Archive for April 1st, 2011

Who tells the story? Katie Orenstein looks for new voices

Friday, April 1st, 2011
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Storytellers make reality, says Katie

On the plane trip back from New York last week, I thumbed through the flight magazine for Delta.  Whose face should pop out at me but the familiar visage of Katie Orenstein.

Katie is founder and director of the OpEd Project, which I’ve written about here.  In the article, she’s in conversation with Catherine Hardwicke, director of the recently released movie Red Riding Hood. What is the connection between the two women?  Katie is also a “folklorist,” the author of Little Red Riding Hood Uncloaked: Sex, Morality and the Evolution of a Fairy Tale.

Katie’s OpEd project was driven by her recognition of the lack of women’s voices on the editorial pages of America – about 85 percent of the columns are written by men.  The under-representation of women, this time on literary pages, was recently explored over at Books Inq., following a discussion over at the Times Literary Supplement, following a Guardian story, following some Vida research.  Actually, I was too busy writing against deadlines (largely for literary pages) to weigh in on the subject then, but I thought about Katie and her project.

She spoke about it a little in the article:  “A very small section of the world tells most of the stories, and most of that section is very narrow: It’s mostly white, it’s mostly Western and overwhelmingly male.”

Hardwicke's sexy take on an old tale...

“That dramatically shapes the stories that we get. It doesn’t just shape the fairy tales that we get, it shapes the reality that we get, the important conversations of our age. It also affects whose brains we get to hear from. We are missing a huge percentage of the world’s brains and brainpower.”

She continues:

“You know, stories are how we assign meaning to our lives and to the world; we live in this universe, and what does it all mean?  Stories are built to explain and also to inspire and to control a lot of what we see. … But the stories we tell are designed to do all of those things, and whoever tells them ends up writing history and shaping the way we see and understand the world, whether we are talking about mythology or journalism.”

I’ve been more interested lately in the stories we tell ourselves.  Our history, our relationships, our successes and failures are told in different ways, in different moods, with different consequences — to limit us, make us smug, defeat our efforts, or prod us onwards.  The humiliating high school prom becomes farce or tragedy in the retelling 30 years later. The fatal love becomes a crucible or a lifelong regret.

And how do we use our stories to subtly justify our choices?  Where do we begin them?  Where do they lead?