We gather around the table for breakfast, in various states of sleepiness, pouring hot drinks, each of us helping ourselves to our preferred breakfast fare. The dorje dog positions herself optimistically under the table, whilst Merlin is far much more assertive in his quest for seconds, wailing his banshee’s wail. I suggest opening an asylum for neurotic cats. I think we’d do very well.
We make it out the door just in time to get Moon to school, piling into the car, (now looking a bit worse for wear after someone in the library car park made a great dent in the side, and left without fessing up*). The dog flops down on the backseat, draped over the Moon, and frankly in doggy heaven because…cuddles and riding in the car!
Moon gets to be dj on the school run, and she opts for Led Zepplin’s ‘Immigrant Song’, (at high volume). I feel like an extra from Wayne’s World, but there’s such a wild exuberance in the music, and it so perfectly evokes viking marauders, bent upon invasion and pillage. The Moon has loved this track even more since watching School of Rock with Jack Black (whose irreverence and glee completely clicked with my girl). She feels the power of the Valkyrie as she rides across the waves of the world.
We enter the school gates, in our scruffy car with music pounding, with Moon wearing a grin that’s wrapped half-way round her head. She doesn’t care how her family car looks, or how we are perceived, driving in to that school car park.
I love my girl’s sense of freedom**, and I feel fierce about guarding that wildness in her. So often girls are told that they must be quiet, and gentle, and never shout, or allow the mess of themselves to colour outside the lines. Don’t be angry, don’t love what you love too loudly or hungrily, don’t be a sexual being, don’t speak of unpleasant subjects, keep strong opinions to yourself. Be recessive, small. Be “good”. Be a proper woman. Don’t be selfish. Please others, not yourself.
Who says we have to be “good”? It’s always another’s version of good, and that will never be good enough.
In many enduring ways, the modern ideal of the Feminine remains close to the Victorian one. Apart from its continued narrative of the good woman versus the bad, mad, sexual woman; there is something cold, miserable, denied, and tightly-wound about our idealised feminine. She is still half-starved, excessively nubile, and helpless-looking, (if the images in the media that are trying to sell us stuff are anything to go by).
The thing is, my own girl is by nature quiet and gentle, observant, and dreamy. But she is more than this. She also has a flash of fire in her temper, a wickedly dark sense of humour, a laugh that is earthy, and which bursts unapologetically from her belly. And music is one of her ways of being passionately alive and free.
In all girls, but perhaps especially the quiet ones – there are uncultivated, stormy places. Feral, and irrepressible realms of undomesticated joy, creativity, and fury. And it desperately desires and needs to colour outside the lines, to spill over and be allowed to be. To be given form.
A girl may ride horses, merging with the spirit of Horse; another may write, or paint, or both until she’s dazed and sated, and somewhere else altogther. A girl may dance until she finds the rhythm of ecstasy, or run with her dogs, and shout at the sky, as though she was a wolf in her pack. Fierce, and playful, and filled with the scents of the earth and the wind. Too soon girls are embarrassed, and become self-conscious about exhibiting physical joyousness.
Sadly, some girls, in the grip of a mute rage that runs deeper than oceans, refuse to eat. They rebel against everything and everyone that scrutinise, assess, criticises and dismantles each of her soul and body parts, conflating her body with a thousand sham moral imperatives. This girl is too aware of the world around her, and how she, and every girl is expected to be and feel and behave. That she is so very pretty/not pretty, and that she must be good, and “nice”, and perfect, and everything to all people.
In a perilous act of resistance, that girl seeks to control her body, throwing back at others their own gaze, a warped mirror image of herself, like a slap. It’s an act that refuses life, yet also reveals a truth about power and helplessness, freedom and despair. These souls burdens are centuries old and voiceless, but their yearning and rage is extreme. Never be under the illusion that it is vanity, or a desire to please that drives them.
Another girl may use less dangerous means to defy expectations. Defining her own aesthetic, she may pierce her body, turning it into a work of art. Her body a site of celebration. In small acts of re-possession she reclaims that which society has told her, in so many ways, doesn’t properly belong to her. I knew a girl who would tear her clothes into ribbons, and weave a rainbow of defiance into her dreadlocks, a carnival of whisperings that conjured the power of Medusa, and Lilith.
Girls that raise armies of ravens, and fly with them at night. Long before they dream of a room of their own, there are girls who dream of invisibility cloaks, writing themselves into stories of banshees, or vampires, so that in those worlds they may move freely, powerfully, and unharmed through the night. Knowing the darkest and most dangerous of places.
But what are we***afraid of? That our bright, kind-hearted girls will be terrible people if we don’t reinforce the imperative to be good? That they will not be safe in the world? A world where girls and women are still held responsible for the choices and behaviours of others.
What are we trying so fearfully to control? The mess of existence, and its unpredictability? Life itself?
A girl is a force of nature, but her spirit is delicate, whose light and fire we can dim or even extinguish if we don’t face our own unresolved fears. Particularly during that liminal, threshold period of the pre-teen and teenage years.
I have seen girls of this age curl up within themselves, defeated and sullen. They stand on the sidelines of life, dull and exiled already from their bodies. Too afraid to appear ridiculous, they can become critical, and watchful, scornful of others who run, create, play, shout, and make music. Reinforcing beliefs about girls that they themselves have internalised. Some don’t, of course. But often these girls seem like sleeping beauties, waiting passively for a prince who will one day show up and fulfil their dreams of love. Their waiting is ominous. Who knows who will show up?
We ask girls to hold and carry too much that isn’t theirs. Yet we need to be their guides and fierce defenders, not their critics and keepers. Their aiders and abetters, in our own liberation. Which means being fully awake to how things really operate, to how power is maintained.
Always, these wild, quiet girls – their dreams are of freedom and possibility. To be most wholly their own people. To be their most holy selves.
** My idea of freedom, is not only a sense of the freedom to move about the world, and make choices about how we live and work. But an inner freedom that is the fire in the belly, that which ignites passion and desire for life.
***All of us, within our cultural contexts. Not just parents.