The story of “Little Red Riding Hood” is one that has stuck with me from childhood. Who can forget that iconic red cape, the wolf in the forest and sick, old granny? It seems like a harmless, entertaining tale on the surface with cautionary warnings on dangerous animals that lurk in the dark, and movies like “Hoodwinked” have popularized this idea. But there is so much more going on in this tale.
At the heart of this tale is a darker and more horrifying story of a predator. The mother’s warning to her daughter at the beginning of the tale to not stray from the path was a meager attempt to help her daughter steer clear of such predators. But, clearly, it was not enough.
I’ve been thinking a lot about “Little Red Riding Hood” recently in light of Hugh Hefner’s death, the new stories being uncovered about life in the Playboy mansion by former Playmates, the current Harvey Weinstein scandal and more. In fact, it seems like every week a new case is being reported of a woman who has been assaulted or abused in some way by a man, and this frequency shows the relevance for us as mothers to think through how we are currently preparing and warning our daughters to navigate and survive these horrors.
I keep coming back to the mother in the tale and thinking what I would have said differently, had “Red” been my daughter.
I don’t think we are going far enough if our main message is simply to avoid dangerous places. Certainly, that is a start, and I think the “forests” of today are the strip clubs, the gentlemen clubs, and the playboy mansions, but also sadly so too are the political arenas, the entertainment industry and even the office space (among others).
But that does nothing to help prepare your daughter for what to say and do if she does come face-to-face with a guy like Hefner or Weinstein.
In the past few weeks, there have been a whole slew of stories published on former Playboy Playmates and all of them had one thing in common: their careers all started off with seemingly innocent conversations with men. From Holly Robinson to Dorothy Stratten, the stories went like this: a guy stops by the drive-thru at Dairy Queen and asks a girl out; a guy invites his Hooters waitress to come to a pool party with him; a guy at the mall asks a girl if she’s interested in a photo shoot. It was always a seemingly harmless conversation that springboarded these women into experiences of exploitation and abuse.
So, once again, how can we as mothers prepare and warn our daughters about wolves like these?
I think, in part, we need to educate our girls and make them aware about men like Hefner and Weinstein. The stories should be age appropriate, but like the tale of “Little Red Riding Hood” we should be telling them to our daughters. They need to know what happens in the real world. They need to know real-world consequences. Sometimes knowledge in itself can become empowerment.
I also think we need to tell them quite plainly to say “no” to the men with invitations to pool parties and photo shoots. I actually had a similar experience in college – while at a coffee shop studying, a man approached me, told me how “beautiful” I was and offered me an exclusive photo shoot that he promised would “kick start my career.” I am so grateful for how my own mother raised me and how she had taught me to distrust men like that. I knew exactly who he worked for and immediately told him to leave me alone.
I’m not saying that these two ideas will solve everything, but I think it’s a start. The wolves of “Little Red Riding Hood” are still out there, and giving our daughters knowledge and the power of voice is something that we as mothers can tangibly do to help better prepare them for what’s out there.