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Asked by jessicasanders on Dec. 16, 2019
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Feminist Reading of Little Red Riding Hood


Little Red Riding Hood is a story that is well-known to everybody from early childhood. It is even better for the analysis and criticism from the viewpoint of feminist theory. The brothers Grimm are notorious for gathering archetypical stories that are characteristic for many historical communities, not only for German tribes of medieval epoch. A feminist reading can be something that opens the whole story from a completely new angle. One can do it in two ways: by investigating the way, in which this kind of narrative construes gender identity and naturalizes it, and by analyzing and challenging gender stereotypes purveyed by the narrative.
The storyline is gender constructed very strictly. The plot contains gender typing – the process of developing gender roles, or gender-linked preferences and behaviours valued by the larger society. The first thing that falls into the eye of an attentive reader is the total matriarchy of the first part of the story. Obviously, in the beginning of the story, there are exclusively female characters introduced: the protagonist, her mother and her grandmother (mentioned as the visit destination). There is no father or brother’s figure in the family. Perhaps they are present somewhere in the household, but indirectly (out or away hunting or doing any other traditional male activity). The story also does not mention a grandfather or another male character to be seen beside the grandmother, so she presumably is a single elderly woman (her husband is either already dead, or absent for some other reason).
Everything seems to be under control and Red Cap goes through the forest carrying the cake for her grandmother, until she meets the wolf, who is obviously male. His perception of a little girl is, certainly, degrading: he sees her as a weak creature that can be overpowered easily. It makes her an inferior actor in this situation. Understandably, he is able to eat her when he decides to. It is important to realize that the scene of eating Red Cap is described too shortly and lacks detail at all. For example, there is no implication that the girl resists violence or opposes it in some way. There is no account of screaming, fighting back or trying to run away and escape. The reader does not see any attempt to cry out for help or at least to deceive the aggressor and avoid being eaten. Instead, the narration is limited to a simple phrase “…and then he ate her up”. From the viewpoint of the feminist theory and from the viewpoint of common sense as well, it is an outrageous example of justifying violence, as for the aggressor, and passive attitude to it (for the victim). The whole scene becomes something commonplace and very routine, which is an extremely undesirable effect.
Of course, the boiling point of the story is the famous ending, where a group of male hunters come over to see what happened in the house in the middle of the forest. By the way, it is only the second time when the story introduces male characters (other than the wolf himself). The scene of cutting the wolf’s stomach and releasing Red Cap and her Grandmother is a vivid example of prevalence of explicit rude physical power in the mass culture and of the dominance of this power over everything else. The subliminal message is that the woman cannot take care of herself or her beloved ones. Her only hope for survival and well-being is the intervention of another male figure, who will hopefully be more interested in keeping the female safe and sound. Therefore, such an approach denies female ability to be a proactive personality.
However, this approach allows the negative male character to be cunning and sly, which in traditional gender paradigm happens to be a female ‘prerogative’. If the reader recalls the scene when Red Cap finally gets to her grandmother’s house, it becomes obvious that the wolf is interested in playing with his victim before eating her. In this sense, the dynamics of the girl-wolf relationship becomes vaguely seductive. Some researchers can even study this plotline as a metaphor for inter-gender, sexual relationship. Some even argue that red colour of cap symbolizes feminine nature and virginity taken by the wolf. Due to the specific structure of society, the roles of men and women are not equally distributed. Historically, the significance of their rights was always changed from patriarchy to matriarchy. Currently, most of the factors depend upon the presence and necessity of a certain individual in a society. Apart from factors influencing the behaviour of men and women, there exist certain aspects of life, which constitute personality and actions. For example, the woman’s beauty is observed in the light of excellence as the powerful whole, giving the female sex huge privileges in life. It is what underlies the simple plot of the story if one looks at it from the viewpoint of gender and social construction studies.
It is also interesting to study the difference between the two primary female characters of the story –Red Cap and her grandmother. Red Cap is described as a more open-minded and sharp person with more wit, which allows her to have suspicion concerning the wolf. However, due to her young age, she is deceived by him anyway. The fact that both females are being eaten underlines the inevitability of the so-called ‘female destiny’ to be devoured by a stronger creature. The following liberation of the women symbolizes that this pattern can be ended. Nevertheless, the story would have been much better for the young girls’ worldview if it contained self-oriented effort for survival. At the same time, the conscious feminist reader has to remember that both the times of Charles Perrault and the brothers Grimm’s were heavily patriarchal years and there is nothing extraordinary in such description of events. The image of woman breaks into two parts: personality and appearance. Basically, every women is perceived as attractive or not and is supported by her features of character. A woman is like a reflection of femininity. Only women are able to look at their appearance in everyday situations, whereas men are seen to give advantage to businesses, problems, not taking into account their appearance. Most scientists believe that it is the gender stereotype, which was developed from the early childhood years, when women are always noticed to survey themselves.
In general, there is a binary representation of male and female gender roles. The feminine character is attributed with traits like motherliness, protection, obedience, innocence, defenselessness, naivety and so on. Unlike these features, masculinity is presented as fatherly, aggressive, deceitful, treacherous and uncompromising. Such antagonizing of gender roles and limitation of children to the glass ceilings of their gender niches is dangerous. It makes children dependable from bias and stereotypes from the earliest childhood, virtually from kindergarten. Preschool boys are more active, assertive, and aggressive; girls are more fearful, dependent, compliant, considerate, emotionally sensitive and relationally aggressive. These differences appear in many cultures around the world and in many animal species as well. During elementary school years, boys identify the following as masculine in personality traits: tough, aggressive, rational, dominant. The following words describe feminine: gentle, sympathetic, excitable, and affectionate. Reading, art and music are for girls; mathematics, athletics and mechanical skills are for boys. In middle school, boys strengthen their perception of what is masculine; girls begin to define themselves more broadly, as having more ‘other gender’ characteristics. In early adolescence, there is gender intensification, with increased stereotypical behaviours in girls, perhaps related to the onset of puberty. In late adolescence, gender intensification declines and both boys and girls are more flexible in gendered behaviours; those who question stereotypes are more likely to embrace an androgynous gender identify. Research suggests that androgynous adolescents tend to be psychologically healthier, more self-confident, more assertive, and accepted by peers. Basic gender categories begin by the age of 2: toys, clothing, tools, household items, games, occupations, behaviours, colours; by the end of preschool years, boys and girls possess gender constancy, an understanding that their sex is a permanent characteristic.
Finally, it is quite interesting to study the interaction theory in application to this fairytale. It claims that innate differences in the brain chemistry and physiology of boys and girls do exist, but may be malleable and subject to change by experience. In the final analysis, it may be impossible to say where nature ends and nurture begins because the two are so intimately linked (the dilemma between behaviourism and genetic determinism).
Stories that are as old and popular as this one influence the conscience of the public subliminally and help to shape the common perception of archetypical roles of male and female figures. It is important to see and understand these multi-folded and multi-layered phenomena to see clearly what these stories taught us, even subconsciously, and what they are going to teach our children. More info at the https://essayswriters.com/




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