A Kaleidoscope of Women

Visions of “the feminine” started shape-changing for me this summer, watching Beasts of the Southern Wild. Startling imagery, elaborate mythology, a rich resonant soundtrack, poetic and vivid dialogue – and the unimaginable performance of its tiny girl hero-star – coalesced. Ancient self-images, affections, terrors, and enthusiasms got remembered and rearranged, transformed, even though the movie’s surfaces were so different from my beginnings.

Months of self-reconception followed, as old bruises and unacknowledged early grace emerged – unprocessed energies that shaped my impressions, reactions, and choices over a lifetime. Great news for the “meditator, clear thyself” project, yet dicey for the writer concocting stories and characters. Situations that had felt dramatic or relevant (and thus energized the writing) fell flat. Characters who previously seemed courageous, inventive, or agonized became vacuous, unsympathetic. I suddenly had No Idea how to proceed. The old drama-driving conflicts had vamoosed.

The question began to form: with all that stuff cleared out, what IS my impression of “the feminine”? I got in tangles with fellow fans of Joseph Campbell about using gendered images for higher-order (universal) human qualities (using Ordinary People as a stereotype-destroyer). I ordered How To Be a Woman from the library (not for the delicate, being shockingly honest yet wildly funny in places if a reader can tolerate the crudeness).

I started reassessing art and life through this lens, looking for character types in female bodies, for generous/inclusive energies in male bodies, and for subplots and themes on “the ways of women.” (A surprisingly rich one was A Separation, hard to watch but powerful after the last frames, when its cumulative essence became obvious.) This meditation was so intense, it brought back earlier movies like The Devil Wears Prada, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, even Alien, with arrays of female “types.” Without TV but with internet news (a sort of movie), I caught flashes of female/feminine issues in the federal election process, including the results.

A few days ago, I started composing this blog post, hoping the focused intent would call forth some clarity. More content kept pouring in from the “outside” world, most notably an article by Tiffany Shlain, daughter of my late hero Leonard Shlain, who wrote The Alphabet Versus the Goddess (where I first learned of Hypatia and so much more). Ms. Shlain is a (sometimes Sundance) filmmaker, with a thrilling new project very much in what I used to call the feminine spirit: generous, inclusive, etc.

Finally, the intense focus produced some clarity, and it is ironic: There IS no “The feminine.” Alleluja. The molds are shattering, even the old kids-or-no-kids divisions. Full-humanity is becoming more possible, daily. That’s when the title came: A Kaleidoscope of Women – like a pride of lions. Patterns are multi-colored, interactive, and ever-changing, obviously (Naturally) in ever-moving interactions with male/masculine energies, whether within the complex female psyche or embodied in an actual male.

Part of the meditation has been about technology and the dispersal of multiple images of humanity – across world cultures, across social and economic strata, and across age groups. Humans are new at this. For millions of years, closed-circuit monocultures dictated identities and behaviors. It was easy to know “how to be” since there was only one pattern. Now, in a click or two, it’s possible to feel either exalted and transported by Sally Kempton, or horrified by what Eve Ensler told TED, to watch a Youtube how-to for making a sugar-free almond-flour cake or to learn about female CEOs (who might, kaleidoscopically, also meditate and bake cakes, time permitting).

It’s possible to learn about Nobel laureate Barbara McClintock, who had a “feeling for the organism,” intuitively sensing and then proving the DNA-shifting in maize (being called “either crazy or a genius” by the male science poobahs of that time). Or to contemplate the mystics and the physics of everything being in perpetual giving-and-receiving mode: each instant receives all that has gone before, producing all that will come – meaning receptivity and creativity are universal, not gender-specific. Or to learn about cultures where the sun was imagined as female, the moon as male.

So, happily without conclusions, I offer the links embedded above, as possible life-enhancers for anyone else expanding/revising an inner sense of “the feminine.” It feels wonderful. Very freeing. For everybody.

About Cat and the Gateways