Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Inspirational women

Right, so, still teaching Christmas carols (::grits teeth:: Happy fucking Holidays!), still indecisive over travel plans (starting to lean towards the Mediterranean, though), same old, same old. So I'm picking up the meme that Winter did a few weeks ago. So, after much deliberation, here are the five women who inspired and influenced me the most, in no particular order:

Meg Murray. I still remember the first time I picked up a copy of A Wrinkle in Time. I was nine, and I found it on the bookshelf in Mrs. Marks' classroom. The rest of my childhood and adolescence was marked by my mother crying "My god, are you reading that book again??" Meg Murray was my alter ego growing up, my long lost twin sister. She was smart, like me, she had glasses and braces and bad hair, like me, she was terminally unpopular, also like me, and it was her brains and her courage and her compassion that saves her family. And she gets the boy in the end too. I identified so strongly with Meg, with her outsiderness and adolescent angst. I think it was the first book I read that didn't talk down to me because I was a child. Madeleine L'Engle respected my intelligence, she threw in references to Shakespeare and classical authors and expected me to keep up. I read every one of her books I could get my hands on, the series about the Murrays and the Austins as well as her philosophical/theological musings like The Summer of the Great-Grandmother and A Circle of Quiet. The characters in Madeliene L'Engle's books lived in a charmed world, to my mind, where people read great literature for pleasure and were terribly sophisticated and educated and well-traveled and were everything my family was not, it seemed. Her books were the first time I encountered the concept of homosexuality outside of catechism class:

Of course lesbianism exists, and has since the beginning of history, and we have not always been compassionate. I thought it was now agreed that consenting adults were not to be persecuted, particularly if they keep their private lives private. We human beings are all in the enterprise of life together, and the journey isn't easy for any of us. A House Like a Lotus
Meg Murray kind of opened up literature to me; reading A Wrinkle in Time made me feel I could read whatever I wanted, that I was smart enough to explore books on my own, without a teacher or parent to tell me what was appropriate for my age. L'Engle is a devout Christian, and I kind of rejected her when I rejected God and Christianity. But her theology is critical and complex and has probably influenced my own spiritual beliefs more than I realize; I have immense respect for her. I should pick her up again, and see what happens, now that I'm older.

Classic Quote: "Wild nights are my glory," the unearthly stranger told them. "I just got caught in a downdraft and blown off course. Let me sit down for a moment, and then I'll be on my way. Speaking of ways, pet, by the way, there is such a thing as a tesseract."

my college academic advisor. Once I declared my major as English (out of resignation, really. I couldn't think of anything else to study), I was assigned Dr. S as my academic advisor. I went to her office to talk about what courses I should take; the English major at my university is almost ridiculously unstructured. I said I kind of liked doing criticism in my intro course. "Well, I'm teaching a Feminist Criticism class next semester, would you be interested in that?" So I signed up for it. Frankly, I kind of shudder to think what my life would be like if I had been assigned to another professor. Dr. S's classes have been nothing short of revolutionary in my life. She's a relaxed and engaging teacher with high expectations; exactly the kind of teacher I always needed. She introduced me to all the big names: de Beauvoir, Cixous, Irigaray, Kristeva, Segwick, Butler, Adrienne Rich, Audre Lorde, bell hooks, etc. etc. Queer Theory was mind-bending and liberating and radicalizing and really, really fun. We did an independant study of Women's Memoirs my last semester, meeting at Java Co. to discuss Ruth First and Isak Dinesen and Angelica Garnett. And she was one of my first real feminist role-models. She started a NOW chapter in our little podunk town. I became the secretary of FMLA; we all went to Washington D.C. for the March for Women's Lives. I gave her Barbara Kingsolver's The Poisonwood Bible as a thank-you gift when I graduated. I miss her classes.

Classic quote: actually, when I think of Dr. S I think of her loud, braying laugh that drowns out everyone else in the room.

Adrienne Rich. Her essay "Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence" finally kicked me out of the closet. Assigned readings for class don't usually make you sit in your room and cry with self-recognition, but this one did. After months--well, years, really--of terror and confusion, Adrienne Rich laid it all out for me, crystal clear. Her examination of the structure of compulsory heterosexuality in our society was almost more enlightening than her concept of the lesbian continuum. It became a life-line for me.

Classic quote: To take the step of questioning heterosexuality as a ''preference'' or "choice" for women--and to do the intellectual and emotional work that follows--will call for a special quality of courage in heterosexually identified feminists but I think the rewards will be great: a freeing-up of thinking, the exploring of new paths, the shattering of another great silence, new clarity in personal relationships.

Eve Ensler. The first time I saw "The Vagina Monologues" I had to secretly sneak out of the house to do it. I read about a professional performance in the newspaper over Christmas break; it was at a university, and if I arrived 2 hours early, I could get discounted student tickets. The house was extra-cramped that year; my 80-something grandparents were living with us, I was sharing a room with my sister, and I felt like I was escaping from prison as I backed out of the drive. Somehow, miraculously, I got front-row seats, and I laughed and cried the whole way through. I'd never seen anything like it before. After break I tried out for my college's production, and I landed the menstruation monologue "I Was 12. My Mother Slapped Me". I'd forgotten how much I loved acting (I'd forgotten so much about myself by that point). The next year I performed "The Little Coochie-Snorter That Could", appropriately enough. I loved making the audience gasp at the beginning, when she impales her "coochie-snorter" on the bedpost as a little girl. I loved describing the first time she kisses a woman. That performance coincided with Adrienne Rich; it was very much a public "Here I am, world!" kind of coming out experience. I've heard some criticisms of the play, and I don't really disagree with them, but they don't diminish my affection for the play. I hate to be cliché, but it was empowering. Plus, Dr. S performed "The Flood" monologue, and she was hilarious.

Classic quote: "CUNT!!!!!"

Molly Bolt: I still remember standing in the campus bookstore, looking at the copy of Rubyfruit Jungle, working up the courage to buy it. It was the first lesbian novel I ever read. It was the best choice I could have made; Molly Bolt has this "fuck you" attitude that's enthralling. She realizes she's a dyke and she doesn't hate herself and she doesn't die, but instead proceeds to seduce the captain of the cheerleading squad and moves to New York to become a film maker. I want to watch her movies.

Classic quote: Damn, I wished the world would let me be myself. But I knew better on all counts.

I'm supposed to tag folks, so I'm picking my pal RC over at Polarity of Sound, Hush, nicotinefreegirl, and FemiKnitMafia. Have at it!


At 6:14 PM, Blogger nicotinefreegirl said...

So, the kids enjoying the Christmas carols? I went to my nephew's Christmas Carols show in his school yesterday and I won an videocam from the raffle. Neat huh?

Wherever you decide to go for your holidays, I hope you have fun!

Happy holidays in advance and I will update my blog with my list in awhile. =)

At 7:45 AM, Blogger Hush said...

Yay! Something more interesting to put on my blog instead of my constant updates of Space Cadets ;-) I'll have to have a think about that one.....

Hope you have a great holiday wherever you go!!

At 12:01 PM, Blogger FemiKnitMafia said...

Okay, I've been officially tagged. However, you'll have to wait for my answers until after Christmas. I'm clicking away at the needles in a desperate and ultimately pointless attempt to defy the skeptics. I -will- finish this list of gifts, damn it! Stay tuned...

At 4:28 AM, Blogger Winter said...

What a fantastic list! I will definitely check out molly bolt now.

Rich has had no little impact on my life too. Everyone should read that essay.

At 3:54 AM, Anonymous gwallan said...

Regarding Eve Ensler and "The Little Coochie-Snorter That Could"...

This scene in the Vagina Monologues depicts an adult woman using alcohol to seduce a thirteen year old girl into sexual activity. The closing lines include "If it was a rape it was a good rape" presumably because it was committed by a woman.

Please choose your heroes more carefully please.


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