Thursday, July 28, 2016

Folklore Thursday: Farts, folktales, and feminism

Today is Folklore Thursday on social media! If you want to find out more, follow this link, or click on the #FolkloreThursday hashtag on Twitter! Hosted by @FolkloreThursday.

Today we talk about ancient tales about women farting.

This is not a joke, so much so that the folktale type I am talking about has its own number: ATU 1453**** (those are not four tiny farts, those are asterisks for a sub-type, thank you very much). It is commonly known as "The Flatulent Girl," but the type also has a fancy Latin name, Puella Pedens, which means the same, but sounds more scientific, because it's Latin.
This story exists in many traditions around the world, but in vastly different versions, and with vastly different morals. Some folklorists posit that it is of Eastern origin, because it exists in the Birbal tale cycle of India.
Whatever the case, it is worth talking about.

Here is the gist:

A man (or a party of men) arrives at a house to propose to a girl. While they are there, the girl lets out a fart, which absolutely scandalizes the guests, and they leave immediately. After this, the story can take two turns: One, "this is why women should never fart" - and Two, which is obviously why I am talking about this today.
In Option Two (several Hungarian versions), the mother is so embarrassed by her daughter's mistake that she bribes the men with a length of home-made linen to not tell anyone. When his daughter finds out that they are walking away with the linen that she made with hard work, she runs after them, takes it back, tells them off, and marches home. The "tells them off" part is especially entertaining, and it can take various forms, such as:

"You take your groom, I'll take my linen. And you can go find a house where nobody farts!"
or
"Guess what: I farted a lot more than this while I made an entire length of linen with my own hands!"
or
"I farted because my father's house has good food. Does yours?"

In one version, the men feel ashamed, admit that the girl is clever, and propose anyway. In another, the storyteller concludes "she had more brains than her mother." In the third, the "clever girl" never marries, but the story notes that she was unjustly judged for "one mistake."
All of these versions of the story have been collected from female storytellers, by the way.



While many versions of this tale type fall under your typical run-of-the-mill "women-policing" category, the ones mentioned above carry a very important feminist message: That there is a bias in people when they compare a woman's behavior (and bodily functions) to the worth of her work. "Real" women, according to society, don't fart, don't burp, don't sweat, don't grow hair, and bleed blue. Watching to make sure they adhere to these rules come before actually paying attention to what they are working on, what they are saying, or what their personality is like. It is so important that a girl's shoulders should be covered that she is sent home from an educational institution, placing "propriety" above knowledge (because clearly no one has seen a naked shoulder before). When women in the media are meticulously criticized for their looks and their etiquette instead of what they stand for, we have a problem.
Sure, accidentally having bodily functions in front of guests is not good etiquette - but neither does it make a woman unlovable, undesirable, or worthy of eternal damnation.

And it is definitely not worth losing a perfectly good length of linen.
(SCAdians, can I get an amen?)

12 comments:

  1. Wow, there really are folktales that cover every subject!

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  2. I have never heard of a folk tale about farting! Who knew?!

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    1. There are quite a few of them, but for a long time people were too "proper" to record them... or even tell them to the collectors :D

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  3. Tales like this are common in Asia as well.

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  4. This tale is not a variant. It was collected by Ibrahim Muhawi in the 1980's. The stories were published in Speak Bird, Speak Again.
    The text is online: http://publishing.cdlib.org/ucpressebooks/view?docId=ft4s2005r4&chunk.id=d0e13421&toc.depth=1&toc.id=d0e13146&brand=ucpress

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    1. Sorry, my name is Norman Perrin, storyteller and Keeper of the Four Winds Storytellers Library
      talesfromthefourwinds.com

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    2. Thank you for the information! :)

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  5. I don't think that the blue liquid in period commercials is an anti-feminist issue, because it is also used in commercials for diapers and deodorants for both me and women. It'spart of a larger issue in marketing that concerns both genders

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    1. Marketing issues that concern both genders are still feminist issues :)

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  6. I heard Motoko, a wonderful storyteller from Japan, tell the story from her culture. In her version, a new bride is so embarassed to fart in front of her inlaws that she holds it in for an extended period of time. That created no small discomfort and her mother-in-law noticed that "something was wrong." When the girl confessed to the problem, she was given permission to let it out! The force of the blast caused major destruction & the story continues to outline how this gave the girl great fame for being able to control & release at times that help to "save the day" and she becomes a local heroine. The story is hysterical, and rather than causing farting in the audience, I would say that non-stop laughing must have caused more than one problem with unintentional bladder release!

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    1. I linked her story in my Hungarian post too :) It is hilarious!

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