I’ve been thinking a lot about how we use art to create the world we want to live in. For instance, I would love to see a movie where, instead of a man teaching a woman how to ice skate / shoot hoops / drive / swing a golf club (just the worst) / anything physical, and the woman being charmingly clumsy and the man chuckling, kind of amusingly tolerating her ineptitude, instead of all that, a woman teaches a man to do something. Just teaches him something physical and concrete. Doesn’t solve his emotional problems for him or complicate his morality with her body or sacrifice her loudness for his, just, teaches him how to play tennis, maybe. Because women do that in real life.
Anyway, so I’ve been thinking a lot about how to be a writer that calls attention to, for example, the frustrating aspects of being a female, without perpetuating the idea that that’s all we are, or that things completely are and always will be the way they sometimes seem or feel. The simple answer is to avoid certain tropes or female characters who exist only as a function of the male’s identity or journey. But it’s a tricky balance – writing the things we want to happen while holding a mirror up to the things that do happen, that we wish didn’t. Portrayal of females is important to me personally, but the same holds true in many realms; there will probably always be some dissonance between the reality we want to convey and the ideal we want to imagine, and I guess if we can write or create from that place, we can create from a position of hope.
On a related note and in a belated celebration of Women’s Day I thought I’d share a favorite poem: The Mushroom Hunters, by musician Amanda Palmer’s husband, the writer Neil Gaiman:
THE MUSHROOM HUNTERS
Science, as you know, my little one, is the study
of the nature and behaviour of the universe.
It’s based on observation, on experiment, and measurement,
and the formulation of laws to describe the facts revealed.
In the old times, they say, the men came already fitted with brains
designed to follow flesh-beasts at a run,
to hurdle blindly into the unknown,
and then to find their way back home when lost
with a slain antelope to carry between them.
Or, on bad hunting days, nothing.
The women, who did not need to run down prey,
had brains that spotted landmarks and made paths between them
left at the thorn bush and across the scree
and look down in the bole of the half-fallen tree,
because sometimes there are mushrooms.
Before the flint club, or flint butcher’s tools,
The first tool of all was a sling for the baby
to keep our hands free
and something to put the berries and the mushrooms in,
the roots and the good leaves, the seeds and the crawlers.
Then a flint pestle to smash, to crush, to grind or break.
And sometimes men chased the beasts
into the deep woods,
and never came back.
Some mushrooms will kill you,
while some will show you gods
and some will feed the hunger in our bellies. Identify.
Others will kill us if we eat them raw,
and kill us again if we cook them once,
but if we boil them up in spring water, and pour the water away,
and then boil them once more, and pour the water away,
only then can we eat them safely. Observe.
Observe childbirth, measure the swell of bellies and the shape of breasts,
and through experience discover how to bring babies safely into the world.
And the mushroom hunters walk the ways they walk
and watch the world, and see what they observe.
And some of them would thrive and lick their lips,
While others clutched their stomachs and expired.
So laws are made and handed down on what is safe. Formulate.
The tools we make to build our lives:
our clothes, our food, our path home…
all these things we base on observation,
on experiment, on measurement, on truth.
And science, you remember, is the study
of the nature and behaviour of the universe,
based on observation, experiment, and measurement,
and the formulation of laws to describe these facts.
The race continues. An early scientist
drew beasts upon the walls of caves
to show her children, now all fat on mushrooms
and on berries, what would be safe to hunt.
The men go running on after beasts.
The scientists walk more slowly, over to the brow of the hill
and down to the water’s edge and past the place where the red clay runs.
They are carrying their babies in the slings they made,
freeing their hands to pick the mushrooms.