Writing by Victoria Tedeschi // Photograph by Liat Meir
I am twenty-something year old Melbournite who studies fairy tales for a living.
Granted, when people hear this, eyebrows become furrowed, heads are scratched in confusion, and upper lips are lifted as a soft “huh?” wafts into the air.
The truth is, fairy tales have the propensity to unconsciously accept (or reject) culturally-conditioned attitudes, particularly in regards to gender.
Take Little Red Riding Hood for an example. Red Riding Hood tells the story of a small child who, due to her own ruffian curiosity, decides to take a shortcut to grandma’s house. She meets a meddlesome wolf whom attempts to eat her and, depending on the variant, is successful in doing so.
The moral extracted from Red’s encounter is simple: do not stray from the path.
The reader doesn’t learn much about the wolf-in-question. While Red replaces her ravishing coat with a wolf’s hide in selected variants, the reader understands that the perpetrator is an animal – an instinctual being. Despite his crime, the wolf’s appetite is glossed over as Red’s moral message takes center stage: if you dangle a piece of meat in front of hungry jaws, it is sure to snap.
Mukesh Singh shares a similar sentiment. On the 16th of December 2012, Singh, along with five other men, repetitively raped twenty-three year old student Jyoti Singh on an off-duty bus. Singh and the men took turns driving the vehicle while the assault pressed on with an iron implement – an act which proved fatal for the victim
In his jail cell, BBC conducted an interview with Singh who “justified” his actions:
“You can’t clap with one hand – it takes two hands,” Singh says. “A decent girl won’t roam around at nine o’clock at night. A girl is far more responsible for rape than a boy… Housework and housekeeping is for girls, not roaming in discos and bars at night doing wrong things, wearing wrong clothes. About twenty percent of girls are good.”
According to Singh, Jyoti could have prevented the assault.
“When being raped, she shouldn’t fight back,” Singh told the press. “She should just be silent and allow the rape. Then they’d have dropped her off after ‘doing her’, and only hit the boy [her friend].”
While Singh’s comments are horrible, his sentiment doesn’t stray too far from the norm in Western culture. Women are perpetually blamed for not wearing red capes over low-cut tops. They are admonished for not staying on safer roads that are lined with huntsmen that can save the day. They are advised to place their keys between their fingers, they are instructed to be home before dark, and they are encouraged to cry “fire” because the word “rape” does not hold universal, imminent danger. If they refuse to follow these simple instructions, they only have themselves to blame if they are subsequently “devoured”.
Yet Singh should not be compared to the proverbial wolf of fairy tale literature. As it stands, men are not wolves – and I think the assimilation creates a bad rap for our endangered fur-footed friends. Rather, it is time to peel the mask off the big bad wolf to identify the cultural and societal values lingering beneath. It is time to take off our cloaks without retribution.
It is time Red Riding Hood reclaims her right to enter the wood.[share]