Growing up, I’m sure a lot of us remember some of the most popular fairy tales, fables and stories that we either read as books or watched as movies. They usually included a beautiful damsel in distress, a villain she needed rescuing from and a male suitor (preferably a charming one) to do the job. At the time, I didn’t realise how unrealistic the female characters were, but then again, so was a fire-breathing dragon and pumpkin that turned into a horse, and carriage to take you to the ball.
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland was one of the few stories to not follow the archetype of a fictional female protagonist, and I honestly believe the character of Alice doesn’t get the credit in which she deserves.
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland was a fairy tale written in 1865 by Lewis Carroll that follows the journey of a courageous young girl who falls down a rabbit hole in her dreams into an alternate reality, in which she must face numerous obstacles in order to get out on the other side in one piece. Instead of a man on a white horse, she has a disappearing Cheshire Cat (who honestly was not even that helpful); a Mad Hatter who technically wasted a lot of her time, and a hookah-smoking Caterpillar. The story is not one of a damsel who needs rescuing, but a rebellious girl following her own path, and if we compare her to the modern-day woman, I’m sure we could agree there is a bit of Alice inside all of us.
Written during the Victorian age where gender roles were very clearly defined, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland was quite ahead of its time, exploring the story of a girl with a strong character, who spoke her mind and followed her instincts no matter what the consequences may have been. Lewis Carroll describes her as “wildly curious, and with the eager enjoyment of life” as he tried to present a young girl who was not yet aware of society’s expectations of her as a woman. She did not allow other people’s initial perceptions and misconceptions of her define who she was, and in turn was able to overcome all of the obstacles she faced.
However, the fact that she could only enter this world in her dreams may have been Carroll’s way of depicting that, in reality, during the Victorian times, the idea of a young woman breaking all of these social norms and expectations was not attainable. If we explore the character of the Queen of Hearts, we can argue that this is what men believe would happen to a woman when put in the position of power, but fast forward to the present and you can see that we are collectively challenging these outdated gender roles.
No longer are we as women satisfied with society’s previous roles for us; staying at home and tending to the needs of our breadwinner husbands or trying to appease the male gaze that was once an internalised standard that we had to live up to. We aren’t looking for a man to save us, we are looking to be treated with the same respect as our male counterparts which has become an obstacle within itself. Despite how far we have come collectively on this journey, women are still underestimated and unappreciated, with women earning 80.5 cents to the dollar in comparison to a man in the same position in 2016.
We have a beauty standard nearly as unrealistic as a talking rabbit wearing a suit being forced upon young, impressionable women everywhere we look, with these challenges multiplying in size if you are a woman of colour such as myself. So, what would Alice do if she were around today? She would push on and fight.
Tim Walker’s vision to present an all-black adaptation of this story for the 2018 Calendar really spoke to me because, growing up, there were no fairy tales about black women, and indeed, very few about women of colour. We were not princesses or sleeping beauties or even damsels in distress -- we were invisible, so it was up to us to write our own stories and be our own Alices in a world which didn’t want us to see or recognise our own strength and beauty.
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is a refreshing perspective on the capabilities of a young woman who does not allow people’s misconceptions and expectations of her to stop her from uncovering her true potential. What was only accessible to her in her dreams, however, is our generation’s reality, with the likes of Malala, Marley Dias, Hilary Clinton, and so many others, redefining what it means to be a woman and our place in society.
In a world where women sometimes feel a sense of inequality, it is up to us to be our own Alice and create our own stories that will inspire others for generations to come.
By Leomie Anderson