Before that day, Grandmother used to say with a mixture of stern resolve and wariness, "Always stay on the path. You must never stray from the path, Red."
After that day, Grandmother says with gusto, "Never leave home without your gardening knife!" I like the metaphor of it, for sure. Ripping patriarchy to shreds from the inside out. Poetic justice. It was like Taking Back the Night ... with Knife.
But the before and after messages are different versions of the same old tale. They both tell me that it is still my responsibility to stop the wolf by changing how I come and go in this world. And I know I'm the one who gave Grandma the idea for the revised parting message about carrying a knife always. In that moment, to save my life and Grandma's, I had no choice but to use violence. And I admit, it felt awesome and exhilarating to avoid death.
But let's make one thing clear: it's not the knife that will actually end this thing. These monsters will keep on coming unless we stop them at their source. These monsters are not born into the world, they are made that way. Trouble is, the monsters are made nowhere and everywhere, and we're all a part of it. We make them that way.
It's not innocent, our storytelling. We organize the world according to Little Red Riding Hoods and Big Bag Wolves, and set up the story to unfold a certain way. The way it goes is this: I, the innocent young girl, have a mind of my own. I disobey the rules, and I get punished for it. I end up in the pit of a Wolf belly, and some macho man hero saves the day. You all congratulate him and scold me. "Tsk tsk, you shouldn't have strayed off the path."
And then it happens all over again, with minor variations on the evil beast, defiant damsel in distress, and heroic man. There are a few reasons it plays out the same way again and again. One reason is that people rarely pause to ask, "Why must we always wait for the heroic man to save the day? Why can't the damsel be a heroine?" Recently, more folks seem open to these "girl power" variations on the story. Enter: Me cutting the Wolf from inside out. Moral of the story: "Never leave home without your gardening knife!" The End.
Nope. This feminist re-telling has become a feminist re-writing. This stupid patriarchal fairy tale happens again and again because nobody's asking any questions about why the Wolf wanted to attack and felt entitled to eat me in the first place. I say enough already, we're going about this all wrong! Sorry Grandma, but "Never leave home without your gardening knife!" is still missing the point.
This Wolf, he tried to make me literally disappear inside of him. If he had his way, he would have ended my existence. Don't get me wrong, I am super pissed off and not about to forget his violence. But let's put that anger aside for a moment.
(And this is the part that nobody wants me to tell you.)
Let me tell you what it is like to be in the belly of the beast. It is not seething with some evil origin. It is quiet and underwhelming in its emptiness. From within him, I could see that he was flesh and blood. Just as vulnerable as me or any living thing. Through the viscera, I caught a glimpse of his beating heart. We were more the same than we were different. I sensed his deep resentment for how people judged him for his Wolf-iness. I felt his spiritual hunger for a special purpose in the world, with no way to feed it. He was hollow and yet filled with echos of insecurity, love, rage, and longing.
Inside the Wolf was the most familiar space I've ever occupied. We were the same. What made us different was the world outside, seeing us through the lens of some old tale about carnivorous wolves and helpless little girls in red.
I cut him open and immediately mourned the loss. I vowed to tell the tale a different way, so that neither of us would end up trapped in costumes not of our making, as killer and victim. We both deserved to live authentically, autonomously, and with love.
But from the outside, it was all Kill Bill revenge violence, wasn't it? "Never leave home without your gardening knife!" No. That's not my story. My triumph is not tied directly to someone else's peril, ever. My purpose is not to turn the tables and enact violence in the name of ending violence. It doesn't work that way.
Here's the way it works. It's not his teeth that scare me, it's the way you talk about his teeth. You teach me and him both to expect that one day he may get an uncontrollable urge to sink his teeth into me and eat me alive. I was supposed to do as I was told, stay on the path, and hide my body and my mind away. And he was supposed to be strong and reckless and feel entitled to take what he wanted. We're both doomed from the start, sinking under the weight of this supposed "reality" about how violence manifests across differences.
You think you're doing me a favour, telling me how to navigate this ugly world, how to avoid the Big Bad Wolf? Listen to me when I say that he is not my worst fear. You and your stories are. Your notions of how it's "supposed to be" scare me. I fear the world who raises young boys to emulate Wolves and Huntsmen. I fear the Grandparents, parents, teachers, mayors, and townspeople who warn their girls to live and walk in fear, and who never once think about teaching their sons (and wolves) to respect girls, nor to find a way of being in the world that doesn't rely on violence and intimidation.
When I cut open that Wolf, I tore right through the pages of your oppressive Little Red Riding Hood fairy tale. And now I write it anew for me, for him, for everyone. I never leave home without my voice.