I think this post is timely, given my recent experiences in this realm, and the nature of some of the emotion and thoughts expressed by Simonne’s latest post at Cliterary Fiction. With so much emotion surrounding such a controversial issue (the seeming exploitation of women in modern society via advertising linked to exploitation of women/children in the third world), it is very difficult to debate this matter in the context of a structured debate. As a result, I think some parties making comments at this site left feeling unsatisfied that much had been revealed or resolved in the discussion. However, I think that all is not lost, and a few people might begin the search…and “untangle the bones” to understanding.
Unfortunately, due to the inherent sensitivity of this issue (for a lot of women), it IS difficult to approach such an issue with the somewhat cool rationality required by a good debate (because the heart of the issue sits quite deeply in the core of a woman’s psychology). Rather than dwell on the issue itself, or resort to personal innuendos, it might be best to diplomatically explain where some of this deep rooted emotion emanates from in the light of the psychology and spirituality of the female spirit. This is a topic of interest to BOTH men and women, if we are to understand the sensitivity surrounding such issues. Allow me to explain.
First of all, I am not an authority in psychology or even spirituality for that matter. However, I am a woman and I have had some rather remarkable experiences as a woman that I have not been able to explain. One of these remarkable experiences was my contact with the Skeleton Woman. The Skeleton Woman (at least to my knowledge), is not an oracle card, but a metaphorical state of woman’s psyche. She is the material from which myth and legend is contrived across culture. Her story is handed down from generation to generation, woman to daughter and son to man (and on and on, ad infinitum) to ensure that we don’t forget what “woman” is to herself and what “woman” and “man” are to each other. When woman and man (ie. matriarch and patriarch) are able to reconcile, there is greater understanding…
[I will excerpt Skeleton Woman’s legend from the book “Women Who Run With the Wolves“ by Clarissa Pinkola Estes, Ph.D. The legend is passed down from the Inuit oral tradition of story-telling.]
“She had done something of which her father disapproved, although no one any longer remembered what it was. But her father had dragged her to the cliffs and thrown her over and into the sea. There, the fish ate her flesh away and plucked out her eyes. As she lay under the sea, her skeleton turned over and over in the currents.
One day a fisherman came fishing, well, in truth many came to this bay once. But this fisherman had drifted far from his home place and did not know that the local fisherman stayed away, saying this inlet was haunted.
The fisherman’s hook drifted down through the water, and caught of all places, in the bones of Skeleton Woman’s rib cage. The fisherman thought, “Oh, now I’ve really got a big one! Now I really have one!” In his mind he was thinking of how many people this great fish would feed, how long it would last, how long he might be free from the chore of hunting. And as he struggled with this great weight on the end of the hook, the sea was stirred to a thrashing froth, and his kayak bucked and shook, for she who was beneath struggled to disentangle herself. And the more she struggled, the more she tangled in the line. No matter what she did, she was inexorably dragged upward, tugged up by the bones of her own ribs.
The hunter had turned to scoop up his net, so he did not see her bald head rise above the waves, he did not see the little coral creatures glinting in the orbs of her skull, he did not see the crustaceans on her old ivory teeth. When he turned back with his net, her entire body, such as it was, had come to the surface and was hanging from the tip of his kayak by her long front teeth.
“Agh!” cried the man, and his heart fell into his knees, his eyes hid in terror on the back of his head, and his ears blazed bright red. “Agh!” he screamed, and knocked her off the prow with his oar and began paddling like a demon toward shoreline. And not realizing she was tangled in his line, he was frightened all the more for she appeared to stand upon her toes while chasing him all the way to shore. No matter which way he zigged his kayak, she stayed right behind, and her breath rolled over the water in clouds of steam, and her arms flailed out as though to snatch him down into the depths.
“Aggggggggggggghhhhh!” he wailed as he ran aground. In one leap he was out of his kayak, clutching his fishing stick and running, and the coral white corpse of skeleton woman, still snagged in the fishing line, bumpety-bumped behind right after him. Over the rocks he ran, and she followed. Over the frozen tundra he ran, and she kept right up. Over the meat laid out to dry he ran, cracking it to pieces as his mukluks bore down. Throughout it all she kept right up, in fact, she grabbed some of the frozen fish as she was dragged behind. This she began to eat, for she had not gorged in a long, long time.
Finally, the man reached his snowhouse and dove right into the tunnel and on hands and knees scrabbled his way into the interior. Panting and sobbing he lay there in the dark, his heart a drum, a mighty drum. Safe at last, oh so safe, yes, safe thank the Gods, Raven, yes, thank Raven, yes, and all bountiful Sedna, safe… at…last. Imagine when he lit his whale oil lamp, there she – it – lay in a tumble upon his snow floor, one heel over her shoulder, one knee inside her rib cage, one foot over her elbow. He could not say later what it was, perhaps the firelight softened her features, or the fact that he was a lonely man… but a feeling of some kindness came into his breathing, and slowly he reached out his grimy hands and using words softly like a mother to child, began to untangle her from the fishing line.
“Oh, na, na, na.” First he untangled the toes, then the ankles. “Oh, na, na, na.” On and on he worked into the night, until dressing her in furs to keep her warm, Skeleton Woman’s bones were all in the order a human’s should be.He felt into his leather cuffs for his flint and used some of his hair to light a little more fire. He gazed at her from time to time as he oiled the precious wood of his fishing stick and rewound the gut line. And she in the furs uttered not a word – she did not dare – lest this hunter take her out and throw her down to the rocks and break her bones to pieces utterly.
The man became drowsy, slid under his sleeping skins, and soon was dreaming. And sometimes as humans sleep, you know, a tear escapes from the dreamer’s eye; we never know what sort of dream causes this, but we know it is either a dream of sadness or longing. And this is what happened to the man.
Skeleton Woman saw the tear glisten in the firelight and she became suddenly soooo thirsty. She tinkled and clanked and crawled over to the sleeping man and put her mouth to his tear. The single tear was like a river and she drank and drank and drank until her many-years-long thirst was slaked.While lying beside him, she reached inside the sleeping man and took out his heart, the mighty drum. She sat up and banged on both sides of it: Bom Bomm!…..Bom Bomm!As she drummed, she began to sing out “Flesh, flesh, flesh! Flesh, Flesh, Flesh!” And the more she sang, the more her body filled out with flesh. She sang for hair and good eyes and nice fat hands. She sang the divide between her legs, and breasts long enough to wrap for warmth, and all the things a woman needs.And when she was all done, she also sang the sleeping man’s clothes off and crept into his bed with him, skin against skin. She returned the great drum, his heart, to his body, and that is how they awakened, wrapped one around the other, tangled from their night, in another way now, a good and lasting way.
The people who cannot remember how she came to her first ill fortune say she and the fisherman went away and were consistently well fed by the creatures she had known in her life under water. The people say that it is true and that is all they know.
Giving the Tear – As the fisherman sleeps, a tear is released from the corner of his eye. Skeleton Woman spies it, is filled with thirst, and awkwardly crawls to him to drink from the cup of his eye. What, we ask, could he be dreaming that would cause such a tear to come forth? When one has ventured this far into relationship with the Life/Death/Life nature, the tear that is cried is the tear of passion and compassion mixed together, for oneself, and for the other. It is the hardest tear to cry and especially for men and certain kinds of “street-tough” women. This tear of passion and compassion is most often wept after the accidental finding of treasure, after the fearful chase, after the untangling – for it is the combination of these that causes the exhaustion, the disassembling of defenses, the facing of oneself, the stripping down to the bones, the desire for both knowledge and relief.
These cause a soul to peer into what the soul truly wants and to weep for loss and love of both. As surely as Skeleton Woman was brought to the surface, now this tear, this feeling in the man, is also brought to the surface. It is an instruction in loving both self and another. Stripped now of all the bristles and hooks and shivs of the daytime world, the man draws Skeleton Woman to lie beside him, to drink and be nourished by his deepest feeling. In his new form he is able to feed the thirsty other. This is the man healing, the man growing in understanding. He takes on his own medicine-making, he takes on the task of feeding the “deleted other.” Through his tears, he begins to create. To love another is not enough, to be “not an impediment” in the life of the other is not enough.
It is not enough to be “supportive” and “there for them” and all the rest. The goal is to be knowledgeable about the ways of life and death, in one’s own life and in panorama. And the only way to be a knowing man is to go to school in the bones of Skeleton Woman. She is waiting for the signal of deep feeling, the one tear that says, “I admit the wound.”
Now, you might ask, in light of a seemingly feminist argument, how does this apply? Both women and men need to understand and be understood if they are to feel “in place” within the world. The Skeleton Woman mythology might actually apply more to love relationships than to the understanding of a woman’s self-esteem and psyche, but is part of the feminine mythos nonetheless. Woman wants and needs to know that man wants to understand (she wants to make sure that he “gets it”….). Even from the debate sparked at Simonne’s site, it was rather amazing how some men seemed to provide that very natural response (“I am man. How can I understand you woman? I want to understand you? Help me to understand you….) and stand in that gale force wind as they listen to our variable feminine voices (all at once soft, but harsh and all at once loving, but forceful…). This is the response that secures and ensures partner bonds and bonds to Mother Earth herself.
Secretly and not-so-secretly, all women want to be loved and understood by their male counterparts (regardless of how strong or independent they might seem)…they do not only want to be admired for having beautiful bodies for fear of exploitation, rape (primal fears) etc., but useful ones that are revered because they are part of the intricate Life/Death/Life cycles of our human biology (thoughts of higher consciousness). Understand too, that man needs to feel needed by woman. This is the requirement of our biology and collective consciousness if we are going to continue to understand, mate and evolve as a human race. It is a requirement of our people and our cultures, if we are to live in harmony with one another and the planet. Globally, we make this connection as Mother Nature representing the Sacred Feminine. If we mar the landscape with bulldozers and tractors, then surely, we shall mar the landscape of our bodies (and vice versa)…
Estes sums up the general conflict of the modern female spirit quite nicely with the following excerpt from her book [this quote sums up that a female’s identity of that to herself and her culture is inextricably connected to her spirit]…
“Women have good reason to refute psychological and physical standards that are injurious to spirit and which sever relationship with the wild soul. It is clear that the instinctive nature of women values body and spirit far more for their ability to be vital, responsive, and enduring than by any measure of appearance. This is not to dismiss who or what is considered beautiful by any segment of culture, but to draw a larger circle that embraces all forms of beauty, form and function.”
In light of this understanding…the issue becomes less about the need to secure a debate, rather than to secure acceptance, peace, love and understanding.