Sunday, April 14, 2013

The Werewolf as Sexual Metaphor

I had an epiphany the other day, regarding the symbolism of the mythical werewolf as a cultural symbol related to sexuality and the sex drive (as it sometimes is). Going back to the fairy tale of Little Red Riding Hood, you have the wolf that is a predator the young girl must watch out for. In some interpretations, the color of the girl's hood can be seen to represent menarche, indicating that, as one being initiated into her sexual awakening, she must become alert to the danger of the wolf - that is, the sexual predator, or, more conservatively, the average grown man's sexual appetite (consider, for example, The Company of Wolves).

More recently, films like Teen Wolf (for guys) and Ginger Snaps (for girls), have taken advantage of the fecundity of the symbol of the werewolf ("man-wolf") as a metaphor for puberty. Think about it. The werewolf is a person who finds him/herself undergoing an unfamiliar transformation, growing hair in strange places, and developing animal cravings. It's a no-brainer to equate this with sexual awakening itself (rather than, in Red Riding Hood's case, the dangers that sexual awakening exposes one to).

But there's a problem with that. Which I only just really grasped during a discussion of Jack & Diane, a movie that has a subtle and confusing undercurrent of werewolf symbolism. And it's this: using the werewolf - a violent predator - as a symbol for sexuality encourages the view that sexuality is a monster. In Riding Hood's case, we can see people (specifically, misandrists who parade around in feminists' clothing) who equate the male libido with a kind of ravenous, predatory appetite. And in the case of people transforming into werewolves, you can see it as a sort of danger tale that any abstinence-positive sex "educator" (read: ignorator) would approve of.

And the problem is - I don't see sex as a monster. And I think that presenting the image of sex as a monster - especially to impressionable young minds who are just being introduced to their own sexual feelings - is dangerous and contributes to the fucked up attitudes we have about sex in this culture. We view sex almost as if it were a form of violence, a predatory hunger that demands to be sated, an animal desire we (or at least men) have little control of. At the same time, it is an overpowering desire, and few can successfully resist it - and those who can't feel ashamed for indulging in it, like the guilt a vampire feels after succumbing to his irresistible thirst for blood, despite desperately not wanting to become a murderer.

And while it's true that puberty and adolescence can be a troubling time in one's life, and that navigating the waters of sexual awakening is difficult - especially in light of all the unhealthy information and attitudes that get passed around about sex in casual conversation and popular media - the fact is I never viewed sex as a monster. It wasn't a powerful, irresistible drive that filled me with fear and anxiety. Actually, I had a pretty responsible (if unrealistic) view of sex, and I had no trouble resisting it until far too late (in hindsight). I was taught to view sex as a super private, super intimate act, but never did its shadow threaten to destroy my interpersonal relationships (except perhaps where compatibility was the problematic factor).

And today, more than ever, I view sex as a positive force in my life that has the power - not to destroy - but to give me (and others) pleasure. And I think that's a far healthier way to view sex than as a monstrous, animal hunger. Even if there are wolves out there (and certainly, I believe there are), by tainting our view of sexuality overall to try (unsuccessfully, I might add) to scare people away from indulging in it, we're doing more harm than good, when only a certain level of care and caution is needed to do a reasonable job of avoiding the wolves out there (which, I'm sorry to say, it simply isn't possible to ever be 100% protected from - as that's just part of the risk in life).

Quite simply put, the werewolf as metaphor for sexual desire is a very sex-negative image.

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