Moving at the Speed of Creativity by Wesley Fryer

Catherine Orenstein on the Power and Importance of Female Storytellers

Catherine Orenstein is the author of “Little Red Riding Hood Uncloaked: Sex, Morality, and the Evolution of a Fairy Tale.” She was interviewed along with movie director Catherine Hardwicke (“Red Riding Hood,” “Twilight”) in the March 2011 issue of Delta Sky Magazine. As a Storychaser as well as an advocate for the sharing of diverse and under-represented voices on the global stage, the following paragraphs from Catherine in the article (“Fame Exchange“) really got my attention.

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. The werewolf and the witch trials in the 16th and 17th centuries were largely about controlling aberrant behavior. 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.

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. If you look at op-ed pages, they run about 85 percent male. If you look at television pundits, that’s about 84 percent male. If you look at Congress, it’s 83 percent. And if you look at Hollywood writers, producers and directors, it runs about 85 percent male. I think fewer than 10 percent of top-grossing films have female directors. Does that sound about right?

Petit chaperon rouge - The Little Red Riding Hood - Caperucita Rojaphoto © 2008 Aurelie et Herve | more info (via: Wylio)
We live in an unprecedented era for “empowering digital witnesses,” as well as anyone who wants to share their voice with others. I reflected today with my “Technology 4 Teachers” students, after hearing a Pecha Kucha presentation about comic literature, how different the reading landscape is for my 13 year old son than it was for me in growing up in the 1980s. His number one favorite thing to read now is Harry Potter fan fiction, and I’ve never read a single story on the site. As of this evening, there are over 400,000 stories there – all about Harry Potter characters. This just blows my mind. I’ve looked at some of the stories he’s read, and frequently look over his shoulder to check things out, and we’ve had conversations about the themes and propriety of those stories on several occasions. (This is an ongoing dialog which doesn’t have an endpoint.) This “landscape of available stories” has changed SO radically, SO fast, that I don’t think I’ve had time as a parent or educator to adequately reflect on, comprehend, and take action on what this should mean for our family or our society.

Catherine explains in the article why it matters GREATLY who gets to tell the stories we read, hear and watch, and why it’s critical we exert intentional decision making over the stories we choose to consume. She opines:

That [the lack of female writers and directors in Hollywood] dramatically shapes the stories 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 the world’s brains and brainpower. That is one reason why I study stories and why I love this particular story and, Catherine, why I think it’s so great that you’ve reinvented this story in this way. You’ve reinvented this story in a way that I highly doubt a man would have. The versions of this story that have been told by men are typically very, very different, and why not? Why would that be surprising? But the versions of this story that the entire world knows best are versions that have been told by men, and the social lessons of those stories are very precise and very clear. They are hugely about obedience and chastity, and the popular interpretation is: Don’t speak to strangers.

These ideas juxtapose personally for me today with the thoughts Michael Wesch shared this week at the Heartland eLearning Conference in Oklahoma, both in his keynote and his breakout session, “The Visions of Students Today.” Michael talked about the vital role media plays in transmediating between people and ideas. My son’s brain is being shaped right now by the words he reads on his iPhone from the Fan Fiction website, and it’s vital we have ongoing conversations about that. On the one hand, it’s fantastic we have such an amazing opportunity to access voices which in previous millennia wouldn’t have had access or permission to publish for a global audience. Now, no one’s permission is required. The tools of publication are readily available for many on the affluent side of the digital divide. On the other hand, this is a challenging environment for us as human beings, seeking to define our identities and construct meaning for our lives in an ocean of choices. Michael Wesch, as a cultural anthropologist, really got me thinking more about meaning making and digital stories in his presentations yesterday.

I’ve had an idea (call it a “slow hunch,” to use the parlance of Steven Johnson) that Storychasers has a role to play in the identity formation of teenagers in our communities today. Not everyone is going to be an athlete, a cheerleader, or in the band. Even if you DO participate in those activities and shroud yourself in any of the available identities in the 21st century middle school or high school, there is SO MUCH room for creative choicemaking in today’s identity landscape. The choices which are available to youth today are not only amplified by the broadcasting of mainstream media, they are also potentially amplified by the narrowcasting of social media and YouTube. The potential volume of diverse voices today in this leveled landscape for publishing is astounding to contemplate.

Stories matter. Are you empowering students as well as teachers in your community to become “fully media literate” as effective media PRODUCERS? As you consider that answer, consider hosting and/or attending a Storychasers workshop. We all need to learn as well as practice new ways to “talk with media.”

Little Red Riding Hood - A Coke for a new friendphoto © 2008 Evan Bench | more info (via: Wylio)

If you enjoyed this post and found it useful, subscribe to Wes’ free newsletter. Check out Wes’ video tutorial library, “Playing with Media.” Information about more ways to learn with Dr. Wesley Fryer are available on

On this day..



, ,