Sunday, March 13, 2011

'Red Riding Hood' Gets it Right About the Guys

Spoiler alert: don't read this if you plan to see the film -- trust me, I give away the ending.

The Red Riding Hood fairy tale has been dissected to death by feminists for decades, and it is widely accepted among that crowd that this harmless little fable is a byproduct of a misogynistic literary tradition that reinforces male values.

That, of course, is akin to looking at the world through a fun-house mirror because Little Red Riding Hood is imbued not with misogyny but with misandry. In the traditional telling of the tale, males are of two types: predators, like the wolf, who need to be vanquished (as in "all men are rapists"), and gallant and 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, the men who are worthy of surviving are merely supporting players to the female stars, caricatures with whom the audience isn't supposed to empathize.

In other words, aside from over-representing the "bad" males, it's true to life.

Hollywood's latest incarnation of this tired tale, which opened last Friday to poor reviews and dismal box office, is a love triangle involving "Red" and two young suitors.  Aside from Gary Oldman's charismatic turn as a werewolf hunting priest, this film is of little interest to anyone who realizes that "Twilight" should never be mentioned in the same sentence as "Citizen Kane" and "Lawrence of Arabia."

But it does get it right about the guys.  "Red's" two young suitors are typical young men.  They are loyal, brave, and chivalrous to the heroine even beyond the point that reason suggests they should be. They come to her rescue after she has wrongly accused them of being the wolf, and even after she has rejected one of them and stabbed the other. 

And as in the real world, a young man's worthiness to marry is generally believed to be tied directly to his prowess as breadwinner.

The film mercifully stays clear of using the wolf as a metaphor for male sexual predation.  ("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.")  In fact, I thought we were really on to something when Gary Oldman declares that the wolf might, in fact, be a woman. Alas, it turns out the wolf is "Red's" father.  Oh, well, can't have it all.

At the end, when one of Red's suitors (the one she lusts for) helps to kill the wolf, he is bitten in the process. This means he will turn into a wolf several times a month.  He leaves Red until he learns how to control his wolf-ly urges. The final shot before the credits shows the wolf (the bitten young suitor) returning, and Red lustfully eying him up.

And that's something else true to life: girls lusting after the bad boys.