The fairy tales depict dissatisfied characters, whose individual potential and capabilities are limited under specific gender categories and societal hegemony. Thus, the characters, thus, rebel against the conventions, through gender subversion, and countering the hegemony forces. Thus, the paper is built on the theoretical frameworks of gender subversion, by Judith Butler (1990) and counter-hegemony by Antonio Gramsci (1971). The qualitative research thematically analyzed the character of Alex Bailey from, The Enchantress Returns by Chris Colfer (2013). The findings revealed that subverting gender gives confidence at the personal level, to counter-hegemonic forms at the social level. The findings also revealed that Alex was criticized, tormented, and discouraged for the subversion of the gender rules and norms, but, she encountered the prevailing hegemony and transformed at the societal level. The transformations are not necessarily massive, but, are sufficient enough to affect Alex and her actions.
Gender Subversion, Counter Ehegemony, Fairy Tale, Personal and Social Disruption
In the realm of identities, gender and subjectivities, there is a dearth of knowledge about the complex processes of identity and gender construction. The process involves identification with and also a resistance against the subject situations located in societal set rules, standards and discourses. Set rules need to be (re)constructed at the identity level by countering and confronting the hegemony set up.
Butler’s (1990) performative subject focused on the formation of identity. Butler’s work offered the ideas of submission, mastery, along with subversion, thus, exploring the dynamics of a continuous process of gender subversion for identity construction and the connection between self and society. The study further extended and explored that the process of subversion, aided to develop a new identity for the self, which is further explicitly displayed in countering the set norms at the societal level by challenging the hegemony established order. The concepts of Gramsci (1971) further elaborated on the idea at the level of society, which does not always go unnoticed by society.
Gramsci (1971) suggested that a thinking individual, in action, was, “an organic intellectual” (p. 161-323), who emerged from suppressed groups. Unlike the status quo leaders, who clearly defined their roles by replacing the prevailing conceptions, these leaders boost the masses, by shaking, cleansing and performing dialogues. The counter hegemony questioned the current orthodox knowledge, displaces its coherent flaw and challenges the disorderly and incomplete comprehension of the dominant ideologues. The counter
agency hinted the political and social actions by bringing transformational changes. Gramsci’s know yourself, however, is not a return to the origins, but an understanding of how and which discourses have molded one’s individuality and identity.
The fairy tale retellings broke the conventional norms by subverting gender and countering various forms of hegemony. The characters display the same theme in their agency too. Thus, for the purpose, the present study endeavors to trace the depiction of gender subversion instances that would lead to the counter-hegemony examples in the character of Alex Bailey from The Enchantress Returns (2013) by building on dual theoretical framework, which are likely to complement each other by extending the comprehension level of the character’s transformation from personal to societal, or from implicit to explicit level.
Gender is the identity assigned to a person by society. These identities seem to envelop the entire person, by disabling,
monitoring and pre-setting the thought and action process (Asal, 2019). Nayak and Suchland (2006) explain that gender norms produced violence, through acts and practices that target a person or a group, also disciplining marginalized groups or seeming threats to leading political structures and actions. Gender violence was a contested concept that represented particular performs and experiences.
In this sense, the hegemonic actors, who were the political elites and honored activists, disabled criticism through feign neutrality, naturalism or ubiquity and shape practices and norms of gender violence (Haggerty, 2009). However, that did not mean that domination which was imbricated in relational, indigenous, global, traditional, economic and social underlying forces, was challenged by chopping the oppressor’s head off. Smartly, gender violence achieved certain things by fixing specific meanings and performs (Mills, 2003).
Hence, the autonomy and choice stem not from the individual, but, conventions, which cited the established forms of knowledge (Lloyd, 1999). Still, Butler (1993) focused confrontation within reiteration and argued about the ceaseless repetition of the same, with a possibility of difference. Thus, the indeterminacy of the terms, which led to being, re-signification and re-appropriation, created new meanings. Resistance did not exist outside the established norms, which already were deprived of consent (Fleming & Sewell, 2002).
Butler’s idea of the performative subject is commonly utilized in gender studies. Her theoretical concepts have subverted and destabilized the steadied understandings and practices or the disparities of worldwide trade (Parker, 2001). Butler inspired the dynamics of identification and moral living (Kenny, 2010). Butler has been self-controversial (Salih, 2002), as her concepts offered a great debate on discourses and identities within set rules. Hence, subversion roots from submission gained through re-appropriation and re-signification of set rules. Thus, when the subject illusions to know everything, the inaccessibility creates anxiety. Mastery reproduced submission, thus, mastery and submission is the desire to become appropriate to others (Butler, 1997).
Although, Thomas (2009) pleaded that it is difficult to theorize the subjects choosing to identify with some set rules of gender and subvert others. Furthermore, the subjects resisted identities by decreasing the divergence of the subject. Mills (2003), thereby, declared that the reiteration and the failure, the misappropriation and re-signification, are the prerequisites for subversion. The established gender discourse was subverted by subjugation to intuition in knowledge creation.
However, this subversion of the norms provided a threat to the social existence and gender rule setting. But, the subversion of the omnipotence of the leader was evitable. Nevertheless, subversion of the flawless discourse by still valuing the earlier ways denies subjugation. Clegg et al. (2013) declared that the socially aware rule setters of gender roles, with ethical wisdom, understand rules culturally and in a political context and practice it too. Though the dominance of traditional discourses of gender persists dominant conceptions, anxiety, uncertainty, and inability lead to consideration of broader social and societal issues.
Hegemony is consent and order for social control. Hegemony refined analyses of control and supremacy, the concept of counter-hegemony continued to be vague, unclear and underspecified. The resistance was left as an imaginary lamb to the slaughter (Chalcraft & Noorani, 2016). Hegemony was a strategic coalition with other groups through compromise, conversion and education. Hegemony led to the construction from national-popular and spontaneous philosophy, collective personality, to a collective soul and will. Hegemony, therefore, is not brainwashing, implementing ruling ideas, false consciousness and ideological perplexity. Instead, it is the ability of a central class to be expressive to its discourse about the ideological elements typical of social creation.
Counter hegemony is the ideological fight, carried out by organic intellectuals through a process of transformation, modification, erosion, and re-articulation of prevailing ideological components. Hegemony was exposed by the new historical phase of proletarian hegemony, exposing the differentiation and change of the old ideologies. The counter-hegemony altered the subordinate and subsidiary, or incidental, into principal, a new philosophy and idea (Carter, 2013). Henceforth, counter-hegemony was a gradual criticism, a strategy of pursuing power through a cultural work, a reform, displacement and re-articulation of conceptual elements by creating a new collective will (Chalcraft & Noorani, 2016).
In the post-structural era, Laclau and Mouffe (2001) elucidated hegemony as the terrain and divide between pre-modern fixed, certain, genuine social hierarchal societies, and modern societies, with fluid social identities, subjected to constant hegemonic articulation to gain social power. Hegemony, Mitchell (1990) pleaded, concerned a non-violent form of control which is practiced through main cultural establishments and social actions.
Additionally, Scott (1990) explicated that counter-hegemonic generated progressive change while strengthening the unequal relations. Furthermore, the truth is that these weapons are available to the powerful than to the weak. However, the veiled off-stage transcriptions, outside of the stare of power, can suggest the extent of the subordinate group’s penetration to demystify the powerful notions. Counter hegemony blends of force, inequity and consent towards the production of common sense and values and was not a simple exposure of evil. In this regard, Persaud (as cited in Chalcraft & Noorani, 2016), argued that counter-hegemony neither consists of a single, united set of actions, nor a strategy directed at transformations occurring simultaneously.
Gender Subversion Amalgamation into Counter Hegemony
The counter-hegemony movements are a variety of meanings, with collective identities that are only products of continuing actions in everyday life. Actually, new social movements never challenge political power, rather, than adopting the state-centered quest for power. In uncovering power, movements symbolically challenge and overturn the leading cultural standards (Dixon, 2014).
The world had been a place of multiple social struggles, where identities were unfixed, with no essential link amid struggles and any unity amid struggles was constructed through, what Laclau and Mouffe (2001) term as hegemonic articulation. They suggested that this articulation was built by separate struggles, exercising their equivalent effects in society. However, Dixon (2014) noted that the rebellion and subversive lacked deep thinking about fighting capitalism.
Thus, many contemporary fractional, disjointed, localized guerrilla warfare and nomadic combats subverted the hegemonic discourses that claimed to bear subservience, by challenging the codes and claiming a deliverance from domination. From this perspective, the social movements from above and below indulged in struggles and develop the social organization of human requirements and capabilities (Cox & Nilsen, 2014). Alfred (2009), however, observed that the postmodern majestic conditions erase oppression as no longer constituted by military occupations, but, in a union of politics, psychology and culture. The subversion and a counter-hegemonic war of position, needed a political interaction of goals in the domains of oppositional culture, like, “short term gains”, and long-term disarticulation of hegemony (Carroll & Ratner, 1994, p. 14). Thus, it could be brought forward that resistance, counter and subversion, re-created the association between gender, violence and hegemony (Hodgson, 2005). Accordingly, resistance, counter and subversive movements oversight thorough interrogation of power, by leaving power relations undisturbed even while addressing gender violence. Consequently, resistance turned into saving one’s own aggressive link to the Other.
The Fairy Tale
The fairy tale dealt with collective difficulties, migratory authority, the dynamic power, that changes the tale from the public to private. Zipes (2012) attributed the fairy tale qualities, which are partially identified, by a fascination that linked it to the mankind history by configuration of it as a suggestive, metaphorical instrument, narrating a single-story, i.e. the flow of life, to urge the listener or the reader, not imitating the described events, but a practice of alienation from the agreed information. Thus, the happenings are expressed by the humans in a story, shaping the life and identities within a narrative edifice. “Fairy tales are sacred to the pleasure principle”, reminded Carter (1991, p. 11), while conveying occasionally with extreme loyalty, the lives of the poor from the past. She noted that the fairy tales depicted specific gender forms too. Thus, stability and transformation, organization and matters, are unchanged over time, and continuously contaminated by other genres (Barsotti, 2015).
The Synopsis of the Selected Text
The Enchantress Returns by Colfer (2013) presents the war of two worlds with a similar enemy, the Enchantress. Thus, the twins Alex and Conner, join the Fairyland forces to save the magic and human world from the clutches of the Enchantress.
This discussion finally led to the formulate of the research questions as follows: What is gender subversion at a personal level in Alex’s character in The Enchantress Returns? And, how does gender subversion link to achieve counter-hegemony by Alex in The Enchantress Returns?
This research was theoretically grounded on the notion of gender subversion, particularly, the concept of performance, by Judith Butler (1999) and counter-hegemony by Antonio Gramsci (1971). The qualitative research thematically analyzed the character of Alex Bailey from, The Enchantress Returns by Chris Colfer (2013).
Butler’s Stance in Gender Subversion
Butler, in Gender Trouble (1990), critiques the concept that gender is passive and constructed in a personiﬁed patriarchal
system which regulates the subject itself. The mechanism of gender construction stayed unquestioned. Thus, gender was the passive body, and the subject subjected. Butler questioned personal agency in gender reproduction (1990) and rejected the system by re-introducing individual choice with the philosophical concepts of becoming and freedom.
The sex, historically and culturally, was gender. Actually, gender is a scheme, an ability, and a corporeal style (Butler, 1990). Gender was ruled by prohibitions, agreements, laws, horror, humiliation, and penalty, with no freedom to choose. The choice had to be done against oneself. But, the cultural taboo and constraint occur with some contingency, of option, of unparalleled cultural confusion, destroying the delusion that gender restraint is a natural order (Butler, 1990). In Gender Trouble (1990), Butler suggested that the sexed body was the natural body, and gender was an imposition upon the body, restricting its possibilities and potentials, to the will of hegemony order.
Gramsci’s Counter Hegemony
Gramsci (1971) focused on a materialistic role played by the governing, or hegemonic, discourse and power relations within the social context and also on individual and the subaltern groups. The marginal, the territory, the everyday life of the disadvantaged and ignorant, the majority of humankind turns the center, the political world to revolve around. Gramsci focused on the role that culture and traditional intellectuals played in the hegemony and develops his theory of the organic intellectual as resistance to hegemony. The cultural apparatus had been a dominant tool to create the consensus of the principal class to carry out its politics from a status of power. Thus, the intellectuals could transform and rearticulate the existing structures.
Gramsci (1971) saw the human being as a possible tool of change in cultural hegemony and believed that there is not a pre-constructed, straightforward and unalterable definition of identity, and one not only asks what is a man, but what he can become. Thus to control his own destiny means he could build himself and his own life. Thus, the man was a process of his own actions and interaction. Gramsci (1971) referred to an ideological apparatus to determines individuality and the probability that the subject and the collectivity had to transform and the conditions shaped by the main discourse and the prevailing class.
Alex had been missing the fairy world and her grandmother. She often dreamt of being into the forest and actually seeing her grandmother. She felt different when she woke up dreaming the same, one day. The gender subversion occurred when she felt she was being watched. Though, Butler (1990) suggested that nonconformity with the norms does not inevitably involve subversion, as norms rely on anomalies for their constant being. Thus, challenging the norm is under discussion with relation to the norm. Butler (1990), however, argued that norms can limit and enable what humans are capable of. In, this relevancy, Alex was determined to swear she saw grandmother sitting across her, and she had to subvert her demotivation and not to look helpless, weak. The fragmented sense of self and insignificance, torn her apart. However, she could not counter the situation as she was confused about the truth of the experience. Though, she knew, that the authority of her grandmother enabled her to practice hegemony on Alex, like even in just by watching Alex in secrecy, though, Alex was yet no match to counter or prove that she was under surveillance. Alex’s situation is well depicted by Gramsci (1971) as he elucidates how hegemony focuses the interests of a few signs of progress in the name of endorsing, “the common good” (p. 12). All the procedures are taken to support coercive power, forcefully and lawfully impose discipline for the purpose. In the case of Alex, the protections and measures taken by Grandma for the family’s good were actually executed without their content and thus, seemed clandestine and torturous. Although, understanding the reality, Alex knew, that for time being, she had to give in to her grandma.
Next, Alex pondered over her grandmother’s absence. She had desired a “dual life of being human and part fairy” (Colfer, 2013, p. 23), imagining her holidays at fairyland. She expected a gender subversion with the commencement of a magical life. Her gender subverted with the growing desolation growing each day as she couldn’t turn back, besides a normal life was out of the question as she was not normal (p. 25). She could not counter the hegemonial verdict of grandmother. Also, there was no chance of breaking into the fairy world. The only type of counter-hegemony was that she felt angry at her grandmother (p. 24). She did not succeed to challenge hegemony remarks of girls around making fun of her, instead, she decided to keep the thoughts to herself (p. 26). The situation is described as sometimes the subject assertively defines the circumstances by using quantified and the declarative statements by uplifting one’s own knowledge over others and dismissing their understandings, thus, demonstrating leadership and identity of a heroic leader.
After the disappearance of their mother, the twins were captivated in their own house. The twins subverted gender as they had been sharing and seconding each other’s thoughts. However, on Conner’s asking if Alex could counter the hegemony of fairyland and grandma by creating a portal, as fairy god mother’s hegemony was already countered because nobody knew where their mother was. Alex subverted her gender, and ignoring the reality, she in her heart, believed that she had the power to turn on yet another portal. She agreed with her brother that somebody else had already countered the hegemony of grandmother by using a portal. Here, the leader uses the superior knowledge to survive on his/her own in producing the final norm but also in making others apply it, thereby, controlling his/her anxiety. By subverting gender, the identity is reproduced by making the required changes, fighting a personal battle to protect the application of the strategy. thus, against this backdrop, the leader’s identity is subverted by re-appropriating heroic leadership which admits other followers of the society as well-informed subjects, thus, a simultaneous example of submission and mastery.
Alex’s heart raced as the news broke that her mother was kidnapped by Ezmia, the evil Enchantress. The gender subversion determined her so much that nothing could stop her (Colfer, 2013, p. 112). Though the gender subversion provoked her into taking a daring step, but a little voice in her head told perhaps she would never be back home, but the subversion, again boosted her to counter the hegemony, as Alex, “wasn’t even that careful passing by the soldiers who were passed out at the table” (p. 111). She countered the hegemony of the gnome soldiers. The counter hegemony provoked her not to care what her grandmother wished, as she knew her destiny.
Alex fled from home, unescorted, in search of her mother. However, she subverted gender by shaking off the insecure thoughts and replacing them with thoughts of countering the hegemony of a dominant Enchantress. The situation could be explained with the view of Gramsci (1971) that the counter-hegemony functions after constructing links by laying on the side business with others. The subjugated get the chance to create counter-hegemony, by explaining fresh benefits and carrying hegemony into a disaster. It is ultimate for dominated to lead the supporters through negating their interests in favor of reliable leadership, thus, creating links and discussions with diverse forces.
The event was the dispersion of despair by Ezmia in the fairyland. Ezmia’s rage, subverted Alex’s gender and Alex countered the hegemony of people’s opinion around her who regard Ezmia, “more powerful” (Colfer, 2013, p. 160). Alex, however, thought Ezmia was misunderstood (p. 162). Next, came flood in Troblin territory and something had to be done to save the kingdom. Alex subverted gender and confronted the hegemony of Ezmia, and tried to save lives. Alex was admired by Jack as he placed his hand on her shoulder. Goldilocks added, “You saved our lives” and Trobella also showed her gratefulness. Now, it was Alex’s turn to counter the hegemony of Ezmia, “…if anyone could stop her, it would be another woman of both worlds with magic in her blood” (p. 439). She subverted gender by realizing that she had a burden to bear. She was prepared to counter-hegemony of the Enchantress. Alex subverted gender, and she fearlessly ran, deciding to counter-hegemony of Ezmia. She reflected to have a better chance and all her fear changed into, “the bravery” (p. 459).
The event was that Alex blew away in the blast from Ezmia. Alex subverted gender by understanding that she did not wish to kill Ezmia, rather, resolve the matter by tracing the source of Enchantress powers. She decided to counter-hegemony of Ezmia not by killing her, rather by taking away hate and anger, so she would be powerless (Colfer, 2013, p. 471). Thus, after finding a way to counter-hegemony of Ezmia, Alex excitedly jumped (p. 471).
Alex countered Ezmia’s hegemony by subverting gender and by telling her, “you’re just a brat…” (Colfer, 2013, p. 479). Alex used the emotional pedagogy, and sync Ezmia’s feeling with her own by using critical turn reflexivity. Ezmia’s pride broke (p. 481), which is, “the Enchantress’s most prized possession!” (p. 435). Alex proved to gain the identity of the intellect, which is based on the pursuit of personal glory, thus, achieved by a display of strategic progress in a noticeable modification in link to the past. Submission provided a possibility to a re-signify performance by admitting steadiness and the status quo.
The event was the final farewell of the group from the otherworld. Alex appeared not clad in, “her normal clothes” (Colfer, 2013, p. 514), but in a sparkled dress with a long crystal wand. Alex, subverted gender, knowing that this moment would be hard, but it would be this hard, she did not know. After a life of fragmented sense of self, she finally received the option of hope and with new enlightenment broke the gender stereotype. She revealed it with a change in her dress, speech and actions, which she demanded her family to accept and honor. Conner tried to counter-hegemony of Alex and tried the emotional pedagogy, but, it was useless. But, Alex, instead, countered the hegemony of Conner. Alex applied affective turn strategy which not only affected her but, also others and then she finally plunged into an ideational component, which is the hardest to accomplish as it indulges the real courage for a final call. Alex countered hegemony by not refraining from her decision to stay back.
The data analysis revealed that Butler’s concepts of mastery, submission, and subversion, explained identity construction and link with society. The analysis exposed that in accordance with Butler, the performative building of identity is a reiterative linguistic act, which (re)constructs the established discourse and the identity. As the actions of the character (here, it was Alex) re-constructed the person’s identity (Gregson & Rose, 2000). Thus, it is established that there is no doer who pre-exists the deed (Butler, 1990).
Additionally, the concept of counter-hegemony was the process of cultural, political, economic and social re-articulation. The data analysis revealed four forms of resistance, that are an absolute assault, manipulation, counter culture and clandestine subversion. The analysis depicted that manipulation or re-articulation occurred at a wider range. Alex is found to be using constant manipulation of the situations, which at times seems to be over entangled with impossibilities. This re-articulation does not challenge directly the hegemonic terms, to achieve a possibly essential re-configuration of hegemonic structures. This form of re-articulation did not strengthen the current leading sets. Thus, hegemony becomes a process, an open-ended construction, not a sudden achievement. The hegemonic forms are contingently strong. Even, countering the hegemony of her grandmother several times, Alex, in the end, submits to the authority of her grandma. But, the hegemony acts were incomplete, comparatively thick or thin, with flaws and cracks, connotations and uncontrollable assets. The concept was achieved in Alex’s defeating the apparent fixed and uncontrollable hegemony of the Enchantress. Hegemony was the unbalanced produce of an endless procedure of struggle, a war of position. These uncertainties and flaws are demoralized by intellectuals from subaltern groups. The analysis depicted counter-hegemony bringing a better society is not confirmed. The twins are planned to live apart, because of some lingering unseen danger in the fairyland, though apparently, the evil is defeated. Yet, the idea that hegemonic rule was based on oppression, does not mean to quit hope.
The findings also showed that counter-hegemony does not depend on the industrial proletariat, or bourgeoisie, the labor or the logic of equivalence. The counter-hegemonic processes are richer, endless and multiple. The analysis revealed, however, that the Gramscian war of position can transform cultural politics by using intellectual projects (in this case, Alex) for a line of action.
Thus, it could also finally be concluded that the writer is also an intellectual within society, forming counter-hegemonic discourses and struggling to alter the set notions of gender stability and possibilities of counter-hegemony, at the individual level too. Furthermore, with Butlerian and Gramsci’s thinking, the findings are intrinsically exposed to re-signification.
Fairy tale writing was an effective weapon to carry out resistance and social change. In the presentation of gendered identity, the issue turns difficult, enters the counter-hegemonic discourses, activates a crack and muddles the depiction of gender subverted subjectivity. The use of Gramscian and butler’s approach demonstrated hegemonic reality and contributed to describing a counter-hegemonic discourse, entering the paradoxes which existed in cultural hegemony and gender subversion.
The results of the study highlighted identity shift, (re)construction, gender subversion, and counter-hegemony. In the simultaneous process of submission, subversion and countering the socio-historical norms, the pathway moves across an individualistic leadership discourse or societal standards. It is elucidated how submission to rules is initially made to achieve an illusion of control, authority, and individual magnificence, consisting of conditions for making, following and adhering to rules. Secondly, subversion re-signified and re-appropriated terms. Though subversion and counter, threatens the being of norms, my study depicts the subtle nature of this subversion and counter. In all, the study enabled a better understanding of the persistence of dominant notions and relevant problems, while considering wider social and societal matters as part of standard and rule construction.
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