Saturday, November 14, 2015

Wild (Young) Women, Part One: Why We Can't Tame Our Teenagers

 I am the proud Mama of an incredible young woman, and there are several young women in my life, as well as in the lives of some of those I care about, who are going through the shift from girlhood to the World of Women. It's for these young women, as well as their parents, that I'm moved to write some things that I hope will assist/support/inform them as they undergo this amazing transformation. We already know we can't "tame" them, but what we need to understand is that even thinking we should try is actually going to cripple them, just when they are learning to walk in this world...

~Womanhood: a gate through which a young woman passes overnight, with no warning, no outward sign unless you are listening very closely, and, at least in my culture, no rite of passage that assists and celebrates with this new WOMAN as she crosses this threshold. ~
Lack of consciousness (at least in most of Western cultures) about the necessity of assisting young women as they cross the threshold into Womanhood is unfortunate, since young ladies always feel the shift keenly, but are usually only aware of it as a kind of "separation," as they have no framework inside of which to understand what is happening to, not just their changing bodies, but within their hearts, minds and souls, as well.

Young women certainly have no way of knowing that this involuntary sense of separation is natural, and not only that, it is fundamentally CRUCIAL.
Instead, they often feel alone, at sea, or worse: "bad." The Just-Born-Woman is as unprepared for the new life she is emerging into as a newborn is for its departure from the warm waters of the womb.

The Just-Born Woman is tender, raw and, most importantly, "wild." What I'm referring to when I use the term "wild," is something that author, Clarissa Pinkola Estes, writer of a book I think all women people should read (Women Who Run with the Wolves), explains in a way I am attempting to communicate in my own words, and in a slightly less-academic format, for the express purpose of making this concept more accessible to the young ladies in my life:

"... the word wild here is not used in its modern pejorative (i.e. negative) sense, meaning 'out of control,' but in its original sense, which means to live a natural life, one in which the criatura, creature, has innate integrity and healthy boundaries. These words, wild and woman, cause women to remember who they are and what they are about. They create a metaphor to describe the force which funds all females. They personify a force that women cannot live without." (Estes, p. 7)

This "wildness" is often interpreted by our culture as rebellion, disobedience, or selfishness, but most painfully, is very often defined that way by her own parents. Sometimes the rapid change in attitude, way of relating and even life choices makes it impossible to not label this wildness in any gentler terms; to be sure, this shift is always alarming and sometimes, dangerous.

I understand why. The sweetest of young girls is suddenly filled with what our culture often describes as a teenage angst, and how it is expressed is rarely comforting to the authority figures in her life. These young females are expected to continue to live as if they had not crossed the threshold into the World of Women; the parents, teachers and other elders in their lives continue to expect them to stuff their new-found independence, divergent thoughts and "bad attitudes."

But there is no real stuffing, as any Just-Born Woman knows keenly; it is as impossible to return to girlhood as it is for a newborn to climb back into the womb. Most of us can remember this feeling, if we try.
When this new woman is told she must stop feeling, seeing and hearing this new "knowing" that simply will not allow her to remain the same as she was, her only resort, in order to get along with her culture and family, is putting away, hiding and taking this new self elsewhere, away from those who can't understand what happened to their sweet little girls. An understanding parent can make it easier for the Just-Born woman to introduce herself, but most often, parents choose to scold them, discipline them, and tighten up the reins on the Wild Woman that has suddenly overtaken their daughters, seemingly overnight.

In other cultures, there are rites of passage at the time of menses that serve to "conduct" young girls into this mysterious, beautiful, and deep culture of being feminine; these ceremonies, stories and accompanying symbology give a name to the shift that occurs to every girl as she becomes a woman. She feels the "difference" in herself, but the difference isn't "bad." We see by studying even the HIS-tory of world cultures that these rites of passage often occur earlier than ideal, since little girls were married and impregnated at tender, unready ages in a transaction not unlike the selling of cattle or other resources to neighboring men.
The right to vote was only the first of many battles; even when women could vote and own property, their bodies were still seen as not quite their own. And just as women emerged in the mainstream workplace, the pornography industry boomed, looking suspiciously like a kind of backlash.
The images of women in pornography most often sell bodies that look like adolescent girls, so much so that our culture's men learn early that women who are thin and petite are more beautiful than those whose bodies are bigger-boned or curvier. We sexualize young women's bodies, but expect the young women in our lives, and especially in our homes, to not do so.

The entertainment industry has jumped on board without hesitation; sex sells, so it's a marketing no-brainer. Objectifying women, showing images of women that are photo-shopped to be thinner, and marketing campaigns that sell everything from lingerie, food, to Disney princesses are very aware of the power they have over not only male audiences, but female audiences, too.

And selling sex works. The average 14-year-old male has already seen more than his share of pornographic images of women, and usually well before he sees, let alone touches, the body of a real, live girl or woman. By the time these young men interact with young women in a sexual way, they have been taught to objectify women's bodies in a way that hurts both the young woman and the young man.

It is not "no big deal." Both young women and young men are afraid; the Wild Woman that a Just-Born Woman finds herself becoming is a target and an object if you look only at her body. But that same wildness in women is also a powerful force that compels AND scares both men and women, as it should: when the Wild Woman is listening to her own knowing, or intuition, she is more powerful than most of her male or female contemporaries can handle.
But how do we assist young women whom we love in coming into the fullness of who they are, instinct intact, AND keep them safe? How do we instill in them the need for caution, without squelching their courage, or turning them into fearful adults?
That's why I'm writing this Wild (Young) Women series of posts, really. The book, Women Who Run With the Wolves, which has so powerfully impacted my life as a woman, and continues to, is about "instinct retrieval," and the author has excavated stories from cultures all over the world, and re-told them, because she understands the incredible power of story, and how vital (and missing) it is in the important work of saving the wild, innate, natural state of women.
The book is brilliant, but it is written in language that is a bit academic for the young women in my life. But it isn't inaccessible, I don't think, especially with a bit of commentary. So that's what this Mama is going to spend some posts unpacking.  
So this is Part One of a conversation I'm just beginning, so stay tuned for more...
P.S. Stories are an important way to access wisdom, but so, I've learned, is music. If you are, or know, a strong young woman (even if SHE doesn't know she is strong yet!), here are some songs I've made a playlist of, that I think will assist her in accessing that intuitive knowing/inner strength that she needs to not just "know," but FEEL.