Tuesday, November 23, 2010

'Little Red Riding Hood' is a misogynistic rape parable?

You do know, don't you, that Little Red Riding Hood, the classic fairy tale dating from the 14th century or more likely earlier, has "maleness" as its reference point and that it reinforces "male values"?  I mean, you were aware of that, right?

That view, which is as ludicrously simplistic as it is thoroughly unhelpful, has long been in vogue among certain feminist scholars.

Which purported male values does the beloved fable relate?  Hold onto something before you read this one: "Red Riding Hood," declared Susan Brownmiller in her loopy, screeching attack on maleness, Against Our Will: Men, Women, and Rape (1975), "is a parable of rape."

I'll pause while you rub your eyes and read that again.  Rape. Of course.

But wait, Ms. Brownmiller isn't finished: "There are frightening male figures abroad in the woods -- we call them wolves, among other names -- and females are helpless before them. Better stick close to the path, better not be adventurous. If you are lucky, a good, friendly male may be able to save you from certain disaster. . . . . In the fairy tale code book, Jack may kill giants but Little Red Riding Hood must look to a kindly huntsman for protection. Those who doubt that the tale of Red Riding Hood contains this subliminal message should consider how well Peter fared when he met his wolf, or even better, the survival tactics of the Three Little (male) Pigs. Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf? Not they." Against Our Will: Men, Women, and Rape, 309-310.

So firmly entrenched is the view that this little fairy tale is a byproduct of a misogynistic literary tradition that progressives have taken it upon themselves to rewrite it in order to correct its supposed errors: "In the second half of the twentieth century, a proliferation of revisions of 'Little Red Riding Hood' turned the tale around to teach a new lesson. Storytellers from the women's movement and beyond reclaimed the heroine and her grandmother from male-dominated literary tradition, recasting the women as brave and resourceful, turning Red Riding Hood into the physical or sexual aggressor, and questioning the machismo of the wolf." Catherine Orenstein, Little Red Riding Hood Uncloaked: Sex, Morality, and the Evolution of a Fairy Tale (2003).

Insisting that this fairy tale is misogynistic and reinforces male values is, of course, akin to looking at the world through a fun-house mirror.  If we fairly examine Little Red Riding Hood, we'd more likely discover that it is imbued not with misogyny but with misandry, because it taps into the worst stereotypes about males. 

The tale presents two male characters, the predatory wolf and the hunter/woodcutter who rescues Little Red Riding Hood and her grandmother. Why, exactly, must the predator in the tale be presented as male? With all due respect to Susan Brownmiller, in the traditional telling of the story, the wolf only wanted to eat the little girl and her grandmother, not mate with them. Female wolves eat, too, you know.  Yet male he is. And sometimes decidedly so. In the original Broadway run and in many subsequent productions of Stephen Sondheim's celebrated twisting of the fairy tale canon "Into the Woods," the Red Riding Hood wolf sports clearly discernible male genitalia (pictured above). Yep.  Because what better way to signal that someone is a predator than to show his dick?

In the Red Riding Hood world, males are of two types: predators, like the wolf, who need to be vanquished (as in "all men are rapists"), and gallant but disposable knights whose primary mission in life is to protect woman and girls from the bad men (think "only men can stop rape"). In this worldview, men who are worthy of surviving are merely supporting players to the female stars, caricatures with whom the audience isn't supposed to empathize.

With "male values" like that, who needs enemies?

Well, ladies and gentlemen, it is time for us to rewrite this venerable fairy tale the right way -- to update it so that it better reflects reality:

Little Red Riding Hood, a sophomore at a large, progressive university who lived off campus, was frequently warned by her grandparents, who raised her, to stay away from fraternity parties where alcohol was served.  The girl obligingly told the old couple what they wanted to hear, and they trusted her. And every weekend she ventured out to one or more frat parties where she got drunk, flirted, and engaged in sex play with one frat boy or another. 

At one of those parties, she met a new boy, the Wolf, and after teasing him and plying him with alcohol, she invited him back to her apartment since her roommate was away. There, they engaged in multiple rounds of consensual sex. 

The next morning, the young couple drowsily slumbered and didn't hear knocking on the front door. It was Little Red Riding Hood's grandparents, who'd been trying to call her for hours to no avail. Worried that something was wrong, they drove out to her apartment.  When no one answered the door, they used their own key to let themselves in.  Immediately, they saw Little Red's clothes strewn about the floor in the hall and they dreaded that she was in danger. They quietly slinked to her bedroom and slowly opened the door.

Little Red awakened, and sprung up in bed, covering her breasts with her arms.  The grandparents were shocked to see a naked boy lying next to her, and Little Red knew immediately that this scene would be completely unacceptable to the old couple.

"He raped me!" Little Red gasped.

The grandfather, filled with an uncontrollable rage, whipped out his .357 Magnum and, with one shot, killed the boy.

The Wolf was identified as a rapist in the next day's newspaper.  Little Red was simply called "the victim."  Her unnamed grandfather was lauded as a hero.  Parents protested the lax security on campus, and progressive students and professors protested the culture of hypermasculinity that breeds such incidents.  In the wake of the rape of Little Red, the university decreed that all incoming freshman males would be required to participate in sexual assault seminars, where they would learn how to better treat women.