Little Red Riding Hood is skipping merrily through the forest when out jumps the big bad wolf and says, “Aha, Little Red Riding Hood. I’m going to gobble you up … gobble, gobble, gobble!” Little Red Riding replies, “Gobble, gobble, gobble, that’s all they think about around here. Doesn’t anybody fuck anymore?”
Another version of the popular joke has the wolf threatening to fuck Little Red Riding Hood to which she replies by pulling a gun from her basket and admonishing, “Oh no you’re not, Mr. Wolf, you’re going to eat me just like the book says!”
Before Charles Perrault imbibed them with “useful morals” in his Tales of Mother Goose and the Brothers Grimm sanitized them for a Victorian audience a century later, fairy tales were oral traditions—sometimes in the most erotic sense. They were simply compelling folk stories meant to pass the time and any lessons they imbued were incidental. And, they certainly weren’t aimed at children either—that just happened to be a convenient market niche the Grimm brothers found they could exploit. In another hundred years, Walt Disney would complete the job of taking the juiciest parts out of the fairy tales and imparting them with his own suspect life lessons—ones that most often involved the pursuit of beauty and wealth above all else.
No Boys Allowed
However, in the earlier stories on which fairy tales are based, murder, cannibalism, decapitation and, of course, sex were popular—and common—themes. They were passed down by word of mouth for centuries by people for whom certain elements, such as werewolves, weren’t just analogies, but were flesh and blood human beings who turned into actual wolves. Earlier heroines weren’t the prissy Cinderellas of today, either. Red Riding Hood didn’t wait around to be rescued by the patriarchal huntsman. In one of the earliest known versions of the story, the wolf forces Red to do a striptease for him before coaxing her into bed with him. However, the girl pulls a ruse in which, leashed, she goes outside under the auspices of taking a shit. The clever Red slips her tether and ties it to a tree. Before the wolf realizes he’s been had, Red escapes home, running naked through the woods.
Let Your Hair Down
Of course, finding creative ways to rob girls of their agency and making them obey their male masters has been a popular way of controlling women and, thus, their sexuality for centuries. “Fairy tales are at their core about sexuality,” says Catherine Orenstein, author of the book Little Red Riding Hood Uncloaked. They are about how society says we should behave and what is desirable in a partner. To illustrate just how much times have changed, in the distant past Rapunzel was letting her hair down in more ways than one. Instead of waiting around for a prince to rescue her, she was bringing one up for frequent trysts. Seamier subtexts were prevalent in earlier fairy tales as well. Necrophilia was prominent in early versions of Snow White and Sleeping Beauty. In the latter, a passing king impregnates the sleeping Beauty. She awakens nine months later only after one of her newborn twins suckles the poisoned thorn from her finger. (Interesting how royals always seem to be wandering about looking for damsels in distress or, in this case, damsels to assault. It seems dragons and wicked stepmothers were the least of these heroines’ troubles.)
Spank Me, Stepmother
Fairy tales are a natural fit for BDSM community, says Orenstein. Dripping in blood and lust as they were, it is often difficult to decipher the lessons we’re supposed to take from those earlier eras, but it’s certainly no chore to imagine Cinderella as a helpless submissive or Snow White’s wicked stepmother as a whip-cracking dominatrix. “It is the collective scenario of master/slave,” says Orenstein. There are plenty of cultural truths to be found in fairy tales, she goes on, especially when it comes to beauty, passivity and cruelty.
The Real Big Bad Wolves
Perhaps it’s time once again to update those familiar fairy tales for a new, more empowered generation; one that recognizes what really happens when wealth is concentrated in a few hands and women are forced to publically endure countless humiliations by powerful misogynists. Happily ever after, it seems, only exists in modern fairy tales and, these days, real life can make a person harken back to a simpler age—a time when getting eaten by a wolf wasn’t necessarily the worst thing that could happen to you. Especially if he knew what he was doing.
Bottigheimer, Ruth B.. Grimms’ bad girls & bold boys: the moral & social vision of the Tales. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1987. Print.
Orenstein, Catherine. Little Red Riding Hood uncloaked: sex, morality, and the evolution of a fairy tale. New York: Basic Books, 2002. Print.
Ragan, Kathleen. Fearless girls, wise women, and beloved sisters: heroines in folktales from around the world. New York: W.W. Norton, 1998. Print.
Tatar, Maria. Off with their heads!: fairy tales and the culture of childhood. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1992. Print.