Be Brave, Be Heard

So I don’t generally do re-posts of other Blog articles, but this was is an exception. In fact, I wasn’t going to do anything else and just let Pollychromatic, and the image presented, speak for themselves. But not only have I been informed that there are some opinions of mine that need to be written down, but I also feel compelled to do so anyway.

Now first, I hope you read the above article. Secondly, I actually know Lady Katza personally–the person who took this picture of her daughter and made her costume at the time–and I have seen this awesome image before. In fact, not only have I seen this picture before, but Lady K herself asked me if I could make a story based off of it.

I’m not going to do that today, however, but there is something about the image that I do want to write about. This post, which was created by Lady K’s friend and sewing ally Pollychromatic, has been reposted and linked to a few other places. A few responses to this article were something along the lines of it being impossible for someone to maintain their childhood–their innocence–after protecting themselves from harm: that it should not be the imperative of a child to defend themselves, but rather it should be the responsibility of an adult instead.

And while there are some merits in these thoughts, I believe that they ultimately miss the point. There are two ways of looking at this issue.

The first is the literal perspective: the one which some of these responses attempt to address. If we look at this picture realistically, violence and surviving violence does neither maturity nor adulthood make. That, in my opinion, is a fallacy. Someone who kills or commits violence at a young age–even in self-defence–will have psychological trauma. They would need counselling and lots of guidance and understanding to process what they had done, and what happened to them. One response mentioned war as well as violence as making children grow-up far too quickly: and my opinion on the matter is that child soldiers are not a good basis to make a stable adult from, nor does violence function as a crucible that forges a “stronger” person. Instead, whether that violence is physical or semi-conscious in a culture, it can traumatize and create an individual with major emotional issues: people that, as I mentioned before, will need family and social structures to somehow help them cope … these same factors that should also be called on to change those aspects of a society or culture of violence.

So yes, when taken literally that image of the girl with an axe in one hand and a wolf’s head in another is not a thing that can solve societal and cultural violence.

However, there is the other perspective: the metaphorical one. The image that Lady K creates and Pollychromatic describes is an iconoclast: specifically a picture or an idea that takes preconceived notions and subverts them to make a statement. Both women are trying to say something with the language of archetypes.

They are taking an ancient cautionary folktale in the form of Little Red Riding Hood which, in turn, takes the archetype or the stereotype of the little girl as inherently innocent, pure and chaste–who is easily exploitable and is the victim that must always be cautious or guarded from harm–and they are changing it. Because I can tell you right now, that the image of this Red Riding Hood does not only represent little girls. It represents women of all ages and backgrounds. Whether that is completely successful or not, I will leave it up to others to decide and debate, but when I look at it in that context I see a representation–not the representation of course because there is never only one–of women and what they should do in the world of inherent violence and exploitation.

Now take the axe. The axe can be seen as an implement of death, but it is also a tool to help people survive: to cut wood and other substances for fire and food. Learning to use a tool is a form of knowledge and experience. When you place that in the hand of a symbol that is meant to represent a form of neoteny–both an essentialized symbol and an idea that women are eternal and infantile children that need to be minded and to fear–you begin to change that symbol through that addition alone. In Little Riding Hood, the axe also belongs to the woodsman whom–in at least some variations of the tale–ends up killing the predatory wolf. Perhaps he or someone else of either gender has taught her how to chop wood and use a tool to defend herself should she need it.

And now we come to the wolf’s head and the blood. For me, they represent–respectively–fear and the world. The wolf is not just violence, but the fear of violence. The girl, here, has decapitated her fear. But notice how she holds that wolf’s head. She isn’t holding it up like a trophy, or as something to be dominated, or even as a vanquished foe. Rather, she holds it as something more akin to a stuffed animal or a teddy bear. It’s almost like in addition to being fear the wolf is also her sense of violence and perhaps something more one day. She inherently accepts it as a part of herself and, while she has eliminated its power over her, she still utilizes its essence in a totemic way. It is her natural violence. It is a fallacy to question whether or not a cat hunting a mouse or a bird still has their innocence: in that they are just following their nature. I’d also argue that the essence of human nature is to preserve itself: an urge that can be honed into a conscious instinct for self-defence.

As for the blood, it would be really easy to equate it to upcoming puberty or a crimson baptism heralding premature adulthood, but the fallacy is equating adulthood with maturity and the idea that maturity and innocence are mutually exclusive forces: especially since we do not have a working definition of what innocence is beyond an idea of sexuality or age.

I see the blood as a consequence of being in the world. The natural world of the woods and beyond them is a messy, organic place. This is something that children, and hence adults, learn very early in their existences. If you are going to live in the world, prepare to be dirty and to also know that each cause has an effect.

This archetype that has been depicted here is no new idea. It has probably had many names in the past, but TV Tropes has its own heading under the term Little Miss Badass. You can find them in all media: as Neil Gaiman’s Coraline and even Lettie Hempstock in his new novel The Ocean at the End of the Lane. But I want to get beyond this a bit and look at what is meant by self-defence. The fact is, I hinted earlier that violence is not merely a physical act, but also a systematic one: one that uses a societal or cultural threat or fear of violence to define a victim and make them hide … make them silent. However, self-defence need not only be physical as well. It can be arming someone with the tools to not only recognize overt and subtle dangers, but also to speak, to protest, and to challenge what are generally long-held and unquestioned assumptions.

So now consider this image in the political dimension that Pollychromatic brings up. If you interpret this image as being an archetype–again not the archetype–for all women, then the message seems to be clear: that women should defend themselves against forces that threaten them and that the first form of defence is knowledge of what needs to be defended against and how to properly respond to that danger.

And then you can look at the image with regards to children: to actual children. If you interpret this image as teaching children how to recognize the inherent dangers of the world around them, as well as working with the benefits of that world and focus more on them interacting with the world as it is, then perhaps you can slowly change that world from the ground up: by simply having those children, and the adults that they will subsequently become, actually exist.

Ultimately, I will say this. Pollychromatic’s version of Lady K’s photograph as a potential political symbol for change does need some work. Personally, I think it would look awesome in the form of FV Disco that was utilized by Nick Marinkovich as the illustrator of Kenk: with its collage-like quality, sharp white angular outlines, and rhetorical art quality that would still keep the essence of the image as it is. What I see when I look at this image is a timeless figure, an innocence that protects itself and its own: a force that teaches you that innocence still exists with a bit more canniness and wisdom and, more importantly, it makes you seriously look at what forces define innocence in a created world.

That is what I got out of what Pollychromatic and Lady K try to say about their article and picture respectively.

pollychromatic

Something sort of weird happened on the way to sharing a picture for the #WeStandWithWendy campaign.

A couple years ago my friend Lady Katza from Peanut Butter Macramé took a picture of her daughter. She had made a gorgeous Little Red Riding Hood costume for her daughter, and completed the costume with a bloodied axe and a wolf’s head.

Her daughter was 8 in the picture; unmistakably prepubescent. There was little question of context for herself, her husband, or for me. In this storytelling, Red had saved herself with a Huntsman’s axe. She did not need saving. The girl in the picture was wide eyed, with her innocence still visibly intact. She did not look menaced or menacing. She looked determined, and young. It was, ultimately, a picture of female innocence that was capable, and not the least bit helpless.

It was the kind of story-in-a-picture that upends paradigms, in…

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About matthewkirshenblatt

I am a writer and blogger living in the Greater Toronto Area of Ontario in Canada. When I'm not writing for the Sequart Research & Literacy Organization and GeekPr0n, I tend to write science-fiction, epic fantasy, horror, literary and mythological revisionisms, and generally weird fiction stories though I have been known to make poetry, television and comic book scripts. Also, when left to my own devices I tend to write weird and strange hybrid creative opinion piece articles like those you will find on this Blog. I am also very interested in comics, video games, Star Wars, table-top role-playing games, Neil Gaiman's works, H.P. Lovecraft, vampires, zombies, and budgies.
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6 Responses to Be Brave, Be Heard

  1. ladykatza says:

    You continually amaze me at your ability to bring out nuance from archetypal and iconic images.

  2. What basically happened is, Lady K came to me with the original pic and a #standwithwendy banner. I didn’t really think it fit, and had to think about it for a while. I don’t remember what I said back to her precisely when I said that it could work, given the right extra words, but I said something like, be strong, or whatever?
    So I had a friend I knew change the color gave it back to Lady K, and she came up with “Be Brave. Be Heard” etc.
    I thought it was brilliant. It precisely took it where it needed to go.

    So that was how an image that didn’t very precisely fit the framing of the particular political cause came to be precisely the hill upon which that political cause is built.

    It’s a strong image. The kind you frame and put on a wall, because, wow. It is, precisely as you say, an iconoclastic image. It rewrites and subverts the existing archetype, using all the metaphors we already understand but changing the player’s parts.

    We totally still have this archetype available to us, but she’s rare. Arya from Game of Thrones is one hell of an example. She’s crossing over a bit into becoming actually menacing and vengeful at the end of season 3, but her character arc is familiarly this.

    Its confusing to me for someone to try to take the image literally. We’re talking about Little Red Riding Hood here. A folktale that has a wolf pretending to be human people. A story that often includes the wolf being cut open and the grandmother and Red herself springing forth from the carcass, unharmed. These aren’t supposed to be truths. They’re archetypes, Truths with a capital T instead of a little t.They tell us about larger ideas and larger Truths than what literally happens to people.

    These are our folktales, and in them we are happy enough to cast boys as the hero. Often enough the hero of a fairy tale is a boy who is especially clever, fast or brave. Rarely is the hero a girl.

    If you are a lover of fairy tales and mythos as I am, I’m sure can guess at one set of stories wherein girls are often the heroes that I take especial delight in, Oz (and my name, pollychromatic, is taken from Polychrome in Road to Oz, and several later books). Baum was an outspoken feminist, as was his wife, and he wrote the stories he wrote in such a way that girls and women were often featured not as helpless children to be saved, but heroes of themselves and others. I mention this because others who read you might be interested in more mythos depicting women and even children as strong, brave and true, with no regard given to their gender.

    • That is really interesting. I’m glad that you took the time to write a little behind the scenes account of what came into the modified Riding Hood image that you present. With regards to Arya, I’m not sure if you have read the series that the show is based on–A Song of Ice and Fire–but Arya goes to some very interesting places and along the lines that you are thinking about. It is brilliant and you will have to wait to see what happens if you are going only by Game of Thrones.

      I actually haven’t read all of the Oz books: though I am definitely a fan of that world. I have a review and something of a fan-story based on the world of Wicked: the former being based on the book and the latter more on the Broadway musical (which I actually liked much more as a story because it had the Oz campiness in it, though I really appreciate the world-building of the former). I’ll post both of those at some point. I’m ashamed to say that I didn’t know what your name was based on, or it’s been so long that I actually forgot.

      With regards to truths and Truths: my Philosophy teacher had some really interesting jargon terms for them. Lower-case “truths” are ontical–they focus on the material and the literal–while upper-case capitalized “Truths” are ontological: they deal with universal elements, the mystical and the metaphorical. I’ve also noticed that you have a book by Andrew Lang. Do you have all of, or any of Lang’s Fairy Books? I only have the Blue Book myself.

      What is also interesting is when you mention the various iterations of Riding Hood: including her being released from the belly of the wolf by the woodsman. It almost seems to symbolize a kind of rebirth: in this case from the guidance and interference of an adult, but it can also be seen as her going to the underworld–in the belly of the wolf which is associated with the Chthonic: the earth and the night and the being that swallows the sun only for it to return through its mouth or be released from–to be freed and having learned something of the dark part of herself that the wolf represents. Mythology is so fascinating, it is symbolic, it has many interpretations and is ultimately timeless.

      Anyways, thank you for sharing this article and for Following my Blog. I appreciate it and this exchange. 🙂

      • I have the whole Lang rainbow. It’s an incredible collection.

        When it comes to the belly and the underworld stuff… gosh yes. You can even get into some Ishtar and Babylonian stuff there. Red has elements of some really, really old myths.

        I’m pretty fascinated with mythology and how it insects with psychology and symbolism and blah blah blah.

        Cheers!

  3. Pingback: Yet These Hands Will Never Hold Anything … Except For Paper and a Pen | Mythic Bios

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