A Wild, Quiet Girl.

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.

9years
Me as a young girl. Staring into the fire and havin’ a think and a daydream. No I am not sad, just thinking. And possibly a little annoyed at having my photo taken. Nothing’s changed, then.

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.

 

 

 

 

 

*Grr.

** 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.

15 thoughts on “A Wild, Quiet Girl.

    1. P.S. I realize this was perhaps a rather bizarre comment, my arm was covered in cat, so it was the only thing I could manage to type at the time to show my appreciation. Such an important topic.

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  1. Oh what a beautiful child……. Who grew into being a beautiful woman.

    Your words….. Lovely and full of wisdom. If only mothers of this age, if only all of them, could read them.

    “….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?” Thank you for this…. It drives me batty, seeing grandmothers intent on when-their-grand-daughters-will-become-a-bride. As if this white wedding gown, is the highest moment, or something. -sighhhhhhhh-

    We have 3 grand daughters… The oldest is 23, nearly 24. A beautiful young woman. Capable. An electrical engineer who is in charge of building sites. With no man on her arm at present. Why do I let this fact “bother” me??????? I never ask her about “it”. But others do. Why do they? Because “something” fills everyone with that weird certainty…. That when a woman is married, all the rest of her life, will be secured.

    Duhhhhhhhhhhhh….. Who says? Yes, it’s wonderful to have someone to share life with. If you happen to find, the best one, for you.

    But on the other hand, there are an awful lot of frogs out there. Frogs, who no amount of kissing, will make into a *prince.*

    Ooops, running away here. It’s just that she called us yesterday, just to check-in with her Pop and Nana. And we love her so, so, so much. And she has always been a gem. And …. I don’t want to buy into that prevailing crap of; “When will K. get another boyfriend?”

    Who the hell cares???? Will she be any more beautiful? Or capable? Or love-able? With a man on her arm? NOOOOOOO!!!!!

    Stop. I will stop! -grinnnn-

    And keep forgetting to tell you, your lovely letter arrived, with sealing wax intact!!!!

    Tessa

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    1. I agree Tessa – there is this ingrained assumption still, even when a woman is independent economically, and self-sufficient in so many ways, that she is still defined by her relationship to a man. I just don’t understand this. Constant questions about a woman’s romantic status, the weight of that expectation diminishes her. As though she is not a whole and proper woman until she gets a man. And yes, there are plenty of frogs out there, aren’t there! xx

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  2. oh, yes! this is something that i feel so passionately about, especially as the mother of a daughter.

    we must give our girls examples of women being themselves, whatever that self is. quiet or boisterous. reserved or outgoing. artsy or science-y or both. home-keeping or career-oriented or both. “feminine” or, well, not. (whatever that is…) we need to tell them and show them that the best thing to be is oneself, however that manifests in a given individual. that there is no wrong way to be you.

    i’m biased here—i admit that i do believe one of the best things we can give a child is a media free childhood. a household where telly is a very muted presence, or absent altogether. where fairy tales don’t only mean disney. where the toxic media world is kept at bay for as long as possible. where both girls and boys are free to be children and free of a world saturated with gendered expectations and images.

    and yet, and yet, this is a bittersweet post for me, because no matter how fiercely we defend them, how freely we raise them, at some point the world will try to poison them. the lucky ones will shake it off, and i think the influence of early days in a home where they were celebrated for being themselves is a huge factor in that. but there is a darker worry here, which is the sad reality that as a female being in the world, they are not safe. their bodily integrity is not respected. my strong, wild, smart, independent daughter is not safe from sexual assault, any more than any woman in this horribly deranged culture is safe. a sad fact which was recently driven home and about which i’ll say no more here, other than that it could have been worse, and that at least her upbringing has shielded her from some of the mental damage. not to mention that she got away because she didn’t hesitate to fight…

    of course, this is a global problem. girls around the planet face obstacles to their mental health, physical safety and sovereignty, to their schooling and advancement and equality. and this is something that affects ALL of us: male, female, young, old, rich, poor, first world, third world, those with children and those without. and the solutions that will make a better world for all of us, especially our children, especially girls, must come from and involve ALL of us as well.

    as with many other things that need change, i believe parenting and home environment is key. a girl who grows up in a household that respects her and supports her as a wild, free being will have a baseline of sanity against which to measure the insanity she encounters out in the world. discrimination, bullying, lack of equality will make no sense to her. she will instinctively feel revulsion for them. unkindness will distress her, and probably she will go out of her way to defend its victims. sameness and tameness will bore her—she will reject them. i have seen this in my daughter, and i believe you see it in your beautiful moon-girl. and this is one of the most magical and wondrous aspects of raising girls who are fierce and free: that not only are they free themselves, they feel free to lift others up. the greater wholeness in them allows them to imagine the world as it ought to be, and help to create it.

    sorry if i have brought a current of sadness into what is truly a post of wonderful possibility and joy in the expansive soul of an extraordinary girl, which i share most joyfully with you! i feel such great happiness and gratitude for every child who is brought into the world by parents like you. it is such a blessing for them, and as i said, it will be a blessing they bring to the greater world as they grow.

    “freedom and possibility. to be most wholly their own people. to be their most holy selves.”

    yes. a thousand times yes…

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    1. There is a darker worry at work, isn’t there? It’s why I feel so fiercely that we need to be so awake to how power dynamics and gender are perpetuated, and maintained. And that we live, (I believe undeniably in my country), in a rape culture. And we do have to teach our girls how to keep themselves safe, and yet I am so furious and weary that time and again there are voices that still hold girls and women responsible for this, rather than examining the culture we live in and take so much for granted.

      And I do not, and never will believe that “boys will be boys”. We raise them to be that way, to feel entitled, and not take responsibility for what is theirs. To believe that girls and women are somehow less than them, not entitled to the full sense and freedom of personhood as they are.

      I am so sorry your own daughter has been affected this way. I had a few close shaves as a young woman, as well as daily harassment that brought me to the point of anxiety attacks when I left the house. I fear for my own girl, but it’s such a fine line for me to walk between that fear and anxiety, and the sense of freedom and presence in the world that I want for her as her birthright. It’s a balance that is going to be challenging to me over the next few years, and I’ve still so much to learn.

      I’m so glad we can have this kind of conversation here, because it weighs on my mind, and it’s pervasive. xx

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  3. I wrote a long, heartfelt comment but wordpress refused to publish it unless I logged in in some way. so frustrating. I’ve saved the comment and might try again later. anyway, to cut a long story short : amazing post.

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  4. This is such an important topic. I was a confused and stifled child brought up in an time of little culture. It all came crashing down when I was around seventeen. I had to rebuild myself with no guidance. I hope your daughter knows how lucky she is to have a strong role model.

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  5. This. All of it. Oh my. I read it yesterday and had to go away and think about it….because it brought up SO very much for me. I saw myself, I see my girl….the ways we try to show the world who we are….

    To be seen and heard for who we truly are, is the greatest gift we can ever receive – but it’s such a rare, rare, thing. If those around us, especially those we love best, can come even halfway to meeting us, I think we’ve experienced true magic and the deepest sort of love.

    Brilliant post…utterly brilliant. xoxoxo

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    1. I love your words, Mel: “If those around us, especially those we love best, can come even halfway to meeting us, I think we’ve experienced true magic and the deepest sort of love”.
      Yes. Wholeheartedly, yes.
      xx

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  6. Wow. I should read this everyday to bolster my determination to raise my girl to be unflinchingly HER.

    I was raised by parents who didn’t really see the point in my having an education because marriage and kids would be my future. And anyway they had little time for their children and preferred their own melodramas. I resented this for a while when i was younger but now I’m so grateful, because it meant I was free to be myself with no interference from ‘authority’. A way of being that may or may not have got me into trouble since : ). I was able to define myself and, despite being pulled majorly off course by bad boyfriends and peer pressure for a short while, I found my way back because those foundations were so strong.

    This piece is so powerful and true. Your daughter is blessed to have you as her mother.

    I am raising my girl to always ask,’Who says so?’.
    x

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    1. Jo, I do so relate to a childhood with a lack of interference from authority – so much so that I’m now incapable of taking orders from anyone, (without question).

      And I so love this: raising your girl to always ask “who says so?” Because, how very much the world needs people who will ask that very question. xx

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