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if patriarchy sees women as occupying a marginal position within the symbolic order, then it can construe them as the limit or borderline of that order...Women seen as the limit of the symbolic order will in other words share in the disconcerting properties of all frontiers: they will be neither inside nor outside, neither known nor unknown. It is this position that has sometimes enabled male culture to sometimes vilify women as representing darkness and chaos....and sometimes to elevate them as the representatives of a higher and purer nature...In the first instance the borderline is seen as part of the chaotic wilderness outside, and in the second it is seen as an inherent part of the inside: the part that protects and shields the symbolic order from imaginary chaos

From Sexual/textual politics by Toril Moi, Quoted in Deconstructing the Hero By Margery Hourihan (both excellent books by the way)

This is why grandma lives on the outskirts of the village, or the edge of the forest

and the difference between grandma and the gingerbread witch is not very much really they both get punished, destroyed, consumed for living independently, for knowing things, even though one acquiesces to the patriarchy and one resists it
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The wolf, now piously old and good,
When again he met Red Riding Hood
Spoke: ‘Incredibly, my dear child,
What kinds of stories are spread–they’re wild.

As though there were, so the lie is told,
A dark murder affair of old.
The Brothers Grimm are the ones to blame.
Confess! It wasn’t half as bad as they claim.’

Little Red Riding Hood saw the wolf’s bite
And stammered: ‘You’re right, quite right.’
Whereupon the wolf, heaving many a sigh,
Gave kind regards to Granny and waved good-bye.

Rudolf Otto Wiemer.
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Nobody hurt you. Nobody turned off the light and argued
with somebody else all night. The bad man on the moors
was only a movie you saw. Nobody locked the door.

Your questions were answered fully. No. That didn't occur.
You couldn't sing anyway, cared less. The moment's a blur, a Film Fun
laughing itself to death in the coal fire. Anyone's guess.

Nobody forced you. You wanted to go that day. Begged. You chose
the dress. Here are the pictures, look at you. Look at us all,
smiling and waving, younger. The whole thing is inside your head.

What you recall are impressions; we have the facts. We called the tune.
The secret police of your childhood were older and wiser than you, bigger
than you. Call back the sound of their voices. Boom. Boom. Boom.

Nobody sent you away. That was an extra holiday, with people
you seemed to like. They were firm, there was nothing to fear.
There was none but yourself to blame if it ended in tears.

What does it matter now? No, no, nobody left the skidmarks of sin
on your soul and laid you wide open for Hell. You were loved.
Always. We did what was best. We remember your childhood well.

Carol Ann Duffy


Dec. 2nd, 2009 10:18 am
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'Tell me,' said Magrat, 'you said your mummy knows about the big bad wolf in the woods, didn't you?'

'That's right.'

'But nevertheless she sent you out by yourself to take those goodies to your granny?'

"That's right. Why?'

'Nothing. Just thinking.

Magrat Garlick To LRRH

'Woodcutters!' said Nanny. 'It's all right if there's woodcutters! One of them rushes in - '

'That's only what children get told,' said Granny, as they sped onwards. 'Anyway, that's no good to the grandmother, is it? She's already been et!'

'I always hated that story,' said Nanny. 'No-one ever cares what happens to poor defenceless old women.'

Witches Abroad by Terry Pratchet
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I posted this video:

to [ profile] told_tales recently and got some surprising responses.

I personally love this retelling because it is a fusion of the oldest known versions of the story and intriguing retelling. It was interesting that the first commenter didn't like it because the wolf killed Red and because she was a sexually attractive young woman (indicated to me especially by the corset earlier on) and he a supercharged "bad ass". All of that really made me go ..."huh?". In lots of versions of the story Red gets eaten. And it never occurred to me since I've been old enough to understand such things that it wasn't about Red being a sexually attractive young woman and the wolf a charming but dangerous sexual predator. I've also never read an extended theoretical analysis that hasn't at least touched on that reading of the tale either.
I personally loved the addition of the corset because it highlights the trope of women's uncontrollable/unconstrainable bodies and sexualities. When Red reaches adolescence her sexuality/body/womanself cannot be contained.

I thought the choice of having the mother go of into the woods without the daughter because it wasn't a safe place to be was interesting. Obviously usually the mother sends the daughter even while knowing there is a wolf/rapist in the forest, something which I read as a metaphor for the deep maternal ambivalence that women feel for their adolescent/on the cusp of adolescent daughters.

It is a bleak version that's for sure, Red does get eaten and her mother leaves her somewhere she thinks will be safe but the undertone suggests she is not at all safe at her uncles house.

The fact that the wolf eats her mother and not her grandmother tilts the story considerably although the fact that the mother is a herbalist who goes to live in the woods suggests she has the place of both the mother and the grandma/wise woman in the story.

I like that they chose to use the eating of the flesh and drinking of the blood in the story because I actually think that's a really powerful motif but I think the meaning changes when it is mother being devoured and not grandmother. When it is mother being devoured it is much more about competitiveness whereas when it is grandmother it becomes about the natural progression of women passing wisdom down the generations orally


Dec. 1st, 2009 10:12 am
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Women in fairy tales are female, men in fairy tales are neuter, well okay they haven’t always been because originally sleeping beauty got raped and the witch knew about the prince because rapunzel got pregnant , but even then he got punished by castration being blinded. But generally men in fairy tales are completely devoid of what we would think of as masculinity especially the fathers, or father figures. That’s why the wolf needs to exist, he is the wicked counterpart to the father, as the stepmother, the witch, the wicked fairy is the counterpart to the mother. Because Daddy can’t be good and bad, he can’t be a rapist and a nurturer so the wolf becomes all the dark things he is, all the dark things he did.
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Our Mothers, or the older women in our lives at least, mothers, stepmothers, witches, bad fairies send us out in to the wilds of the forest to loose ourselves

  • Red gets sent through the forest to grandmas house

  • Snow white gets sent in the forest to be killed

  • Gretel [and Hansel] get left in the forest to starve or be killed

  • Sleeping Beauty was trapped in a forest entwined castle

  • Rapunzel gets shut up in a phallic symbol tower
  • in the middle of a forest

and why, sexual jelousy? slow burning anger? inheritance anxiety? misplaced over protectivness?
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There you met it - the mystery of that hatred.
After your billions of years in anonymous matter
That was where you were found - and promptly hated.
You tried your utmost to reach and touch those people
with gifts of yourself -
Just like your first words as a toddler
When you rushed at every visitor to the house
Clasping their legs and crying: 'I love you, I love you!'
Just as you had danced for your father
In the home of anger - gifts of your life
To sweeten his slow death and mix yourself in it
Where he lay propped on the couch.
To sugar the bitterness of his raging death.

You searched for yourself to go on giving it
As if after the nightfall of his going
You danced on in the dark house.
Eight years old, in your tinsel.

Searching for yourself, in the dark, as you danced,
Floundering a little, crying softly,
Like somebody searching for somebody drowning
In dark water,
Listening for them - in panic at losing
Those listening seconds from your searching -
Then dancing wilder in the silence.

The Colleges lifted their heads. It did seem
You disturbed something just perfected
That they were holding carefully, all of a piece.
Till the glue dried. And as if
Reporting some felony to the police
They let you know that you were not John Donne.
You no longer care. Did you save their names?
But then they let you know, day by day,
Their contempt for everything you attempted.
Took pains to inject their bile, as for your health,
Into your morning coffee. Even signed
Their homeopathic letters,
Envelopes full of carefully broken glass
To lodge behind your eyes so you would see

Nobody wanted your dance,
Nobody wanted your strange glitter - your floundering
Drowning life and your effort to save yourself,
Treading water, dancing the dark turmoil,
Looking for something to give -
Whatever you found
They bombarded with splinters,
Derision, mud - the mystery of that hatred.

Ted Hughes


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October 2010

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