This is a 20-year-old film student's perspective on the fairy and folk tales read in my Sophomore Interdisciplinary Studies class. I'm not shy and I don't hold back opinions--whether good or bad I'm always honest!

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Little Red Riding Hoodie


When I first saw this cartoon, I laughed for about five minutes...and then I stopped and thought about what the cartoonist is actually saying. And I stopped laughing, because that isn't even a little bit funny.

I found this cartoon on a Yahoo Images search, which linked to a cartoon analysis blog which I hoped would tell me the name of the cartoonist, but it didn't. So I don't know the name of the cartoonist, but I get their point loud and clear: Anyone who claims that murdering someone based on your definition of "suspicious" behavior is dead wrong. The real criminal of that situation is, obviously, the murderer.

I love that he chose Little Red Riding Hood as the analogy for this cartoon, because it works perfectly: it's the situation of a naive, unsuspecting person getting attacked by someone who clearly knows better, but chooses to do the wrong thing anyway, just because he can. The wolf in both the tale and the cartoon knows that Little Red has done virtually nothing wrong, but he has the ability--both physically and mentally--to overpower her, and so he does. In the cartoon, the wolf's claim that Little Red's "suspicious" behavior justifies his decision to kill her mirrors the argument of George Zimmerman, the man who killed teenager Trayvon Martin for allegedly "wearing a hoodie and behaving suspiciously."

That's the social aspect of this cartoon, the commentary on the Trayvon Martin case. But what jumped out at me, especially in light of the discussion I mentioned in class (the conversation in which I tried to defend my position of "Little Red Riding Hood" being a metaphor for rape and seduction of young girls to my astonished friends), is how similar this argument is to the one actually used by rapists: she was asking for it.

It reminded me strongly of another cartoon, one that I'd seen on Tumblr almost a year ago:

This cartoon is pointing out that in our country (and, sadly, in many others as well, though the cartoon doesn't draw attention to that), victim blaming is a huge issue. A woman is raped walking home? Hey, it's her fault for walking alone at night--never mind that she didn't ask the rapist to attack her, he chose to attack her! A black teenager is shot crossing through the neighborhood at night? It's his fault for wearing baggy clothing...and for belonging to a race that's stereotyped as criminals, never mind that he didn't ask to be born that way! A gay teen kills himself after endless days of bullying? It's his fault for coming out! And those are just the examples the cartoon points out; I could think of plenty more, but for the sake of staying on-topic, I won't.

If Little Red were real and alive today, she might call the police after encountering the wolf instead of waiting on the huntsman. Instead of watching the wolf die with stones in its belly, she'd be subject to a long investigation wherein she was blamed repeatedly for walking alone, dressing immodestly and "tempting" the wolf, and stopping to talk to him when she "knew" he was likely to try and hurt her. She would be written off as a "slut" who "asked for it," while the wolf would, more than likely, walk free.

People talk about how it's "easier" to be a woman today than it was in the days when these fairy tales were first published. I disagree. I think that the idea of "slut shaming" (victim-blaming, basically) has stuck around long-term. Even in the original tale, both of the retellings (Grimm's and Perrault's) blame Little Red, not the wolf, for getting eaten. It's her fault because she strayed from the path. It's her fault because she didn't listen to her mother (even though she wasn't warned about the wolves in the first place). It's her fault because she was naive enough to stop and talk to the wolf. It's not the wolf's fault for tricking her and eating her. The closest thing the wolf gets to blame is when the huntsman (who only appears in the Grimms' tale, not Perrault's) calls him an "old sinner." Little Red does get rescued in the Grimm's tale, but she still thinks "never again will you stray from the path," not "When I get home, I'm going to ask my mother why the #@$% she didn't tell me there are freakin' wolves in the forest that she's sending me into alone." It's the same case today--women are blamed for walking alone at night, instead of blaming the men who choose to attack them.  At least in Little Red Riding Hood, the wolf got his comeuppance--in most cases today, the rapist walks free.

Am I overanalzying this? Probably. (I did warn you in the first blog post, I can get a little fired up when it comes to feminist issues.) I just saw so much besides what the cartoonist probably intended in that cartoon, and I thought it worked well with the tale. I know that usually, the best interpretation of the tale is the text itself, but in the case of cartoons--especially political or social cartoons--what isn't said is usually what matters.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Who, What, and Why

Well, to jump right into the middle of things: I took this class because I have been in love with storytelling from the day I spoke my first sentence. I have written countless stories, poems, and scripts. When my friends slept over when I was a child, I was always the one to tell the bedtime stories. There has never been a moment of my life, not that I can remember anyway, when I have not considered myself a storyteller.

There, how's that for an attention-getting starter?

I'm sorry it's taken right up to the deadline to get this blog post out. I hate to turn in things that aren't my best work and I wanted to give this post in particular its due, because I wanted to make sure that there are no misunderstandings. I did not take this course because "I have to, McDaniel is making me" or "I had to choose an SIS and this looked like the easiest one" or "Because it's about princesses and I like princesses." No. I did not choose to take a class about folktales because I thought it was an easy A. While it's true that I have analyzed fairy tales in an academic setting before, I certainly haven't done it at a college level and I don't think for a minute that this will be an "easy" class.

In fact, I almost took "Understanding Feminism," because I thought that one in particular would be a less-taxing SIS and since I'm taking a science this semester and science is not exactly my strongest subject, I wanted a lighter schedule. But at the last minute, I asked myself, do I really want to take a class in something that I've already studied and analyzed to death? I understand feminism quite clearly, as you'll see when we start to analyze some of these tales from a feminist perspective. I've had classes in gender studies and I've had plenty of real-world experience with feminism. I don't know enough about fairy tales and I don't think I'll ever "know enough" about storytelling.

I learned to read at a very early age; the first book I recall reading was Dr. Seuss' ABC book. I remember telling stories to my mother, rambling on and on while she frantically wrote and tried to get them down on paper so we'd remember them later. I spoke early and read early; I was homeschooled until age fifteen and one thing my mother always encouraged me in was my love for storytelling, reading, and writing. When I began to study film, she reminded me, "You're a storyteller--a filmmaker is just someone who tells a story with imagery instead of just words." I hope that by taking this class, I will further my own storytelling skills by studying classic folklore and analyzing the mechanics of a well-told, well-remembered story.

As for my favorite fairy tale...well, I'm sorry, but I can't choose just one. I tried, I really tried. But it still came down to three: "Lasair Gheug" (a story of the King of Ireland's daughter, a variant of "Snow White"), "Donkeyskin" (a variant of Cinderella wherein the king wishes to marry his own daughter and she escapes wearing the hide of a donkey to conceal her beauty), and "East of the Sun, West of the Moon" (where a young girl marries who she believes to be a polar bear, only to discover that her bridegroom is a handsome young man whom she must save from a clan of trolls). These three tales seem fairly different in plot and theme until you take a closer look and realize that they all have one thing in common: the protagonist is a resourceful female who overcomes seemingly unbeatable challenges in order to save someone she loves or get something she badly wants.

Like I said...I almost went for a feminism class. I tend to lean towards stories with strong women in the lead (my longtime favorite book series is Harry Potter, which just so happens to feature the second-most powerful female lead in literature, second only to Jane Eyre), and while fairy tales are often busted for being "anti-feminist" you can't deny that what some of these women do in these tales takes serious guts. Lasair Gheug, for example, has several of her fingers cut off, is framed by her stepmother, is poisoned by rice-sized pieces of enchanted ice, and still manages to find a way to evade her forced "baptismal oaths" and tell her children the truth about what happened to her. Donkeyskin escapes her crazed father, lives as a servant, endures abuse at the hands of her new employer, and cleverly manages to capture the attention of the man she loves. Yes, there is still emphasis on family and marriage--but in my mind, that does not take away from the courage and resourcefulness of these heroines.

[End note: I just would like to clarify that while the tales I mention can be read with a feminist angle, I acknowledge that they can also be read as promoting sexism/chauvinism, and there certainly are fairy tales that promote sexist/chauvinist ideals--but I personally believe that the three I just mentioned contain strong female leads and do not promote sexism.]