It’s funny where research can take you. In middle school I became fascinated by Leonardo da Vinci, and for more than a year I read everything I could find about his life, his theories, his inventions and his art. I knew about the melting paint of “The Last Supper,” and I had a poster of The Vitruvian Man on my bedroom wall. I wrote so many papers about Leonardo that my 8th grade English teacher gently suggested that there must besomething else that interested me. Eventually, there was. There was a series of fascinations in high school – did Woodrow Wilson’s wife really run the country when he was gravely ill? Why was the sixth considered to be a “lascivious” interval in Bach’s time? I believed I was Sylvia Plath off and on from the time I was fifteen until I was out of college. I read every biography, every poem, the sole novel, and the complete works of The Villainous Ted Hughes. I could draw the floor plan of her parents’ house in Massachusetts right this minute, in the unlikely event that someone asked.
In order to write the book I am writing, I’ve had to research witchcraft, which led to researching Pagans, which led to researching gods and goddesses. I’m pretty good at Greek and Roman mythology; my father sat with me at breakfast every morning before nursery school and entertained me with tales of Theseus in the maze, Demeter striking a deal to bring Persephone back from the underworld, and poor, doomed Icarus going up in a blaze of ambition only to fall to earth in melting shame. I also knew a few things about Egyptian deities because one of my youthful research obsessions involved mummies. What I was missing was the Celtic tradition, the Norse tradition, and all of the other mythologies of strong, powerful women.
The last thing I read before falling asleep last night was about the speculation that as long ago as 24,000 B.C. women were just plain worshipped because they produced babies and could feed them and really, no one else could do that stuff. The figures of those women are womanly, with wide hips, full stomachs and ample breasts. How did we get from a world in which women were worshipped to one in which we were not allowed to vote, or make free choices about education, employment, or our own sexuality? What happened to our power? How did we get from cultures that worshipped pantheons of equally powerful male and female deities to the days of Hester Prynne, June Cleaver and The Real Housewives of Orange County? If a girl is lucky enough not to be born into a culture that literally enslaves and mutilates women she may still be born into one like our own, that enslaves us with an impossible combination of Judeo-Christian-Islamic repression and Hollywood sexpot images to the point where we mutilate ourselves in an attempt to be good enough.
I know that I am not inventing the wheel, here. If I had squeezed in a Women’s’ Studies course between Shakespeare and Wharton I would have been thinking about this for thirty years instead of thirty days. Bits of it have floated around in my head for decades, accumulating to form the mass of tinder that has been set ablaze by my latest reading. It always seemed strange to me that my college was the first to admit women in 1835. Where were the women before that? It bothered me that my law school class in 1987 was one of the first to have an equal number of male and female students after years of male-dominated admissions. It had always, frankly, seemed crazy to me that anyone ever remotely entertained the thought that a person like me was not capable of doing anything she chose to do just because she was female. How did this happen?
All roads seem to lead back to men, and that’s a problem, because I really, really like men. I was blessed to have a father who believed I could do anything (and a mother who did everything) and I am doubly lucky to have a husband who supports and admires me at my most badass and assertive. So it was not men like those that I love, but some other kind of men who were threatened and desperate enough to see women not as Diana the Huntress but as weak, dependent, hysterical creatures. I guess, given our inherent awesomeness I can understand why men might have felt a little defensive, but I can’t understand why equality and balance weren’t the goal instead of subjugation and dominance. Equality and balance still aren’t the goals in most parts of the world, in most religions, or in most cultures.
I could, I suppose, continue unraveling this backwards, worrying it, obsessing over it, looking for causes and culprits until I became totally enraged. I wouldn’t be the first woman to feel that way. Instead, I choose to adopt the mantle of goddess and idol. In doubt, I can ask myself “What Would Diana Do?” I know that Isis would be untroubled by the fact that she didn’t look like Kate Moss, and Artemis would never doubt her ability to be a soldier or a construction worker. Freya would raise her voice on behalf of all women who are culturally hobbled, and persist no matter who accused her of being a shrill bitch. Brigid would not waste an opportunity to do something interesting or important because her hair wasn’t right, her lips weren’t glossy, or her “fat clothes” were tight. I’d like to help every girl who crosses my path to see herself strong, beautiful, capable and worship-worthy. I’d like to help every man to see the same thing reflexively and without hesitation.
I’d like to see myself that way: good, whole and powerful because I was born that way.
It’s funny where research can take you.