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Little Red Riding Hood: A History of Sex, Violence, and Hegemonic Moralism and the Contemporary Feminist Makeover

colloquium project
by

Bridget Wealand

on 27 April 2011

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Transcript of Little Red Riding Hood: A History of Sex, Violence, and Hegemonic Moralism and the Contemporary Feminist Makeover

Little Red Riding Hood: A History of Sex, Violence, and Hegemonic Moralism and the Contemporary Feminist Makeover Like many stories, Little Red Riding Hood started as an oral tale
centuries before Charles Perrault or the Brothers Grimm ever published a single fairy tale. The original folk tale is now simply known as
"The Story of Grandmother." This story became
the cornerstone of well-known renditions published
by Charles Perrault and the Grimm Brothers. How did the oral tale differ from the classical
versions of Perrault and the Grimms? IN GENERAL:
- It was pagan in tone
- It was technically a folk tale rather than a fairy tale
- It was not created with children in mind as the "target audience"
- Its primary goal was to entertain, rather than instill morals OTHER NOTABLE DIFFERENCES:
- The girl is not known as Little Red Riding Hood/no mention of a red hood or cap at all
- The path of needles and the path of pins
- The eating of the grandmother's flesh and blood
- The strip-tease (not seen in the Grimms' version)
- The girl's ability to save herself
Charles Perrault published his own version of the
oral tale in 1697 and introduced the world to
"Le Petit Chaperon Rouge," or, "Little Red Riding Hood." Perrault's version is a much cleaner, more cautionary
tale than that of the oral version. Pagan themes seem to disappear and much of the violence and sexual nuance was replaced with popular ideologies of the time. So why did Perrault take all the good stuff out? HEGEMONY! There was a steadily rising Christian influence on daily life and the mannerismswithin the French culture.
Perrault detested all things Pagan and sought to purge the story of any Pagan themes while replacing them with Christian ones
Due to the Nepoleonic Wars, the supremecy of French culture was actually threatened
Due to the high mortality rate, the vulnerability of children was brought to society's attention and authors started writing stories specifically geared towards children
Much of Perrault's revisons were to appease the sensibilities of the members of the French court society and the bourgeoisie Perrault took these conditions into consideration and found a perfect opportunity to make a profit, gain recognition in the French court, and most importantly, condition young children using fairy tales as a mass education device for teaching children to adhere to the bourgeoisie hegemony. How does Perrault's version
differ from the original? One of the world's most famous fashion accessories is introduced~the red hood It is no accident that Perrault chose the color red, as it is often symbolic of violent, sexual emotion. I, and many critics, argue that this is symbolic of LRRH's sexual agency. Little Red Riding Hood gives the wolf precise directions to Grandmother's house She is not given the opportunity to be saved or save herself Many critics argue that the reason she does
this is due to a sort of Oedipus complex in a desire
to overcome premature sexual feelings. LRRH feels that by removing a more experienced competitor, she can "win out" in sex. In a nutshell, she is really telling the wolf to go find a more mature woman who can psychologically deal with feelings of sexual arousal. At the story's end, the wolf "throws himself" onto LRRH
and consumes her. This is obviously a rape parable, so
in ending the story this way, Perrault is suggesting that
she has let herself become defiled. She has given into sensual temptations and her immortal soul is beyond
rescuing. She has died as the little girl she was before
being ravaged by the wolf. Explicit moral "From this story one learns that children,
Especially young girls,
Pretty, well-bred, and genteel,
Are wrong to listen to just anyone,
And it's not at all strange,
If a wolf ends up eating them.
I say a wolf, but not all wolves
Are exactly the same.
Some are perfectly charming,
Not loud, brutal, or angry,
But tame, pleasant, and gentle,
Following young ladies
Right into their homes, into their chambers,
But watch out if you haven't learned that tame wolves
Are the most dangerous of all. The Brothers Grimm published the German "Rotkäppchen," or "Little Red Cap," in 1812. Jakob and Wilhelm Grimm had much purer motives
than Perrault when conceptualizing their version - they wanted
to preserve German culture and tradition through collecting
folk tales from peasants of the German countryside. Unfortunately, they
too readily assumed that the tales they heard were authentic oral traditions
when, in fact, they were just spin-offs of "Le Petit Chaperon Rouge" retold
by various women of the middle class. *From this date onward, all English fairy tales were a combination or Perrault and the Grimms *One source of the Grimms' was even
a retired soldier who told the brothers stories
in exchange for their old clothes! The Grimms also sought to fight increasingly overpowering
French influence that was caused by the Napoleonic Wars
and such things as The Confederation of the Rhine. They also
wanted to combat the effects of growing industry and
urbanization, which threatened the German storytelling tradition. Although their goal was to promote German nationalism,
the Grimms couldn't help but include their own morals and ideologies. They did their best to remove all traces
of sexuality, as it made them uncomfortable. However,
they did NOT remove the violence. Like most fairy tales, "Little Red Cap" was part of a socialization process (for girls in particular) stressing:
obedience
hard work
passivity
self-sacrifice Differences between the Grimm Brothers' version
and the version of Perrault: There is no path of needles or pins
The Grimms take care to point out that
Little Red Cap did not purposely dilly-dally She feels anxiety when entering her grandmother's house
She does not get into bed with the wolf
She and Granny are saved by a huntsman There is a "Part Two" *This eliminates any Oepidal issues that arise
in Perrault's version because, though Little Red Cap does
tell the wolf where Granny lives, she ACCIDENTALLY
becomes distracted by the flowers in the forrest, whereas
Little Red Riding Hood chooses to enjoy herself Since there is no father figure, the huntsman is
representative of such a figure. In cutting Little
Red Cap out of the wolf's belly, it becomes a
metaphorical rebirth for her. Though she still
had to be saved by a man, at least the Grimms
gave our heroine the opportunity to "redeem"
herself through being born again as a wiser,
more cautious female. In an attempt to combat the Patriarchal expectations of
society, Angela Carter wrote The Bloody Chamber in 1979. In it, she has created a series of three stories known as the wolf trilogy which include:
"The Werewolf"
"The Company of Wolves"
"Wolf-Alice" These narratives are unique because they are
written from a contemporary, feminist perspective "The Company of Wolves" bears the greatest resemblance
to "Little Red Riding Hood," but only at first glance. Carter uses
quasi-pornographic images to illustrate the sexualitiy of Red
Riding Hood. In using graphic language, she eroticizes the tale
while also giving it a feminist twist. In the opening section, Carter warns the reader
that the wolf figure is a rapacious werewolf. She says: "The wolf is carnivore incarnate and he's as
cunning as he is ferocious; once he's had a
taste of flesh then nothing else will do." Throughout the story, Carter toys with the idea of "flesh
vs. "meat." She explains in her own words that "In the English
language, we make a fine distinction between flesh, which is
usually alive and, typically, human; and meat, which is dead,
inert, animal and intended for consuption." When Carter tells us that once the wolf has had "flesh" that nothing else will suffice, she is really talking about the wolf's ravenous appetite for sex. The next thing Carter does differently is give a detailed, semi-pornographic account of Red Riding Hood's physical characteristics. Red Riding Hood is described as "so pretty and the youngest of her family, a little late-comer, had been indulged by her mother and the grandmother who'd knitted her the red shawl that, today, has the ominous if brilliant look of blood on snow. Her breasts have just begun to swell; her hair is like lint, so fair it hardly makes a shadow on her pale forehead; her cheeks are an emblematic scarlet and white and she has just started a woman's bleeding." Though graphic, Carter chose her words very carefully. Her
description of Red Riding Hood makes it apparent that she is
not prepubescent - she is a sexually mature young woman. This makes it "ok" for Red Riding Hood to engage in sexual activity. Carter
also gives her the traits of a Lolita, a common male sexual fantasy. Carter also takes care to point out, quite explicitly, that the girl's
hymen has not yet been broken. Her virginity is still in tact, yet she
is in charge of her own sexual agency. The fact that she is is a virgin
plays up her childlike desirability. While traveling through the woods to Grandmother's house,
Red Riding Hood meets a young man who is too much a
"fine fellow" for her to have any qualms about conversing with
him. Again, she gives explicit directions to her grandmother's dwelling
and agrees to a wager purposed by the young man. This contributes to the previous Oedipal argument
in which Red Riding Hood has a desire to "win out"
over her grandmother. However, instead of sending
wolf to her grandmother to deal with sexual feelings
that she can't handle, she is sending him knowing full
well that she WILL be getting physical with him, as she
has already decided to grant him a kiss. In this way, she wants to replace her grandmother as a sexually
mature female. In the mean time, the "fine fellow arrives
at Granny's house and reverts back to his
wolf stage. Carter gives another pornographic account by describing the wolf's physicality. She mentions his trail of body hair on his torso, his dark nipples that have the appearance of dark, poisonous fruits and "his genitals, huge. Ah! huge." The wolf then attacks Grandmother, which
is described like more of a rape scene than
a canibalistic one. He tells her, "now call on Christ and his mother and all the angels
in heaven to protect ou but it won't do you any good."
Carter wanted to remove undertones of Christianity in order to
give the story a more contemporary, unbiased spin. Upon Red Riding Hood's arrivial, she notices some peculiar things. Mainly,
that the Bible, which her grandmother usually reads quite fervently, is closed
on the table. Again, this was an attempt by Carter to remove Christian nuance
from the tale. If this was a classical fairy tale, Red Riding Hood would have to
feel shame or disgust at the thought of creeping willingly into bed with a man.
Carter explains, "take the Judaeo-Christian heritage of shame disgust and morality thatstand between the initial urge and the first attainment of this most elementary
assertion of the self and it's a wonder anyone in this culture ever learns to
fuck at all." Red Riding Hood then begins her striptease and incinerates her clothing
of her own volition. This relates to "The Werewolf." By burning her clothes, she has chosen to remain a sexual being. Once her virginity is
gone, there is no getting it back - but Red is cool with that. After she slinks into bed with the wolf, Red Riding Hood goes through
the typical list of odd physical characteristics that Granny shouldn't have.
When the wolf tells her that his teeth are "all the better" to eat her with: "The girl burst out laughing; she knew she was nobody's meat.
She laughed at him full in the face, she ripped off his shirt for him
and flung it into the fire, in the firey wake of her own discarded
clothing." Again, Carter toys with the notion of flesh vs. meat. Red
Riding Hood is telling us that she is NOT the one being
taken advantage of. In fact, it is she that is ravaging the wolf.
Afterwards, she sleeps "between the paws of the tender wolf."
The word "tender" suggests that maybe, he is caring or gentle.
On the other hand, the word "tender" often refers to cuts of meat.
The wolf has now become the victim the the girl refused to be. Red Riding Hood's sexual agency has been restored. Though some argue that this story only
conforms to prescibed patriarchal gender ideals,
it does just the opposite. Carter wrote this narrative in a way that not only restored female sexual agency, but also, has decided what's erotic and what's not, giving us an eroticized tale that is uniquely female. She dismantles the patriarchal perseption of female sexuality. ThE EnD
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