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Ep 20 | Let’s talk Fairy Tales with Rebecca Cunningham

Toni Morrison said something like, know that if you do not see a story about you or a story you want to read or see, go make it yourself.”  You can! 

We have a guest on today’s episode, Rebecca Cunningham.  This is a great conversation about stories and what impact they can make on our lives and what she’s doing to make sure girls of all backgrounds and experiences can see themselves in a story.

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We have a special guest this episode.   It’s going to be a super fun episode.  Her podcast, Girl Tales, rewrites fairy tales and showcases them.  They are even doing a musical in an upcoming episode!

 

Rebecca Cunningham

Rebecca Cunningham

Host & Executive Producer of Girl Tales

Rebecca Cunningham is the host & executive producer of Girl Tales, a children’s podcast that features reimagined fairy tales where girls take risks, go on adventures, solve problems, and become their own heroes.  Learn more at www.girltalespodcast.com or on Instagram @girltales

Welcome to Rebecca!

Rebecca has a podcast called Girl Tales.  They take existing fairy tales and reimagine them so that girls are at the center of the story.  They go on adventures and take risks and solve problems and become their own heroes.  There are several different voice actors in each episode.  They are written by different female or non-binary playwrights.  It’s a totally different story every single month.

One of Elinor’s favorites is Land of Stories.  They pull in fairy tales in a new and unique way.

Rebecca: We do the reimagined stories on our podcast but I also interview girls from all over the world that are making a positive change in their community.  I interviewed Stella and asked her what her favorite fairy tale was and she said Land of Stories.  That was a year ago and I still haven’t read it.

Elinor: I don’t know what my favorite fairy tale is, I like all of them.

Sami: Do you think most girls equate fairy tales with Disney movies?

Rebecca: It might be different with kids Elinor’s age, but when I ask grownups to write reimaginations of stories they often jump to stories they know from Disney movies.  Because that’s what we grew up with.  Not a lot of us actually read them, we watched them.  And they were all told through a Disney perspective.  

Kids today have access to so much more than we did right!  It’s terrifying.  Fairy tales can be really terrifying.

Sami: Elinor, what is your favorite Disney movie that you’ve grown up with?

Elinor: Tangled.  I don’t know what I liked about it.  

Rebecca: Rapunzel’s pretty strong in that movie.

Sami: And we should say, Elinor was born in 2008, Tanlged, Brave and Frozen were the ones that came out at the peak of her fascination with those kinds of stories.

Rebecca: Moana is an excellent representation of a girl, Elsa is an excellent representation of a woman.  They’re very different then what we had.  But, they’re so many more stories that we have to make up for.

Sami: I have a question for both of you but I’m going to ask Elinor first.

What do you think as a girl growing up, how do you feel girls are treated differently than boys?

Elinor: Yes, I don’t really know but it feels different.  Girls are more cutsy and boys and more strong.

Rebecca: Girls tend to be passive.  We wait for something to happen.  Or wait for something to call us.  Or wait for something specific to actually take action.  Boys just make a decision and go.  

Boys in media are much more likely to solve an issue using math and science.  Girls are twice as likely to solve a problem with magic.  I love magic and magic in stories, but there’s kind of a mixed messaging.

I think Elinor you’re right, it’s hard to know what exactly the difference.  It’s so deep in the story you can feel it just can’t pinpoint why.  

A very large majority of these stories are written by men.  It’s really tough to understand what it’s like to be a girl if you’ve never been on.  So I wanted to change that because while some media is representing girls, it’s teaching us a lot about who we are and it can affect us for a long time.

Sami, have you thought about the movies and stories you were exposed to as a child taught you about yourself?

Sami: I think it’s right what you’re saying.  You understand things are different but you just don’t know what it is.

I grew up in a home where we went to Disney all the time, watched all the movies.  The Little Mermaid was what I watched on repeat over and over again.  My parents were probably hoping the VHS would die I watched it so many times.

But I don’t think I Understood at the time the messages that were being relayed back.  Because that one is definitely where she has to be saved.

I also grew up in a home where I had a mom who grew up in a household where she felt she didn’t have choices.  She made it very clear to me that I had choice and control and can do what I want to do.  And I try to pass that down to Elinor.

I know Elinor loves science, art, and theatre.  We try to engage both our kids in the areas they’re interested in regardless of gender.

Rebecca: I think that’s incredible!  I was super interested in theatre growing up and not as interested in science.  I often wonder, if science was incorporated in the stuff I watched and read, would I be more interested in it.  Or is it just that I’m not interested in it.  I’m not really sure.  

Elinor, do you read a lot of stuff with science?

Elinor: No.  But I like chemical reactions.  I like making stuff!  And science incorporates it.  I think I like science is because I cook and that’s a form a science.

Sami: She watches some shows on Netflix that are historical figures.  But she really has an engineer brain of wanting to figure out why things work and why they do what they do.  

It makes me think of your statement of nature vs nurture.  What is in us vs the stories that change our minds about what we can and cannot do.

Rebecca:  I looked around and saw what was available to me and went after those things.  If I really do think about it I think about the stories I read and watched, I looked around to see what was available to me and those were my options.  I had a really hard time seeing outside of that.

I had a really strong mom that worked and told me I could do whatever I wanted but for whatever reason I didn’t want to stray from what I saw a girl was.

Sami: What fairy tale have you done that you’ve been surprised by the reaction?

Rebecca: Our first one of this season was called, “The Quest of the Reed Marsh Daughter.”  It’s about a little girl who is transgender and she goes on a journey with her mom to find their names.  

Our listeners had a really positive reaction, but we also had backlash.  That was really troubling for me.  I don’t write the stories.  I have different writers write them from the perspective of what they had needed to hear when they were girls.  And that’s what that playwrite needed to write because she never heard it as a kid.  That is ultimately what is more important.  That story has had the biggest impact on my life.  It’s made me defend Girl Tales and question if kids are ready to hear that.  And what I came to realize is it’s not the kids, it’s about if the parents are ready to talk about it.

Sami: I agree with that 100%.  I wanna say, my daughters 10 and my son is 8.  We had a conversation a lunch after theatre one day. She was just talking about one of her friends that has a girlfriend. The conversation was so easy as shes talking about how her friend was gay and it was just the same as if she was talking about a boyfriend from a friend. My dad’s sitting there and I asked him, “could you imagine having this conversation with your parents when you were 10 years old.”  It never would have happened.  When you said the word transgender she didn’t even flinch.  It’s not a thing for her.

Rebecca: Yea, it makes grown ups uncomfortable.  It doesn’t make the kid uncomfortable.

Elinor, I think it’s so cool.  I’m gay and growing up I learned when I was 10 that I was but I didn’t tell anyone till much later.  I guess, I’m so impressed that things have changed.  I’m not that old so it wasn’t that long ago.  But there’s a huge difference.  I wonder all the time that if I had learned through a story that I would have come out early.  

Sami: I think it’s a conversation about letting your kids be kids.  Let your boys be boys.  Let your girls be girls. In whatever facet that looks like. 

Do you feel comfortable you can ask us for something or do anything you want?

Elinoryes!

Sami: I feel like that’s what you’re trying to do.  It’s not just about making stories just for girls.  It’s making sure there are stories out there for girls just as often as they are out there empowering boys.

Rebecca: Right, we have learned about every single type of boy there is.  And the same goes for gown up media.  We’ve learned about all the different types of men, especially those that are white.  We know all about them and the different ways it is to be a man.

We want to write stories for ALL girls and represent as many of them as possible.  The way we do that is to ask for people to identify that way to write the story.

Sami: Question for Elinor.  When you look at media and girls what do you typically see when it comes to race?

Elinor: It’s kind of a mixture but most of what I see is white girls and white boys.  I feel like that’s such a weird thing and I don’t want to be rude.

Rebecca: I don’t think that’s weird at all.  It’s true, you’re right.  If you look at the statistics, a very large majority of the main characters are white.

Sami: So one of our favorite shows to watch is “Fresh Off The Boat.”  We have a Chinese background.  We just got to go Taiwan in November.  It’s fun for them to see that representation.

Rebecca: That’s a great show.  Do you see other stories and shows with Asian representation?

SamiThat’s the thing.  They’re aren’t really any shows with Asians where it’s not all about Asians.  “Crazy Right Aisans” did really well, but you don’t really see any shows where a main character being themselves in a show.  I think all of that is important to continue to have a conversation about.

Rebecca: Elinor, what do you like doing in the theatre?

Elinor: I like being with my friends.  I like singing.  I like being another character, but I also like being in the ensemble because they help to bring the whole show together.  If it was just leads it would be boring.

Rebecca: That’s exactly why I love theatre.  Working with a group of people to put something together!  And you’re right, it’s not just about the leads its also about the director, the lights, the set movers, all that stuff.  That’s why at Girl Tales I refused to just use my voice to use the story.  It’s so much more fun when where are 6 people working on it.

Sami: So what other stories are coming up?

Rebecca: We are going to do a Cinderella musical!  I’m scared but I’m going to do it.  It’ll be about 35 min.  It’s a punk musical.

We’re doing Torta and Finch based on the fairy tale The Singing Tortoise.

Another one we’re doing is an African fairytale called Anansi Spider.

Elinor: I did a play of that.  My class did it with puppets.  We made our own puppets.  I was Anansi.  

Rebecca: In the original story she goes to a sky god, a man right?  The sky god tells her to go collect these different animals.

Elinor: In our version.  Anansi stole the stuff from all the animals and they had to come back and get their stuff back.

Rebecca: Oh ok, there are several different versions of the story.  In our version, Anansi goes to visit a goddess who tells her to go and collect all these animals.  It’s a lot of fun and going to be pretty funny.  I think it’s so cool that you know what it is.

Elinor: Last year we did the Jungle Book.  This year we don’t know yet.

Sami: What would be your message to girls as far as what they’re seeing in the media and how can they use it to empower themselves?

Rebecca: My suggestion is always question.  Question what someone is telling you about yourself and if that actually applies to you.  Question who is telling the story and who got to tell the story.  Why is another person able to tell that story?  Who has the power in the story?  Question everything. 

Toni Morrison said something like, know that if you do not see a story about you or a story you want to read or see, go make it yourself.”  You can!

Sami: I think that’s a good lesson for all of us know matter what stage of life.  Make your own story.  Don’t be structured by people before you.

Rebecca: Break some rules!

Keep the Conversation Going

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Elinor (daughter) and Sami (mom) were on vacation in Phoenix in March or 2019 when the concept of the mother-daughter podcast was born.

Sami, a digital marketing strategist, was working on her own podcast, when Elinor decided she needed one of her own.  When talking about concepts, the idea of having regular chats about life and recording them came up.

And with that, Conversations with My Daughter was born.

Each week, a new topic, and possible life lesson, are brought to you with the hopes it will make you smile, remember conversations with your own mom, and hopefully inspire new conversations with your own children.