LITTLE RED RIDING WHORE

(Liya Rechtman)– On Sunday morning at 730, I found myself traipsing through the snow in heels, a red dress, and red cloak. This year marks my 8th consecutive year dressing Red Riding Hood for Halloween. Granted, last year I attempted to find an alternate costume (slutty virgin Mary complete with my brother as a slutty Jesus), but it just wasn’t the same. I clearly feel myself drawn towards Red Riding Hood and I have for a long time. I took the hour of trudging through fresh snow in inadequate clothing to think about who Red Riding Hood is, and why I’m so attracted to being her every year.

RRH is not who you think she is. Seen that Disney movie where she’s saved by a hunter – pudgy red cheeks and all? Or even the Grimms story, with her cute little basket of wine and bread? Yeah, that’s not her. You don’t know Red Riding hood like I do.

Bedpur, Germany, 1598: The Stubbe Peeter Trials

Several different trials (similar to the Salem Witch Trials) in which men, women, and, most surprisingly, a whole family with 6 young children, confess to using a special ointment to turn themselves into wolves at night. Stubbe Peeter himself confessed to incest, rape, adultery, cannibalism, and a pact with the devil. He said that salve and a wolf pelt had transformed him into a malicious beast.

Around this time a pamphlet began to circulate in Germany about the trials, which eventually turned into a story called The Grandmothers Tale. In it, RRH is tricked into eating her own grandmother, and drinking her blood, as instructed by the wolf. The wolf tells Red to strip, which she does willingly. Once she has climbed into bed with the wolf, she claims the need to defecate, and escapes.

Yeah, that’s right, Red’s not as pretty anymore. WHAT? Red Riding Hood – the wary prostitute? Okay, moving on:

France, 1697, Le Chaperon Rouge, by Charles Perrault

If you’ve ever been into fairy tales, you’ve probably seen The Little [pick primary color] Books somewhere. In my library at summer camp they were large, old, dusty and so so special. My best friend and I would read each other fairy tales on a hammock during rest hour. #childhoodistheshit

Perrault is the source of most of the Grimm’s fairy tales, so his version is more similar to the Red we know and love. Red Riding Hood meets the wolf on her way to grandmother’s house, at which point she agrees to race him there. The wolf then devours grandmother, and disguises himself in her clothes, before Red Riding Hood reaches the house. Upon Red Riding Hood’s entrance, the wolf instructs her to “Come into bed with me”. Red Riding Hood does so, and inquires as to why the wolf looks so different from the grandmother. Red takes off her cloak and climbs into bed with the wolf. The story ends with the wolf eating Red Riding Hood “all up.”

Alright, let’s think about this for a second – RRH is clearly aware of the danger the wolf poses for her and she heads right towards him anyway. Also, Red asks like 5 different times (“what big ears you have, Grandma”) why the wolf doesn’t really look like her grandmother. THIS. IS. FOREPLAY. Yeah, Red is prostitute again. But this time, she’s also a little girl.

Perrault was writing in France at a time of great economic turmoil. Unemployment rate were skyrocketing, and people were sending their little girls out onto the street. Red was, and still very much is, the color of sex/passion/vice, in France it was the sign of a prostitute. Previously, Red Riding Hood was just a girl or prostitute, but Perrault very specifically adds the color red. Red Riding Hood is one of many, many child prostitutes in France.

Eventually, the Grimm brothers, and then Disney, get their hands on the story and make it a cautionary tale about what happens when you don’t listen to your mother. (Red only meets the wolf because she goes down the wrong trail).

Okay, cool, ConstantLy, rando history lesson, why is this significant? Well, thanks for asking, actually. It’s not that I feel like I have anything in common with a child prostitute, that’s not it. It just seems to me like there are several things going on here.

First, there’s the simple paradigm of this story’s trajectory. Over the years, as our culture has grown/expanded, been influenced by American-Puritan ideals, we talk about sex so much less, and when we do, it’s considered shocking, or risqué. Part of what I like so much about this story is how it was told, and who it was told to. Yes, there’s clearly a lot of fucked up stuff going on here, but this was a story people told to pass the time in taverns. A tired traveler would tell fairy tales in exchange for a free meal. Women would tell these stories to each other while at the spinning wheel. Everyone had heard what happened to the little girl and the big bad wolf before, but they liked hearing it again. They liked it so much that eventually it got written down. I love that, I love that it wasn’t written down and that it was of value. I wish I could travel from town to town telling stories in exchange for a place to stay.

Second, there’s the content. There seems to me to be this ever-present question of what Red Riding Hood actually wants out of her situation. These stories (and there are many more, similar ones that I’m not including here for the sake of your sanity) are all in the 3rd person. We never really know if she wants to get into bed with the wolf, if she feels coerced or scared. Until Disney came along, she was never saved by a hunter (read: prince), she was only left to her own devices to save herself or be eaten. Is this a scene of rape or of temptation? Is this a feminist story, or a caution against women trying to live without the Great Male Protector?

Huh, what’s funny is that I still haven’t explained why a dress in all red every year for Halloween. What a question I’ve posed for myself here.

It sort of feels like a cause. Because I know her, I feel like she has to represented, and remembered. Okay, yes, she’s a fictional character, I’m aware. But what if people forgot who she was, really? What if no one remembered that Red is sexy, and bad ass, and scared? That at the end of the day she’s a little girl locked into a battle with a really big wolf.

Why am I Red Riding Hood every year? I don’t know, but I do know that next year, when I don my next iteration of heels and a red cape, I’ll ask myself again.