Several years ago, I took a walk with a good friend. We were both pregnant with our second babies and trying to burn through the summer days before they burned through us. She was still blogging (she’s now gone on to conquer the world of content directors) and I was just about to buy the domain for my first website. The first-borns stretched out in their strollers while we talked about the future. While our destination is fuzzy (probably a donut shop), I do remember one of the street corners that took us there. We stood on the curb waiting out a red light, when I finally said that thing I’d been thinking for awhile,
“I guess, if I am being honest, I just really want to write for and about women. I want to hear them and I want to help them hear each other. You know, ummmmm, kind of girl power, rah, rah, rah. That’s really it for me.”
She offered her special brand of encouragement and then we crossed the street into those years that hold a little less walking and a little more running.
I’m older now, but my small big hope hasn’t really changed. It’s just becoming a little harder.
When my dad bemoaned the state of the world, my grandma used to say, “Don’t worry, it’s ever been thus.” And I know she was right (along with every other grandma that said the very same thing). There are only really seven stories in the world and each generation stages them over and over again. The costumes may be different, the backdrops more elaborate but, essentially, the themes of mortality remain unchanged. I can appreciate this.
But here is the thing, it hasn’t always been thus for me. And when I looked up from the years of diapers and spilled milk, everything seemed a little different. There are more cracks in the plaster and not all of them are letting in light. Probably they were always there. It is more likely that spent years changed my vision than that the world shattered because I wasn’t holding it carefully enough.
Sometimes it feels like the rules were changed before I’d entered the game. Or maybe that the new rule is that there are no rules…which just seems like the same old restriction under a new name.
Over here. There is no such thing as a female brain, unless a man has the mind of a woman. We love smart girls and mighty girls and #likeagirl except that it is sexist to make anything gender specific because it’s all just a social construct anyways. Women need to be protected from the patriarchy, but if their fears and hopes are not ideologically sound they also need to be protected from being razed by other women. The female body deserves to break free of the male gaze but there is also nothing inherently female about the biological construction of the girl-born body.
Over There. Women are to be revered but it’s best if they maintain a holy silence. A woman is not her reproductive ability - heavens, no - but in heaven the highest calling is motherhood. Women need to be protected by the patriarchy except for the ones that need to be subdued by it. Females may have the faith to be healed but they (mostly) cannot have the faith to heal. Woman is that she might have joy, but that does not mean Woman is that She might have co-control.
Brief flashes of revelatory light illuminate long enough for me to see that most things are an issue of spirit as much as, if not more than, circumstance or biology. If not the mind of a woman, maybe the spirit of one? Of course, these light-storms are certainly not easily admitted into the general conversation. Personal belief and wonderings rarely are. And I’m not entirely sure that’s all wrong. I understand my half lit spiritual truths are to the unbelieving and differently-believing as valid as insights from the ghost that lives under my bed. (But seriously, her name is Issandra and she’s got the crudest jokes. Just kidding. She doesn’t really have a sense of humor.)
I am not pretending to have any answers. Hell, I don’t even know if I have any of the right questions. But even the right questions aren’t really “the thing” now are they? And heaven forbid you ask a wrong one. Over here, we have many stupid questions and the hate-filled bigots that ask them. Over there, we have evil questions and the doubt-filled antagonizers that ask them. Not much of a choice. Or a change. Certainty always been one of mankind’s favorite virtues.
I’ve read enough religious Facebook posts and secular Jezebel articles (just the one) to know it is anti-woman (if you buy into gender differences), anti-man (the right kind of man, the other ones deserve to anti’d) and anti-human (well, the humans on the right side of ideological lines) to not be certain about our currently trending certainties.
It is kind to be certain. It is time to be certain. It is right to be certain.
I am not certain.
I don’t know how to write about women when it feels like womanhood is being consumed and subsumed. I am having a hard time standing up but not apart. Over here, I’m not sure why my gender is one of the only groups still unprotected by voices outraged about cultural appropriation. And over there, I’m not sure why my gender is one of the only groups that must stay so culturally restricted. Sometimes it feels like we've missed a beat in the conversation. We wait in two separate lines to lay tributes of equal value at the feet of Placid-Womanhood or Post-Womanhood. Few of the acolytes take the time to see if either figure is made of anything more lasting than rough-hewn wood.
Sometimes I have the presence of mind to get up as close as I can to the one I am worshipping that day. I've never felt either icon's breath upon my cheek.
A few weeks ago I took the girls into the city. We played in the park and ate ice cream by Japanese Tea Garden. They laughed and ran and I rejoiced in their girlhood and daughterhood and sisterhood. I am not certain of womanhood except for when I am certain of them.
We started home at rush hour. The girls fell asleep while I turned the car through narrow streets. We were a few blocks from the Bay Bridge when we stopped at a red light. The crosswalk on the opposite side of the intersection filled with people making their way home. Heads bent down, headphones on, hands in pockets, pressed against one another and still leaning into themselves. A brief break in the throng revealed her. Wild-haired and yelling, she was completely naked. She moved along with the current of the crowd, but no one pressed against her. If they heard her proclamations through their headphones, they didn’t turn their heads to acknowledge her voice. Her breasts hung down onto a distended stomach and her fingers moved back and forth against the skin on her hips. There was tattoo on her back where her waistband should have been.
Her feet were bare.
I sobbed. Just one guttural, bark of a cry.
I want to tell you I drove through the intersection and turned the car around. I want to say that we looked for twenty minutes and then finally found her. That I called the proper people and waited with her until they could come and get her, until there was a hand to smooth her hair and shoes to cover her feet.
I guess I want to tell myself that, too.
But it was a strange part of town. And when the light turned green, the only turn I could make was the one that went on to the bridge. It took me twenty minutes to get to the first exit I didn’t take to go find her. There were nine more. As we stopped and started across the bay, it seemed like the cars in front pulled and the cars behind pushed and there was no other way to go. I can almost convince myself that’s true except it was my hand that kept the wheels turned forward and my foot that pressed down on the gas. I had good reasons. I didn’t know how to get back to where I had been and I couldn’t justify taking the girls down unfamiliar, dark streets for a woman I probably wouldn’t find.
Even if her mouth was open and her feet were bare.
She was a real woman with a real history and a real present and a real future. I hope someone better than me wrapped her up in a warm blanket. I hope she’s got food in her stomach and, please God, let there be shoes on her feet.
I hate when people make tokens out of flesh and blood people. It’s reductive and disrespectful.
She has become my Lost Woman. The one wandering naked and alone in the concrete wilderness constructed out of our blind certainties. The one baring her breasts and yelling into the crowd while we rush past her, our eyes turned inward and our ears stopped up with noise. She is my Cassandra. She is both a symbol I do not deserve and a reality I cannot address. There's no shaking the feeling that she’s naked because we’ve stolen her armor, that she’s barefoot because we’ve stripped her of her boots.
I still haven’t gotten up the courage to turn around, get back to the place I must have once been and bring her in from the cold.
I guess, if I am being honest, I just really want to write for and about women. I want to hear them and I want to help them hear each other. You know, ummmmm, kind of girl power, rah, rah, rah.
That’s really it for me.