A Maiden Who Saves Herself

The highlight of Thanksgiving for me last year included time spent with my daughter, Katie, who moved to Washington, D.C. a year ago. Since moving, she’s made the 11-hour solo drive back to Michigan on several occasions. Each time, I feel a simultaneous concern for her safety, alongside awareness of her capability, an awareness that was cultivated in countless interactions while she was growing up.

The maiden character that I remember defining Katie’s childhood was Drew Barrymore’s “Danielle” in the movie Ever After: A Cinderella Story.

She is intelligent, kind-hearted, resourceful, and not afraid to stand up to those in power.

She rescues herself from her captor by using his own sword against him. For me, she was an intriguing alternative to the innocent maiden who waits helplessly for something or someone outside herself to move the plot forward.

In my family, I learned that being a woman meant to be vulnerable: the clearly-communicated message was that the world was a dangerous place, and I was too fragile to survive in it without the protection of a man. The message no one acknowledged was that our home was dangerous, and men could be perpetrators, masquerading as protectors.

Katie was born after our two boys, which I thought was so perfect, because she would have older brothers to protect her. I had no idea back then how I was subconsciously reenacting my own story, where the innocent girl who needed protection would finally have someone strong to rescue her. Katie arrived during a season of upheaval; my world had been turned upside-down by the revelation of family secrets that caused me to question everything about my childhood. Disoriented and uncertain, I set out on a healing journey in search of the truth about who I was. In a sense, that young, innocent maiden part of me grew up alongside Katie, learning together to cultivate resourcefulness, strength, love, and courage.

One of the most vivid pictures I have of the difference in Katie’s identity and the way she learned to engage her world came in preparation for her first date. I felt the vulnerability of her innocence and excitement and my responsibility as a mother to prepare her.

“What will you do if he wants you to do something you don’t want?” I asked her.

“I would say no,” she replied.

“But what if he doesn’t listen and tries anyway?”

Without skipping a beat, she said, “Well then, I’d just punch him in the face.”

While she hasn’t had to resort to violence, she has continued to engage the world as someone who believes she holds a legitimate place in it on her own, who doesn’t need to wait for someone outside herself to move the plot forward. As a 50-something-year-old woman, I am no longer the maiden, but I feel her energy and hope for disrupting systems that are oppressive, rather than restorative and empowering. What if we gave that vision to our daughters and sons?

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.