Essentially, Essentialism Sucks

Women are the ultimate mystery, possessors of the great lunar intuitive way of knowing, capable of listening to the rhythms of nature in a way no one else can. Mothers, goddesses, women are all that is natural, fertile earth-wombed Venuses, protectors of the creative half of human nature. Right. And I’m a fifty-foot green lemming with vampire fangs, a tinfoil hat, and a built-in AI to communicate with the mother ship. Sever me from half myself with your essentialism, go on. Because men are rational all the time, yes. No intuition what-so-ever, no emotional irrationality, nope. And I’m not analytical. No sirree bob. Not a logical thought in my head. I’m a baby-draped earth-momma, yup, yup. Oh, and ignore the people who sit between, the women who are all-woman, but weren’t born that way, and the men who started out in the wrong body. Ignore all the shape-shifters, and the folk who were never either, and those who are both at once.

I’m tired of the essentialism. I’m tired of traits being listed as “masculine” and “feminine.” The Pagan community is rife with this. I’m tired of the excuses: “well it’s not that only men are this way and only women are that way…” I’m sorry, you can say all you want that it isn’t the intent, but using those words shapes the reality: thus, feminine/lunar/passive/yin and masculine/solar/active/yang become what people see. By linking them, you’re attaching these labels to people, real people, their bodies, their minds, their beings. And my answer to that is NO.

I am not a fertility Venus. I am not lunar and intuitive, as if those things were the whole of me. I claim the sun, daylight, reason, culture. I claim both the screaming and crying, and the calm rational speech. I claim non-fiction and poetry, and the craft of essay-writing. I claim the quiet and still as well as the strike and frenzy. I claim whole-beinghood.

There’s more to these myths, a sinister (left-handed, weaker, womanly?) edge to these archetypes. I see it among the child-free community, too. Women are not brood sows. Mothers are not cattle. In keeping with this, I will eviscerate the next person who disdainfully labels any woman who has, wants, or is expecting children a “breeder” or a “moo.” The physical capacity to reproduce does not subsume an individual’s identity, and I will apply my fiery solar blade to this notion, cut it open with my intellect, exposing it for what it is: the equally damaging flip side of the earth-mother archetype.

We need new stories, myths in the morning of their telling. We need stories that turn it all inside-out, that show things true, that don’t fit the archetypes, but make space for what’s already here. I will tell a story. I will tell a story that starts to turn these things around: Momma Mountain, Aunt Arachne, and Little Jackrabbit Child all lived together in their house on the hill. Momma Mountain left in the morning to go to her nine-to-five as a park ranger, and Aunt Arachne and Jackrabbit sat out on the porch. It was a fine day, and the air was thick with thunderheads, though it weren’t rainin’ yet.

Auntie lit herself a stogie, sipped her Irish coffee, and watched her rabbit-niece become a spring like all kids do, bouncing like a rubber ball, off the walls, with an attention span shorter than a mayfly’s infancy.

Little Jackrabbit Child got that look in her eye that said, “I’m gonna drop a question too big for you in your lap,” and she did.

“Auntie? Auntie, how come you don’t got kids?” And like all too-big questions, Jackrabbit Child really did wannna’ know.

Auntie Arachne puffed on her cigar for a minute before she answered, “I got you.”

“No, I mean your own kids.”

And Auntie Arachne smiled. “Because you kids are an annoying pain in the ass!”

“Nuh-uh!”

“And why do you say that?”

“Because we’re fun!”

“Why?”

“Because we do all the neat stuff!”

“Why?”

“Because we got toys!”

“Why?”

“‘Cause Momma gave ’em to us!”

“Why?”

“‘Cause she wants us to go play.”

“Why?”

“‘Cause she says, ‘I’m busy…’ Hey!!!”

“Hey what?”

“Stoppit! Just ’cause, okay?”

“Just ’cause? Is that all the answer you got?”

“Momma says it!”

“She says it when you ask ‘why’ all the time, and you know so. She says it when you’re being an annoying pain in the ass, Rabbit. And you said when I was being a pain in the ass.”

“Momma’s never a pain in the ass.”

“Oh yes she is, sometimes. And don’t say ‘ass.'”

“You said it.”

“I did. And I correct: don’t say ‘ass’ around Momma Mountain.”

“Okay!”

And then the rain burst and they went inside.

A Wizard and Some Magic

I always feel stupid when I cry, but there are times when feel stupider than most. Like today. I don’t cry when T.V. personalities die–only I did today. Today, I found out that Don Herbert, Mr. Wizard, died on Tuesday. Bill Nye wrote a wonderful piece about him.

I must be a crumby Pagan, because I hadn’t even a flicker of precognition about it. Or it could just be that I’m a crumby Pagan because I don’t entirely believe in magic. I grew up an atheist and I never believed in Santa Claus largely because of my parents and Mr. Wizard.

Oh, my mother will tell you I cried when she told me Santa wasn’t real. The fact is, I did. I cried because I had told her a year prior that I didn’t believe in the fat man, and she insisted the jolly jelly-bellied old sleigh-driver really did exist. I cried because she lied to me, and lied fervently. Vehemently. Despite my five-year-old skeptic look. I became obsessed with veracity after that.

My dad was always very logical, very craftsmanly, and built many a thing when I was small. I was enamored of the power tools he kept first in the garage, and later in the basement when we moved from Massachusetts to Connecticut. I would quietly watch him make things, creeping up to a convenient window, hiding just out of sight to watch wood and metal and blades and sawdust dance and coalesce into something amazing. But I was never allowed to take part in this process. I wasn’t allowed to touch the tools.

That was why Mr. Wizard was so important to me. Not only was this stuff, this science, verifiably true, and utterly fascinating, not only did it make the whole universe make sense, not only did it tell me I was right all along in my convictions about Santa Claus, all of it, all of it was within my grasp. I could steal the parts for these experiments from the kitchen, the garage and the bathroom, and being awake early enough in the morning to watch his program, my parents never had to know that I had the ability and the tools to follow along. Mr. Wizard was my first taste of being able to do things for myself. It tasted like empowerment.

That’s a pretty powerful gift. And he never even knew me. And I have no way to say thank you.

Guns, Nymphs, and Steel

I think on things. It helps to notice the connections among ideas, actions, images, to think on them a piece. I was thinking on threat today. When is a woman threatening? So often they are depicted as frail, weak, passive sexy little minxes (not active, specified capacity, diminutive thus dismissible, not human). When am I strong? When am I scary? I thought to depict this.

So I reached down between my legs and smeared may face with menstrual blood like war paint. I pulled out my kukri blade, and held it up with no thought to the way it looked other than to threaten with it. My partner took these images. We reviewed them in my digital camera. And then he said something to me. It had two meanings.

“Angry she-nymph.”

I wanted to punch him right there. But I had heard only half of the words, though I caught the whole statement. A nymph is a female nature deity, of a tree, a lake, a river, a mountain, a hill… she is tied to a place. She is young and beautiful. She is any young girl. Nymph means all these things. Nymph comes from the Greek “nymphe” meaning bride, related to the Latin “nubere” meaning to marry or wed. Nubile.

He saw nature enraged, a frightening force. I heard nubile sex toy, and all the accompanying phrases, “oh, you’re so cute when you’re pissed off,” or “you’re sexy when you’re angry.”

There is a problem with the words themselves. There are problems with most words used to describe women and nature. Nature is not active in our vocabulary. Words that connect women to natural things pacify them, objectify them. There is no word for the nymph of the hurricane or the holy hell of white water and waterfall. The sirens and the lorelei are sexual.

Even sharing a vocabulary about the Good Neighbors, as my partner and I do, even still, it’s easy to misunderstand: what do you see when you hear the word “fairy?” Tinkerbell? Tiny glowy women? Gay men? I see earthen creatures, all horn and bone, blood and death and the sweetness of life, I see creatures who will seriously Fuck You Up, I see kelpies who drown you, trolls who brutalize you, I see the inexplicably strange, beautiful, and terribly, terribly frightening. But “fairy” means all of these things. I’ll be damned, though, if you think of Pre-Raphaelite paintings and their wasting waifs when next I talk about the Fair Folk.

So it sits this way: what to do with the word “nymph?” It may be possible to re-imagine them. My nymphs carry guns and blades. They wear practical things when they wear anything. They paint themselves in menstrual blood, and eat the flesh of interlopers. They come in all ages, and have learned to use the weapons of the modern day against us. They are not shy, but they are silent when killing. They are not shrill, but they are rowdy when celebrating. There is nothing nubile about them, though they are far from asexual. They are all that is scary about ourselves and the world we know so little about.