It has to be the girl AND the wolf. Traveling together on parallel paths to the heart of greatest darkness - the house where the girl’s own mother was made. If you’re a woman, there’s nothing this story doesn’t know about you.
Let’s not forget that among the first claims of feminism is the right of a woman to be the center of the story. Not the object but the subject, reaching out to interact with...whoever she wants, which maybe means no men at all. The wolf gets styled as male, yes. But if you accept that hairy swagger as a kind of drag, this story has been passing the Bechdel test for something like a thousand years.
What does this story know about women? The first thing it knows: a girl of a certain age simply cannot stand to be at home with her mother. The second thing: if you need a single symbol for the female, blood will do.
Blood’s promised from the beginning: a girl in a cape like a bright red stain. This is not a story afraid to just hit you with its symbols. Because - a girl who likes to “stray from the path”? To “pick flowers”? Tam Lin can tell you, that’s sex talk. But oddly we tend to take Red at her word. Maybe because she’s young? Tellings can age Red past puberty, but usually she’s a sincerely fuzzy innocent, the red cape a bad joke of menstrual premonition. Is it the cape that leaves us desperately grasping for single entendres?
Or is it the wolf?
What else this story knows about women: self-other boundaries are not things we’re super-great at keeping clear. What mother wants to know her own outline, if that means fully letting go?
Maybe that’s why the people in this story have to live in separate houses in separate places. When they’re under the same roof, they all seem to merge. Wolf into granny, granny into wolf. Together in one place? They’re together in one belly, the wolf making monstrous good on every mother’s “I could just eat you up.”
Where does the path go? Straight to the heart of getting OLDER. The wolf’s impersonation of Granny is ridiculous, except when you remember the wolfish things age does. Age gives: hair growing in weird places, rough skin, jaggly teeth, big ears, bad breath. If Red’s fooled by the wolf, she’s not taking too close a look at her grandmother. But how closely do we usually look at old women? I’ll bet you everything in the basket, this is the voice of old lady experience telling a joke.
Age swallows Granny first, but if Red gets back on the path, she’ll go right after. The wolf serves just as well to symbolize Red’s sexual maturation. Sharp desires, naked hunger, yet more hair. Swallowed by time, the two then roll somehow back to its beginning, born again like twins through a furry slit in an expulsion of blood. It’s almost a cliche, the man who wants to crawl back into the womb. But the womb is different for women. For over 500 years, Red Riding Hood has been saying: feminism is the sisterhood of carving your way out.
Created: Mar 22, 2012karinlewicki Document Media