My breath came in short, labored bursts, reflecting the intensity of the circuit workout my friend and I were making our way through. I told her I’d begun “hiking” on the treadmill set at a steep incline, practicing for the mountain hikes on the itinerary for an upcoming trip as couples to celebrate our friends’ 25th wedding anniversary. We’d both been lamenting different things about our bodies—lack of strength, lack of flexibility, softness and size. Internally, I feared my body was a bigger problem than my friend’s, likely to be a source of failure and disappointment on what was supposed to be a fun vacation.
Thankfully, my wise friend listens well, beyond words. She looked at me and said, “Janet, I don’t know how much any of us will be able to do, I just want to do things together—whatever that looks like. I just want to be with you.” The familiar tightness inside of me, the part that fears there is nothing compelling enough about me to offset all my deficits, that space inside of me expanded a bit, allowing room for deep breaths.
On the trip, I finally began reading Women Who Run with the Wolves by Clarissa Pinkola Estés, which has been patiently waiting on my bookshelf for me to be ready. Estés says of our initial response to the idea of the Wild Woman:
“When women hear those words, an old, old memory is stirred and brought back to life. The memory is of our absolute, undeniable, and irrevocable kinship with the wild feminine…in our bones we know her, we yearn toward her; we know she belongs to us and we to her.”
Did you feel that stirring?
I sure did! Estés’ storytelling utilizes the Wild Woman archetype to construct a doorway into a forgotten land—the place of our origin, of the deeply knowing, instinctual nature we were created with and birthed into. Investigating what lies beyond the door is part of our necessary initiation into womanhood.
I believe the evangelical culture many of us grew up in locked the door and painted over it with flowers and elegant script, admonishing us to tend instead to our growth as “godly women”: sweet, accommodating, responsible, beautiful, and oriented to the approval and enjoyment of men. The image of the ideal woman held up in many circles today is a far cry from our wild woman origins.
Estés observes that moral judgments about women’s bodies, and expectations that we all conform to a universal standard of beauty and appropriate behavior is compelling evidence of our captivity. This captivity will require all of our wildish instincts to break free. I plan to nurture that expansive, wild, space in me, to attend to the fear that I appear large to others. I knew this wildness in my body and witnessed it in my friend’s body, at 14,466 feet of elevation last week, and it was liberating. May we stay curious about what lies beyond.
Janet Stark is a deeply feeling introvert who has learned the value of creating nurturing, restful space in a loud world. She loves the connection that is possible when we slow down and listen to each other with intention. A few of her favorite things include the smell of freshly baked bread, soft blankets, good books, and the warmth of her puppy, Oliver snuggled up close. Janet and her husband Chris love traveling, especially to spend time with their three adult children.
I, too, believe our culture in many ways has taught us to believe “for our own good” we need to be “kept” in a well-tended (male dominated) world because we are the “weaker sex.” We cannot think, act, make decisions for ourselves; we need a man to do it for us. I don’t like that. I also believe we should be compatible in our world and not just rebellious for the sake of being rebellious. I love to be nurtured, cared for, have a door opened for me, receive flowers, have my feet massaged, etc., but I also want to be heard, taken seriously, be allowed to grow and be me without being shamed for it. It’s hard to find a place for both to fit into our world. If we give away parts of ourselves we cannot get back, we lose respect for ourselves and others. If we are “too uptight,” we drive people away with our aggression/anger. I want the best of my world and to share that best with others.
I know there are very active “Proverbs 31” groups. I can appreciate the sincerity with which women approach being a Proverbs 31 woman; I don’t think it is achievable and feeling like a failure can be expected.
We have come a long way from our wild woman origins created in the image of God in the garden. We have learned to be comfortable in our role as “pedestal women.” It happened gradually without us really paying attention. A turnaround from such captivity takes a long time to accomplish. There is much resistance from the status quo which loses control/power when we are free.
Before replying to your post, I ordered Estés’ book. I look forward to reading it and learning more about breaking free. I can just hear the men of our world lamenting – don’t be ridiculous. You need me to take care of you. Give me a break!
Akayaya, I hear that you, too have struggled with many of the messages about women in our culture. You put good words to your desire to enjoy care and nurture, but also to be heard. Like so many things in life, we separate options into opposite sides, rather than welcoming both. Your term “pedestal women” resonates, and I agree, it brings with it captivity.
I am still making my way through Estés’ book, it is one to be savored slowly. I hope you find reminders of your own wild woman origins as you read. Thank you for sharing your thoughts here!
oh, Janet – the picture of the locked door. Painted over. Thank you for flinging open that door & inviting this reader, yet again, into the more that lies beyond. How often do I find myself being pulled back to the face of that all too familiar door? Thank you for sharing what is compelling from your big, wild heart.
Thank you, friend. I know that door is very familiar to you as well. May you continue to nurture intuition that seeks what lies beyond.
To akayaya: I wish people would look more closely at the qualities described in Proverbs 31. This woman is independent; she runs her own business; she develops new dyes; she invests her own money for profit. She looks after the poor, has strength, dignity, kindness and wisdom. She takes care of her family, but is never described as cowering or submissive. Nor is she described as beautiful. The key to her description is that she fears the Lord. And I disagree with the description of Eve as a “wild woman” whose origins were created in the image of God in the garden of Eden. This is utterly contrary to Scripture. Genesis 1: 18-24. To the extent she had any “wild woman” qualities, she used them to bring mankind down.
Susan, I am curious about what the term “wild woman” means to you? My guess, based on your last sentence about Eve, is that there is an association with danger or destruction.
I invite you to be curious about the wild woman. Again, I think our culture would have us associate wild with danger and destruction, and yet there is a fierce strength and protective nurturing in our wildness that is necessary for life. What if what it means to reclaim our wildness is much more complex than we have been led to believe? Thank you for sharing your thoughts here.
Susan, I do not shallowly interpret Proverbs 31. I respect and pray for women who attempt to be this woman. I also see a woman – who by any stretch of the imagination – would be exhausted from running her own business, developing her own dyes, investing her own money, caring for the poor and her family, keeping her home pristine, her children polished, her husband satisfied, her friends content, etc. She would never have time to sit down to a meal she prepared nor sleep in a bed covered with sheets she had dyed.
What a heavy guilt trip to drape on Eve. God told Adam not to “eat of the tree.” Adam was to tell Eve. He did not. When Adam was wagging his finger at Eve for being the one who picked and ate the fruit, sharing with him, he had at least three fingers pointing at himself. Woman is not guilty alone.