The female roadtrip – Red Riding Hood Grows Up

A reader and friend brought an article in The Atlantic to my attention. It is entitled:

It’s Frustratingly Rare to Find a Novel About Women That’s Not About Love

“Literary girls don’t take road-trips to find themselves; they take trips to find men.”

http://www.theatlantic.com/sexes/archive/2013/07/its-frustratingly-rare-to-find-a-novel-about-women-thats-not-about-love/277621/

Although the title is provocative enough to make anyone click the link, I’ll summarize. The author, Kelsey McKinney, takes note that while plenty of novels center around the coming of age story, for men it involves an adventure and self-discovery. For women it centers around find herself through love and a man…or in this day and age it could be another woman.

In short, men look for themselves, women look for romance. At least in literature. And she bemoans this fact because in the real world there are plenty of women who do not think the be-all end-all of life is a husband and kids. Very few novels have women focused on finding themselves or pursuing a career without also adding a love subplot. She calls for more books like Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson, about a girl who comes of age, but doesn’t search for love and acceptance. She just grows.

I could argue that writers see women as more well-rounded people who know that the search for love is just as important as the search for purpose, which could include children, a mate, and a career.

Or I could argue that I am just as frustrated by the lack of adventure-seeking girls and women who can thumb their noses at romance.

The truth is, I can see both sides. I think it’s just as sad that books geared towards men have them only pursuing a promotion or a trophy and I think love can be just as great an adventure as rolling down the Mississippi. However, as a writer what I see is a challenge. How do we revive the road trip that makes it possible for women to have just as much adventure as men? The answer seems to start with them as children.

I remember reading Pipi Longstocking and her parent-free adventures with her monkey and horse foiling robbers, teachers, and the police. She was wild, carefree, athletic, but she was still happy to have friends. Her road trip would have been a high-seas adventure, but with her father and therefore defeat the purpose.

Mathilda, by Roald Dahl, is also a good candidate for the “strong girl grows up to be strong woman”, but with magical powers and being so decidedly good, I imagine her adventures would be rather tame and ultimately, safe.

Perhaps we can look to a fairy tale for the answer. She went into the woods a naive girl and returned a smart young woman. All it took was being swallowed by a wolf. I think she would have grown up to be an adventurer, despite promising never to stray from the path. Did anyone actually believe she kept that promise?  This is a girl who was eaten by a wolf along with her grandmother, was cut out of its belly by a huntsman, fills the wolf’s belly with stones until he dies and when she goes back to her grandmother’s house on a subsequent trip meets with another wolf who she outsmarts with granny’s help by enticing him with the smell of sausages and drowns him. That’s a girl I would take a road trip with, wouldn’t you?

With a challenge to meet and a heroine ready for anything, I’ve decided to write a story about a grown Red Riding Hood seeing the world–fairy tale style.

The Tale of Red Riding Hood

Part I

                Once there was a girl who grew up quite suddenly after being eaten by a wolf. It was only natural that she should learn from such an experience and become more wary of the ways of the world and admire the strong female influences in her life.

                After her grandmother passed away, Red was left the cottage in the woods. But her adventures as a child gave her a longing to know the world better and so she closed up the house, put on her red cloak, and set off on a journey.

                Her first stop was to the city. It was the largest she had ever seen. But Red knew that wolves didn’t only lurk behind trees and bushes. They also walked the paved roads and roamed the taverns. Feeling prepared for anything life could throw at her, she entered one such tavern for lunch.

                The patrons glanced her way, wondering what a young woman was doing in a tavern alone, especially one with such an attention-grabbing cloak. She ordered her food and ate alone at a table ignoring the whispers. When the barmaid returned with her food, she stood next to the table for such a long time, that Red had to speak to her.

                “Good day to you. The food is delicious, but I don’t plan to order any more just yet.”

                “Look here, what are you doing in a place like this alone?” asked the barmaid.

                “Having a meal as all the others are doing. Why do you ask?”

                “All the other patrons are men and the women are accompanied. Are you lost?”

                “Not at all. But I have no destination in mind if that is your real question,” she replied and continued to enjoy her meal.

                “Then let me give you a word of caution. There is a man in the corner who has taken a particular interest in you. Others who have caught his eye have not been seen again.”

                “I am not a stranger to wolves on the prowl,” said Red looking at the man.

                “Pardon me?”

                “It’s no matter. I thank you for your warning,” she said and went back to her meal. The barmaid hesitated, but left Red alone thereafter. She thought her a foolish country girl and knew that fate and the city would treat her cruelly. Red had no such concerns and after finishing her lunch, paid her bill and left the tavern. Shortly thereafter the man in the corner rose from his place and followed her…

To Be Continued…

3 thoughts on “The female roadtrip – Red Riding Hood Grows Up

  1. I’m so excited about the grown-up Red series! She’s already turning into a badass character. What fun!

    I share your sentiments about balancing adventure/love for both genders. Most human beings do look for love, and having a subplot that involves love makes the story more believable, whether the protagonist is a male or a female.

    At the same time, I do see a comparative dearth of stories where the woman’s main objective is something other than finding a mate. I wonder if that’s because there’s no demand for those stories?

    I often hear advice such as, “You need to put a romantic angle in your story, otherwise no one’s going to read it.” It worries me. Is so much emphasis placed on romance because that is really what the readers want? Or are the readers forced to read romance because nothing else is available?

    I, for one, would love to read a Hemingwayesque tale from a woman’s perspective. Do we not see them because women writers are afraid to write about jagged things that poke out of one’s soul? Or about harshness in general? Something where the tale doesn’t end with finding love or repairing a broken heart?

    Is it because readers don’t want them? Or do readers want them, but are we afraid to give it to them?

    • I know that quite a few of the books I read are tomes and span years if not decades. For books like that, you want to get a complete picture of the protagonist’s life and if love is not included in some small way, I wonder if the author was trying to make a statement of some kind. I’ve only seen it work when the story centered around a clergyman and even he had the odd errant thought.

      That said, I think a good traveling, cussing, brawling, discovery book about a woman not looking for companionship should be the new Holy Grail of writing. Like getting boys to read as much as girls do. You game?

      • Haha…quite true! It would be absurd not to have a love subplot for those stories that span long stretches of time. Being different for the sake of being different always ends up feeling unauthentic.

        Absolutely up for creating a road trip adventure, though! That, and comic thrillers, are going to be my alter ego genres when I’m not writing fantasy!

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