Thursday, March 31, 2011

What A Girl Wants

Or: What a Woman Needs

Typical Fluffy Substance-Free Chick Flick:
Enter Girl.
Girl is single.
For some reason, we think this is a problem.
Girl wants boy.
Any boy will do.
Enter charming, suave, handsome young gent.
Girl is smitten by him.
He's probably not that into her yet.
He's too busy sleeping with all her best friends.
But, he comes equipped with a killer smile, defined pecs, and the IQ of a peanut.

 If that's the modern formula for romance, then we are doing something terribly wrong. 
What happened to all the interesting, complex heroes for the women to fall in love with? 
People may complain that Penelope embodies the ideal of the submissive Greek wife, but, hey, she's got AMAZING taste in men. Odysseus? I mean come on. Talk about a man that's not only wise, clever, and well-spoken, but also is desperately in love with her, and will sail through dangers untold to return to her.
That's more than we can say for Mr. Power-Pecs.
 Have you even seen Letters to Juliet? I literally squirmed in distress through the entire movie.
No one knows how to flirt anymore.
Kids these days.
I'm sorry, a callow young fellow passively putting up with a strange girl's decidedly un-amusing and very rude attempts at pointed wit and random spurts of kissing on both ends is hardly flirting. 
It's just sort of mucky and depressing juvenile ruckus.

A female heroine doesn't need a weak male counterpart. In order not to threaten the woman at all, there's no competition from the man in terms of likability, pulchritude, or wit. 
The men become simply eye candy for a woman; instead of being a complement (and perhaps a verbal jousting partner) to her. 
Do modern filmmakers really think so little of women that they have to pit them against helpless, mindless Passive Peters? 
Complimentary? I think not.

There's an unfortunate plethora of chick flicks in which the guy is majorly unimpressive. Often, he'll just serve as a pretty face, a reward for the girl at the end. 
Which makes the love story wholly unexciting. 
Do filmmakers think that having an impressive male figure will overpower and lessen the beauty of the woman character?  
But truly, strong women and strong men can't exist without each other. 
They complement each other. Look at Darcy and Lizzie. So flawed. But together, they are so strong. 
And it takes each other to find that.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Strength: Part I

First of a three-part series, examining three different pieces of literature which feature dual female protagonists, and exploring how their strengths and weaknesses complement each other by following archetypal patterns.

Recently, Mara and I were discussing Antigone, since I just read it in class, and was caught up in the amazing wondrousness of that play. 
We compared it to Pride and Prejudice, but as I revisited this blog post, I realized that all three of these pieces of literature have heroines that follow the same archetypes. Thus, this post.

Last summer, I re-read the Lord of the Rings trilogy. 
One of the chief themes that struck me this time around was the relationship-- the differences, similarities, and connections--between the two main female protagonists, Arwen and Éowyn. 
Although, tangent: I suppose that in the Trilogy movies, Galadriel is more prominent female protagonist than Arwen. Galadriel definitely embodies female strength as well--she's the Wisdom figure.
Galadriel has a similar strength to Arwen's. She is wisdom and light. She is the Athena-like character in the story. Slightly removed from normal human emotions and passions. Goddess-like, tender and jovial, yet powerful and stern. In the Wisdom books of the Bible, Wisdom is often characterized as female or feminine.
Galadriel is the archetypal Wisdom figure in the trilogy.

So many young women I know find Eowyn the most attractive heroine.
Of all the woman role models in the Lord of the Rings, she appears to be the most active and dynamic. 

Éowyn is a Joan of Arc type heroine.
She gets out there with the men and gets the job done.
Éowyn, however, sacrifices a bit of her vulnerability in doing so.
Aragorn describes her as an iron maiden; she has steeled herself to endure the fate that faces Rohan. She's frozen her heart, for fear of being hurt. 
In the Houses of Healing, Éowyn fully recovers.
Not only does she recover from her physical battle wounds, but her heart unthaws. The love of Faramir nourishes and heals her-warms her heart once more. 
The love story between Faramir and Éowyn is so fragile and tender. Faramir not about to tame her--he simply pulls her over to his side. He sees this fierce warrior who, like any good mother-bear, will fight tooth and claw to protect her loved ones. If he can win her heart, he knows that her loyalty will be forever his. And Faramir's care and respect for her melts Éowyn. Her heart, hardened in preparation for battle, opens up under the gentle sunlight of Faramir's love. Sunlight that melts the stone-cold statuesque exterior and discovers the tender maiden hidden underneath.

Éowyn is an example of the female archetype of the woman warrior. In times of great hardship and peril, a woman takes it upon herself to save her people; to protect her family; to challenge evil. 
Joan of Arc is a real-life historical example of this. 
A literary example is Antigone, the heroine of Sophocles's tragedy.


Here's one main point that hit me when re-reading the trilogy: both women get what they want. 
That may seem unimportant, but it's not. It's highly unusual. 
Many characters never get what they want in books. Half the characters in Lord of the Rings don't get exactly what they want. 
All that Sam wants, for example, is to be with Frodo. But the saga ends with the two of them being sundered by a sea. 
Éowyn desires honor and valor. She sees her house falling into ruins, and it cuts her to the core. She longs for romance, for love, for brave deeds, a dire fight, fell adventures that will be remembered forever in song, and a life full to the brim.


Arwen wants one thing: Aragorn. To be with the man she loves. And her fight for him is one of endurance and patience. Like swans, women excel at hunkering down and enduring hardships for long stretches. During the migration season, swans travel 3000+ miles. 
The average women endures through 2.5+ childbirths. The power of women is the power to outlast adversity, to live through horrors, trials and tribulations, and endure it all with calm, equanimity and boundless courage. 
Calm and quiet, mystery and secrecy-these are at the core of classic feminine strength. 

Instead of striking out and winning glory and honor for herself, Arwen uses all her power to assist Aragorn on his mission. She is generous enough to desire his success, because even his success lies her happiness. Even though the price of this happiness is her death.

In the world of movers-and-shakers, Arwen's the brains, not the brawn. And that's a crucial theme running through Lord of the Rings-mind over matter. 
The strength of her will is often remarked on. There's little said about her, but one feels her power and her strength when she is mentioned. Hers and Aragorn's story is one of two individuals standing the tests of time. They have loved each other for so long. Arwen is willing to face death in order to be with him. Like Éowyn, this woman has no fear of death. She would rather spend a lifetime with the man she loves than an eternity without him. That takes incredible quiet strength. She is willing to give her life for him. That is a truly immeasurable love.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The Simple Joys of Maidenhood

Girls (smart girls) bond over the incredible fact that they're girls. 
AND we should giggle with sheer delight and joy that we are women.

Women are a community-a sisterhood. 
There are so many times I sit at lunch/dinner/coffee/pie with one of my nearest and dearest sisters of the heart and we bond over the fact that we are women, we love being a woman, and begin to list a thousand big and little things why being a woman is just so absofruitly delightful. 
We have solidarity with each other, and when someone attacks our sisters, we bristle with unsounded wrath. "Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned," you know. 
In fact, playwrights ever since Aeschylus have gotten what a force to be reckoned with an unhinged woman is. Clytaemestra is a ferocious, fascinating, remorseless killer who murders her husband, and has no qualms about taking an axe to her son's head. Euripides tells the story of Medea, who kills her two innocent boys in order to break her faithless husband's heart. 
And my heart burns with indignation. And there are women in countries throughout the world who face untold atrocities, and my heart aches for them. And women who undergo stoning, or mutilation, or enforced rape are being violated and oppressed in the most disgusting and cowardly way possible. But that just proves how great it is to be a woman. Good men appreciate women--they are rapt in awe. 

Evil or weak men want to bring down women and seek to oppress them. The majority of women in Western societies are fortunate beyond our comprehension. We should be grateful, so immeasurably grateful for the opportunities and freedoms that we have.

 People make songs about being a woman--it's worth singing about-- Rogers and Hammerstein penned: "I Enjoy Being a Girl," and then there's the classic "How Lovely to Be a Woman," which is one of my personal favorites. Kim sings: "How lovely to be a woman/and smile a woman's smile." There's some sort of delicious, intriguing and solely feminine mystique captured in a woman's smile. And in the very fact of being a woman means your something of a mystery. Mystery and secret are at the core of womanhood, which is why secrets mean so very much to girls. And when someone confides a secret to them, women hold it to their hearts-a bond forms between them and their confidante.

And beauty. 
Beauty is so, so important for a woman. 
It is a gift that comes easily for women--to realize that it is each human being's fundamental vocation to bring beauty to the world.

In conclusion, I enjoy being a girl. That's all this post really is- a thanksgiving and celebration for being a woman. 

P.S. Also, stay tuned for a post coming soon-that's been in the works for some months now about Arwen, Eowyn, and womanhood. See how nice a segue this post is for that post, eh? 
Thanks for reading-now get off the computer and go enjoy your day. Bask in the sunlight. Take a walk. Sing a song. Dance in the grass. Feed some birds. Live life.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Old and the New

"Good," said Aslan, "If you had felt yourself sufficient, it would have been a proof that you were not." 
--Prince Caspian

The first morning of spring break, my little brother asked me to put in a DVD for him to watch.
"Renée," he said, "can you put in the DVD that says 'Prince Caspian and the Voyage of the Dawn Treader'?"
I took pause, confused. Then I realized he wasn't referring to the new movies, but to the old-school BBC DVDs.
Those. Those, my friends, were--in a word--magnificent. They featured a buck-toothed young Lucy, amazing sort of '80's-esque hair, the pathetically un-state-of-the-arts animated special effects, and a loveably unfortunate Aslan puppet who couldn't move his mouth.
I have the fondest memories of them. And to be perfectly frank, I greatly prefer them to the newer movies.
Despite the scoffs of my more technological and design-oriented friends, my loyalty lies with these little relics of old story-telling.
Amidst all the slick CGI imagery, and the beautiful graphics and visuals, something is lost. 
The new Chronicles of Narnia don't feel like the Chronicles that I read growing up. 
Some books you read are sensory experiences in the fullest sense of the word: not only do you see and hear the text, there are certain smells, locations, or foods that remind you of the books, or that you experience while reading the books. 
The Chronicles are like that for me-Narnia reminds me of the close, humid Cayman air that surrounded us as my mother read us the Silver Chair; it reminds me of the cozy feeling that Mr. & Mrs. Beaver's little dam house must feeling like.
 These books have an incomparable aura of childhood magic about them. They define childhoods, they raise questions: "What does endless snow without Christmas feel like?" "How does a lamppost look, shining in the middle of the wood?" "What does Turkish Delight taste like?" "Who is Aslan?" 
They are a refreshing and rare mix of simple clarity and gentle spirit; and grand, epic adventures of great heroes and depraved villains. 
Nothing about the new movie imparted the simple, precious "homeishness" of the books I loved. 
But these little relics from the 80's have just that-- they've got the wistful magic of pipes playing the opening theme, rather ordinary young children playing the four siblings, a stiff, but somehow majestic and fatherly puppet-lion portraying Aslan. 
 The countryside looks so familiar, yet strange and fairy-tale-ish nonetheless.

But the greatest difference between the old and the new struck me when I heard Aslan tell Caspian: "If you had felt yourself sufficient, it would have been proof that you were not." 
That line is so full of Lewis' particular brand of wisdom and insight. 
The new movies lack that essential Lewis-ness. 
Aslan is a weaker character-Father Christmas doesn't credit Aslan for the return of Christmas; the witch doesn't shake with dread at the mention of Aslan's name; Mr. Beaver's line about Aslan not being "safe" is cut, and when the witch cites the Deep Magic, Aslan snarls: "Don't tell me about the Deep Magic! I was there when it was written," as if He was a petulant teenager. 
They've diminished the majesty and the power of Aslan-they've weakened Him. 
And by weakening the linch-pin of that world, they've weakened the whole story.
Part of the story is lost, and I find  that tragic.

And so my baby brother decided to put in the imprimatur-ed, nihil obstat versions of the Chronicles. 
And I was quite proud of him.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

To Sleep, Perchance to Dream

Dreams feel real while we're in them. 
It's only when we wake up that we realize something was actually strange.

Throughout human history, dreaming has fascinated and mystified humans. 
Dreams are visions from the gods, they are prophecies, they are magnificent glimpses into other worlds.
One of my friends tells a story of when her older brother was 5. 
He came down from his bed one night and exclaimed: "Mommy! I saw pictures on my eyelids when I slept!" This small little boy had found images from a different kind of reality had invaded his eyes while he slept. 
How mesmerizing. 

In a sense, dreaming mirrors the reality of life. When we dream, we enter a different sort of reality that remains a part of our larger reality. 
When we wake from dreaming, we return to the waking world, the "real world." 
But, just as dreams end, this life will pass by, when we die will we wake into the reality for which we are truly, deeply, actually meant.
The illogic of dreams we find jarring when we are aware that there is a greater world we are meant for. When we realize that there is a greater, deeper, more real reality that we are born for, then this world will seem like a passing dream.

Rose, the sanguine young heroine of Shadow of the Bear, ponders: 
"Have you ever felt that there was something going on in life that not everyone was aware of?...As though there’s a story going on that everyone is a part of, but not everybody knows about—a sort of drama, a battle between what’s peripheral and what’s really important. As though the people you meet aren’t just their plain, prosaic selves, but are actually princes and princesses, gods and goddesses, fairies, gypsies, shepherds, all sorts of fantastic creatures who’ve chosen to hide their real shape...Or have forgotten who they really are." 
The possibility that there is a deeper reality to our world is exciting and exhilarating. When we shuffle off this mortal coil, we will enter something so real, this world of ours now will seem like a passing shadow.
Now we dream, soon we will awake. That's the hope.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Embarking on Adventure

"An inconvenience is only an adventure wrongly considered. An adventure is only an inconvenience rightly considered." 
-G.K. Chesterton

So, I'm sitting in the basement of my dorm, waiting to find out where I'm going to room next year. 
And I was grumbling under my breath: " blarrrggghhhhh" And then I thought, "What a major inconvenience this all is." 
And then my pesky little conscience piped in with: "Correction: what an adventure." 
And it definitely is an adventure.
Arriving freshman year and finding your roommate for the year randomly chosen for you is also an adventure. I've been lucky enough that my rommie's been a comfort and a support this year. 
An amazing person, who doesn't mind when I accidentally knock over trash bins in the room when I come in at two o'clock in the morning. 
That's called patience, my friends. And I think it takes a lot of that stuff to live with me.
So, now the adventure continues. 
So, here we sit. 
Casting dirty looks at any girls who mention thinking about considering eyeing the rooms where we want to live. 
Stressing out about how many doubles are left. 
And then, at some point, a giant wave of apathy slides over us and we cease caring. Stressing out is exhausting.
Albeit exhausting, it is much easier to stress out about an inconvenience than to turn it into an adventure. 
It's much a much lazier choice to stress out about life and it's little sorrows and setbacks than to think of them as steps of an awesome journey. 
Ever since the beginning of the semester, I've felt an undeniable tug, a hand leading me onward to a grand adventure. I keep waiting for it to arrive.
And then I realized: right now is the adventure
All the little triumphs and sorrows of daily life are the adventure. 
As Jo sings in the musical Little Woman: "My great adventure has begun." 
My adventure is already well-underway. I am entering the final small bit of my first year away from home. 
The adventure has started. 
And I'm ready for it.