communicate with each other.

Feminist Families is on March 6 (Sunday).

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