Women Who Run With the Wolves Book Club: Chapter 6

It just so happens that each time I go to read, or write, or exercise, or sleep, or eat, or (insert whatever activity you’d like here) Miss Amelia starts crying.  This colic is tough.  Ah, a story for another day.

After reading this chapter I had the thought that while I’d like to create, and my Wild Woman is urging me on, I am stuck in this hard place that each parent knows well.  The place where your life is dictated more by your children’s whims – especially your newborn –  than by your own desires.

Discussion Questions:  Is Wild Woman pushed away when you are a parent?  Is this a bad thing?  

This ties in very well with the chapter.  In this chapter, Estes’ recounts a story that most of us know well: The Ugly Duckling.  In the subsequent chapters she discusses exile, mothers, mixing with bad company, forging ahead, and other insights from this story.  Let’s jump in.

Children that are seemingly unmatched to their families are, according to Estes, especially in tune to their wildish natures.

“Girl children who display a strong instinctive nature often experience significant suffering in early life.  From the time they are babies, they are taken captive, domesticated, told they are wrong-headed and improper.”  (p. 184)

I have some distinct memories of wishing to be an astronaut.  The culture I lived in discouraged this, telling me that my duty would eventually tie in with my husband and children; thus, I needed to find a career path that would allow for that.  But, here’s the thing, it wasn’t specific messages directed at me, it came in general messages – in those that glorified being a stay-at-home mom versus a working mom in ways that left it clear what direction I should take.  (Neither should be disparaged, it’s the message that one is inherently bad that is wrong.)

“Neither the child’s soul nor her psyche can accomodate this.  Pressure to be “adequate,” in whatever manner authority defines it, can chase the child away, or underground, or set her to wander for a long time looking for a place of nourishment and peace.

“When culture narrowly defines what constitutes success or desirable perfection in anything…then corresponding mandates to measure oneself against these criteria are introjected into the psyches of all the members of that culture.  So the issues of the exiled wildish woman are usually twofold: inner and personal, and outer and cultural.”  (p. 185)

In recent weeks, there has been much stir over the culture of modesty and the idea of putting women on a pedestal by admiring their virtue, chastity, motherhood, nurturing side, etc.  If we use Estes’ wisdom, these ideas promote that there exists an Ideal Woman and if we do not fit into this mold, we must change.  I find this very damaging.  In my life, I can remember chugging through the day, going through the motions of what I thought I was supposed to do, but ignoring my inner Wild Woman because She was the Ugly Duckling. As I’ve broken free from this proscription, piece by piece, I have found my heart singing in a way it hasn’t sung before.  The song is powerful.  It fuels my wild fire. If I had to pinpoint when the change started, it was when I took an astronomy-focused physics course during my final semester at BYU.  That fantasy I had of becoming an astronaut? It still remained.  And when I gave into Wild Woman just a little bit, my appetite for Her presence grew.

Discussion Questions: How does/has culture affected you in your search for Wild Woman?  Do you agree with my assessment of our society’s current fascination with the Ideal Woman and how damaging this is? 

“It is not uncommon in punitive cultures for women to be torn between being accepted by the ruling class (her village)  and loving her child, be it a symbolic child, creative child, or biological child. This is an old, old story.  Women have died psychically and spiritually for trying to protect the unsanctioned child, whether it be their art, their lover, their politics, their offspring, or their soul life.  At the extreme, women have been hanged, burned, and murdered for defying the village proscriptions and sheltering the unsanctioned child.” (p. 187)

After reading this passage, my mind jumped to the many women in history and in present society who have faced persecution for their ideas, their causes, and their children.  Joan of Arc.  Betty Friedan.  Margaret Toscano.  Mary, mother of Jesus.  I thought of my friends who have been told their ideas are wrong, their art was too risqué, their writing too…whatever.  An old story indeed.

Embedded within this particular section came the perfect description of the pro-life/pro-choice debate and it’s true roots.

“One of the least-spoken about oppressions of women’s soul lives concerns millions of unmarried mothers or never-married mothers throughout the world, including the United States, who, in this century alone, were pressured by cultural mores to hide their condition or their children, or else to kill or surrender their offspring, or to live a half-life under assumed identities and as reviled and disempowered citizens.

“For generations women accepted the role of legitimizing humans through marriage to a man.  They agreed that a human was not acceptable unless a man said so.  Without that “masculine” protection, the mother is vulnerable.”  (p. 190)

Certainly gives perspective to that false dichotomy of pro-choice and pro-life, doesn’t it?

Discussion Questions:  What was your reaction to this paragraph?  Have you or do you feel oppressed because of your child (be it spiritual, creative, biological, etc)? Have you overcome that? If so, how?

Finally, Estes talks about the importance of finding many mothers to guide us on our journey to find Wild Woman.

“In olden times, the blessings of the wildish nature normally came through the hands and words of the women who nurtured the younger mothers.” (p. 191)

And further on,

“Your relationship with todas las madres, the many mothers, will most likely be ongoing ones, for the need for guidance and advisory is never outgrown, nor, from the point of view of women’s deep creative life, should it ever be.” (p. 193)

I have many creative mothers, women who probably don’t realize how much they’ve meant to me in my journey.  Women like D.A Wolf and Rebecca. The many women on blogs like Feminist Mormon Housewives, the Exponent, and Zelophehad’s Daughters.  Women who have encouraged me in my life to pursue my dreams.  Women who have laughed, cried, and encouraged me when I became a new mother.  So many that to list them would take hours, but I hope you know who you are.

This reminds me of the importance of community, whether it’s on-line or in real life.  Community helps build women up when outside forces would like to see them fall. At the risk of tooting my own horn, one way I try to build a community is through my Messy Parenting series.  A way for all of us (be you male or female) to laugh and cry through our parenting wins and losses, triumphs and failures.  This book club is to encourage all of us as we read this powerful book and find new insights or find encouragement for our old insights.

Discussion Questions:  Do you have any women who you would call your Pack Mothers (by they young or not-so-young)?  How important are communities in your life? What communities do you participate in and how have they helped you in your journey to find Wild Woman?  

And to conclude,

“Do not cringe and make yourself small if you are called the black sheep, the maverick, the lone wolf.  Those with slow seeing say a nonconformist is a blight on society.  But it has been proven over the centuries, that being different means standing at the edge, means on is practically guaranteed to make an original contribution, a useful and stunning contribution to her culture.

“When seeking guidance, don’t ever listen to the tiny-hearted.  Be kind to them, heap them with blessing, cajole them, but do not follow their advice.

“If you have ever been called defiant, incorrigible, forward, cunning, insurgent, unruly, rebellious, you’re on the right track.  Wild Woman is close by.” (p. 212)

Discussion Questions:  What did you like about this chapter?  Were there things you disagreed with? What were they?

(Click over to Chapter 7)

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