Tag Archives: patriarchy

Women Who Run With the Wolves – through treacle to transformation

Women Who Run With The Wolves : Clarissa Pinkola Estes ...

Women Who Run With the Wolves: Contacting the Power of the Wild Woman was bought for me by my best friend, a wild woman I love like no other, who now lives on the opposite side of the world. She loves this book so I assumed I would too – plus there’s a quote on the front from Maya Angelou that says, “Everyone who can read should read this book” which is quite the recommendation. I mean, Maya Angelou. All in all, I had high hopes for it, and I took it down from my shelf at a really bad time in my life when I hoped it would have some answers for me.

It’s a 500-page beast of a book so requires some real commitment, especially as it’s much more academic than I expected. I started it when I was struggling in general so that might have something to do with it, but I can’t lie, there were huge parts of this that were really hard work for me. I’m an English Literature graduate and a non-fiction editor by profession so I think of myself as a pretty competent reader but sometimes I felt like I was wading through treacle with this book. It’s hugely well and widely reviewed though so there must be plenty of people who feel differently.

Clarissa Pinkola Estés is an academic, a senior Jungian psychologist (as well as an award-winning poet and cantadora or Latina story-keeper) and so it makes sense that she approaches the book from that standpoint, but an accessible self-help or lifestyle book this is not. It requires patience, study and grit – or at least it did for me, but I’m glad I read it, and I suspect it’s probably one of those books whose true worth comes to you later down the line, rather than in one satisfying hit at the time of reading. I saw one Amazon reviewer say that they bought it in 1994 and finished it in 2004, which they considered an enjoyable reading pace for it. They likened it to a bible rather than a regular book and I think there’s probably something in that.

Estés examines folk stories from all over the world with some interesting analysis. My favourite was “Sealskin, Soulskin”, about a lonely man who takes a seal-woman’s pelt hostage in order to get her to marry him. He says after seven summers she can choose to stay or go, and if she goes he will give her back her pelt, but in the end he is too insecure to return the pelt in case she leaves him. She’s desolate, because she has started to dry out and crack from the inside without her pelt. Their son, Ooruk, sneaks his mother the pelt though and with the seal-woman’s health restored they take a journey to the seal kingdom. Ooruk eventually becomes a translator between the seal (soul) and human (ego) worlds. Another interesting story, “The Red Shoes”, says a lot of about addiction and what Estés calls “instinct-injured women” going after facsimiles of happiness.

As well as the folk-story analysis, Estés deconstructs women’s lives in what at times is a fascinating way. She has a lot to say about the interaction of the soul and the ego, the importance of effective rebellion, dealing with anger, grief and forgiveness, and indeed having tolerance for every emotion, which I liked, in the face of the trend for relentless positive thinking.

She has insightful commentary on body image and the patriarchy (and the idea of the body as a practical, useful and soulful thing), survival (becoming strong without becoming cold) and the compensatory nature of dreams.

But one of the biggest things I got out of this book is what Estés says about the life/death/life nature, She talks about how modern culture has tried to write death out of the story of life, or put it only at the end, whereas the reality is that death is a part of life and in itself gives birth to new life. She stresses that our lives are cyclical, not linear, and that if we give up trying to always “make the magic last” we will lead fuller, less fearful lives. Death is a part, and not only or always an end, of lives and relationships.

Throughout this book, Estés also has a lot to say about creativity, about how creating is an essential part of the wild woman’s life, and how we shouldn’t cheat ourselves by making excuses about not having time or by “sneaking a life” only in between other more pressing mundane tasks. I think she’s right, and her book gave me the push I needed to carve out more time in my own life for creative stuff (including finally learning how to properly play the guitar).

Estés says in the book that, “Deep in the wintry parts of our minds, we are hardy stock and know there is no such thing as a work-free transformation”. She’s surely right, and this book is nothing if not proof of it.

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Filed under folktales, non fiction, poetry

How To Be A Woman – that is the question

I bought Caitlin Moran’s How To Be a Woman because I follow her on Twitter and have long thought she might just be the most hilarious woman ever. She also drew my attention to the My New Pink Button box, which is labia dye. That’s right, labia dye. It promises to ‘restore the youthful pink color back to your labia’, but as Moran tweeted: ‘Ladies, if you are worried you have a “grey” labia, you officially have enough time to get a PPE degree & SOME PERESPECTIVE’.

The other reason I bought the book was because I love women’s magazines – at least I would if they weren’t uniformly filled with poison (ok, I still like the bits where they show the red carpet women in dresses, and the problem pages). I stopped buying them though because it’s insanity to pay three quid for something that you’ve read cover to cover before you even finish your cigarette. (I spent a quid on my second hand copy of War and Peace and that lasted me for solid months.) I still read and love the Sunday Times Style magazine because it has actual proper articles (as well as one of those cool thermometer things that says what new stuff is good and what is bad) but the downside is that there’s too many features on clothes that only millionaires can afford. (How many Times readers can really spunk a grand on an occasional handbag? I genuinely am curious.)

So, in How To Be a Woman I was hoping for a Style magazine that would last me a week or two – but edited by a woman who I could see from the cover believed in flat shoes. Yes, I wanted a woman who wasn’t going to glorify a £600 handbag that looked like a dead spaniel to me, or suggest in any way that spending 21k on a wedding made any sense – someone who wanted to address women’s issues (motherhood, not-motherhood, sex, love, work, abortion, oppression, music and whatever else) without calling them ‘women’s issues’ and being dreary about them.

My first attempt at getting hold of this was buying the beautifully designed Backwards in High Heels when it came out. (Caitlin Moran could probably have told me that this would be shit from the title. It’s hard enough going forwards in high heels, as we all know.) It described itself as ‘a book for every woman struggling to make sense of the contradictory demands of the 21st Century’, which sounded great. Its advice? Buy expensive art not cheap handbags. Learn how to make a signature dish. Thanks for those.

So did Caitlin Moran come up with the goods where Backwards in High Heels failed? I feel like she did. I wasn’t crazy about the shouty capitals that abound through the book, I found some of her conclusions lazily drawn and I thought she contradicted herself at times – but one of the main things I found refreshing about the book was that her take on what it’s like to be a woman was utterly personal. After all, isn’t that real feminism, the acknowledgement that there’s no such thing as a book about the female experience? Moran suggests to her readers that, if they’re wondering whether or not something is an issue of sexism, they should ask themselves whether men have to put up with anything equivalent. Would there ever be a book on what it means to be a man? Of course not. That would seem ridiculous – men are as unique as snowflakes and so (don’t believe Jan Moir) are women.

So what does it mean to be Caitlin Moran? And what is there to relate to in this book? Well, plenty. Moran is clumsy, tough, hilarious, drunken and not afraid to wee in public. She is a vocal champion for the full and unabashed furry muff, which she has a million different names for (Tom’s Midnight Garden being one of my all-time favourites). She has made a fool of herself in a variety of amusing ways. She even talks frankly about the abortion she had as a married mother of two – her whole philosophy for feminism is based around being honest about your experience on the grounds that it’s pointless us all pretending that we always like our children or want anal sex at the breakfast table or that we’re poised and elegant all the time just because it’s what expected of us as women.

The fact is that Moran is the sort of feminist men like and find funny, and that makes her a very useful tool in the fight against THE PATRIARCHY (as she would shout). She has similar views to Mr Literary Kitty on the subject of high heels: firstly that women are annoying whilst wearing them (when they inevitably require piggy backs, Moran sagely notes, men are the pigs whose backs are called for); secondly: that only ten women in the world can actually walk in them. Most women wearing them walk like dinosaurs. Caitlin Moran doesn’t say anything about boob tubes in her ‘things I’ve learned about clothes’ list, but I suspect that she might just echo Mr Literary Kitty’s firm belief that they are awful and unflattering. ‘They make all boobs look long,’ he tells me. He also agrees with Moran’s advice that, ‘Contrary to popular opinion, a belt is often not a good friend to a lady’ or, as he puts it: ‘Why would anyone want to split their fat in two with a belt?’ Well, quite.

So there you have it – Caitlin Moran’s book isn’t The Female Eunuch but it says some funny, sensible things about what one woman has learnt about being a woman. It’s not a women’s bible but then what would we do with that, realistically? Instead, it’s like a long, funny magazine article with actual warmth and the odd deep thought for the reader to chew on – which was exactly what I’ve been looking for all this time.

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Filed under non fiction