Female Lycanthropy & Disney

I don’t really watch Once Upon A Time, can’t quite pinpoint why, because in theory I like it. I did watch the first few episodes and the subtext galore there was between the Evil Queen and the White Knight was pretty glorious and surprisingly sexual for a Disney show. Still I wasn’t lost in the world and the characters didn’t quite manage to get stuck in my mind. They were interesting, as was the concept of a show where the female characters almost exclusively drive the plot. It all sounds like good shit, but the attraction wasn’t clicking.

At least not until I learnt of what they did to the story of Little Red Riding Hood. As with the rest of the show they turned up the feminism and old school symbolism while reworking Disney and suddenly Little Red turned into a statuesque woman who only has herself to fear. Because it turns out that Red is the big bad wolf.

Female werewolves are rare in fiction which when you look at what the werewolf so often has come to represent, male sexuality, isn’t surprising. The feminine seems to have no place as the wolf is more often than not used to explore the uncontrollable and primal lust that our culture enjoys linking to masculinity and brotherhood. Which in turn makes the few female portrayals of Lycantrophy that much more interesting, because suddenly it’s not simply an exploration of male sexuality, but becomes the other Other. In women the wolf, the beast side, gets to represent the gap between the classical image of woman as the nurturer and this unabashed aggressor. The predator becomes a true monster because it is not something we as a culture want to associate with the feminine and with women. At the same time the idea of a hormonal shape-shifter controlled by a 28 day cycle is as feminine as it gets. So it becomes such an interesting mix of biology and gender conceptions and contemporary fictional tropes and explorations of unapologetic aggression. I think in that delicious mix lies the answer to why I am so obsessed with the female werewolf. She becomes an empowerment of our biology yet explodes the boundaries of our emotional responses and almost literally ravages propriety. A tenfold monster in the eyes of normative society, but therein lies her power.

I got sidetracked, quite a lot. But as I was saying, OUAT isn’t really my bag, but the fact that Red Riding Hood and the wolf are the same person is enough to make sure I always tune in when this character is given a more extensive story. It doesn’t happen often, but the few times it does is well worth it. In the series she’s ultimately a tragic character because there is very little to no self-acceptance in her (she relies on those around her for it). She hates herself because of the killer that she undeniably is and the other Other in her is ultimately a monster that she thinks deserves to die. There is nothing unapologetic about her behaviour, she doesn’t want to be the anomaly that she is. But even if this fear and self-hatred in many ways represents a very classical take on gender roles, the character is also struggling. Because she knows she cannot and deep down doesn’t want to separate the woman from the wolf, they’re both part of her self. And that realisation no matter how faint it is, or that it requires other people’s encouragement to come about is a source of strength. If not for her, at least for us who watch. Or well, for me. I like it. I like seeing the subversive monster receive the sympathies of her peers without being stripped of her hide and beaten into submission.

And on the completely shallow side of things I get a kick out of the writers pairing her up with Belle (yes that Belle, the original pansexual Disney princess who goes and falls in love with a monster with wicked canines and a shiny mane L’Oreal would be proud of). It’s so obvious what they’re doing and I know I should be a little upset that they’re playing and preying on a queer audience that they’ll never acknowledge in canon. Still I love the female werewolf far too much to not tune in for episodes featuring Ruby/Red and while I’m there hanging out in their verse I don’t mind being pandered to with some gratuitous Ruby/Belle scenes that are playing homage to Beauty and the Beast (I’m actually quite good at ignore the slowly churning anger at never being included as more than a winkwink metaphor).

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~ by Ape on November 22, 2012.

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