I was nine when I got glasses, my first bra, and a purse. It was as though the site of a random nipple suddenly made my mom rush to the department store for the Womanhood Kit. We had just moved away from our family and the pine trees and rain of the Northwest to live in Northern California. My dad was traveling all the time for a new job. My mom had to find her way around a strange town with two little kids in tow. This was before cell phones or Google Maps or Uber, so getting lost with a two year old tended to just suck.
I was feeling my mom’s stress and stuffing it way down deep so she didn’t have to deal with my stress compounding her stress, but it didn’t work very well because I started crying myself to sleep.
The sound of crickets at night freaked me out.
And now I was the owl-faced nerd pulling up a bra strap with the hand that wasn’t holding her round, taupe, snakeskin-esque over-the-shoulder purse.
By the time I was in middle school a few years later, back in a town north of Seattle, I was the tallest girl and often the tallest kid in any class. I was wearing grown up plaids and sweaters, I had huge feet, and those damn glasses didn’t start to fit my face until about ten years later.
So coming of age happened young, and there was nothing fun, adventurous or sexy about it. For me, growing up was worry, and concern. It was feeling awkward, big, the kid who stepped on things and broke them, the kid who was too fat to fit in a ride.
I describe all this because recently the question arose of finding one’s spirit animal. A friend was telling me about a ritual she’d heard about, folks going to great lengths to find their spirit animal. She had been describing the ritual in some detail before she got to its end goal, and I was so surprised by what that goal was that I practically scoffed.
“Spirit animal,” I said. “That’s an easy one, isn’t it?”
She blinked, probably thinking I was scoffing at the idea of spirit animals in general rather than the ease of knowing one’s own.
“Do you know yours?” she asked.
Suddenly bashful, I fidgeted with my napkin. “Well… yeah. I think it’s a bear. I used to have dreams.”
To me, it was a no-brainer. Years ago, in the depths of depression, a bear appeared in a few dreams that had a significant quality. I don’t remember the plots but I do remember the relief when the bear would turn up in the dream, a protective force. The right dream at the right time can leave you with an emotion that is almost as strong as the real thing. The idea of having help made me feel stronger, eventually strong enough to move to the East Coast and create a completely different, much more interesting life.
And c’mon, bears are just badass. They’re devoted parents, cuddly as fuck, fierce and fearless, strong as any beast invented by Tolkien. They’re smart enough to sleep all winter, which, as someone who’s lived in mostly cold places her whole life, think is an excellent idea. And right alongside all that strength is a super mellow groove, just jammin’ along – okay maybe here I am a little influenced by Baloo.
I write fiction about bears, I have bearlike friends. But in spite of my total openness to the idea of a helper bear-spirit, until this conversation with the friend, I had never really reflected on the idea of embodying a bear’s energy. It was more like, this is the creature who shows up to comfort and urge me on. Not a creature I resemble.
Meditating on it, I discovered this silent, super sneaky, totally unacceptable resistance to the idea… “Because a bear is masculine.”
But think on it. Here I am, a woman in her mid-thirties who’s spent most of her adult life overcoming a childhood sense that “I am a troll.” I’m talking a lifetime of hiding my feet, sighing as I walk by the Juniors section, laughing at the idea of “the Boyfriend Jean” as though the man you’re dating is bigger than you are.
And not’s just about being physically robust – it’s about doing work most men are embarrassed to admit they don’t understand, looking over your shoulder to see if he notices you harmlessly flirting with someone else, covering up your cleavage at the office when you’d rather be on an island somewhere dressed like a total slut, stifling the metaphors and poetry and philosophy in your brain because they’ll call you “intense,” feeling like everyone at the party has devoted their lives to a cult of normalcy you abandoned somewhere after the third joint.
Now, the upside of being a big crazy bear of a woman? Guess who you want at your side at a bar late on a Friday night when a guy is hitting on you too hard. Guess who you want around when you’re not sure how to get home afterward. Guess who’s going to find the straightforward solution, say the tough truth, or stay silent when everyone else has started complaining?
I’m not saying any of this to brag. I’m sharing the possibility that you too could feel this wild-good. I sat there meditating on what it would feel like to be a bear, and I just started busting out of myself. It was the most exhilarating sensation. It was like my tits and my hair and my height and my might just busted forth in a furry, irresistible, merciless YES. The forest heard it and I rumbled with satisfaction deep in my fur.
Are you picking up on the crazy yet? Good! Go there too!
I hadn’t felt that ever before in my life, in fact, I’ve worked very hard, year after year, as I grow stronger, wiser and so on, to hide, stuff in, repress, clothe in multiple layers, the emerging bearforce (it’s a word now).
If I compared myself to an animal it was always, laughingly, to a bunny. A bunny is super feminine, in fact, thanks to Playboy, it’s iconically feminine. A bunny is meek, timid, hiding out until made to feel safe. A bunny is cute. A bunny is tiny.
A bunny is what a girl is supposed to be. A bear is what a girl is cursed to feel like – ala the mom in Brave.
I think most of us know, in the year 2018, that traditional gender roles suck and must die. My point is not to inquire into why a strong animal seems “masculine,” and why an animal with only defensive skills, like a rabbit, might seem “feminine”. At this point I think these questions can be answered with a simple, “Well duh.”
What is so exciting and moving and magnificent is what’s beyond that. On the other side of the wall of gender dumbness. On the other side of the wall is, Wow.
And I’m not talking about recognizing one’s strength. If you have this kind of struggle, it’s because your strength and its implications seem too present.
It’s about not having to hide anything.
On the other side of trying to be meek is being free to be strong. To be big. To be, at the risk of sounding like a 1960s feminist (apparently our society’s least favorite kind) furry. Wild, magnificent, fearless, and yeah, maybe now and then, crush a few pine cones just for the hell of it. Because you can. Because your paws are as big as my face.
I dig that groove.
Let yourself experience wild energies beyond the little spectrum that you think is available to you.
Let the forest hear you.
My grandfather is a difficult man. He has expressed, over the years, hatred of every type of person from women (father of three daughters) to African Americans to homosexuals to Native Americans. The worst human being in his view is the liberal female politician, since she is crazy, stupid, and in power.
He’s always been cool with Martha Stewart, though.
He’s in his 80s and health issues start to pile up now. 6’4″ and hale for most of his life, working in construction since childhood, he’s only started to seem “old” in the past few years. His mom lived to 89 with a retiree’s diet of vodka, Twinkies and “Wheel of Fortune,” but he’s outlived both his father and brother by many years.
For a long time I had nothing left to say to my grandpa. I couldn’t forgive him, as an adult making my own way in a still-sexist world, for raising my mom and aunts to think they were useless girls.
I couldn’t forgive him for programming my brilliant mother to see herself as emotionally troublesome and useless outside the house.
Now, many years have passed and journeys taken. I don’t necessarily believe in forgiveness, especially towards someone who has never sought it from anyone in his life. This is not a post about how I can see the old guy’s point of view, generational differences, letting go of anger, blah blah blah.
I don’t have much emotion left, and I do not excuse a man of any generation for holding his daughter as lesser than a son.
My grandpa’s having a tough go right now and I had to admit to myself that I do care. Here’s why.
He’s John Wayne.
I know that sounds like I’m romanticizing, but it’s true. He looks just like him. He hunts, builds, tilts his head to one side before making a joke. He has this restrained way of refusing to express an opinion, (assuming it’s about a subject close to home, and not Hillary Clinton).
He was still working on his own roof at, like, 70.
Maybe I’m still influenced by one time I was hanging out in his shop with him and a cousin. I was 9 or 10, and I heard him mutter a swear word – my grandparents don’t swear. Next thing I know Grandma is taking him to the hospital because he’s cut the tip of his finger off on his table saw.
Another fingertip went about fifteen years later. Context: He was 65, 70. I date men now who can’t go a week late on their haircut without complaining, and god forbid you need help with anything involving a drill.
I quote him when ranting about Seattle’s inability to deal with traffic and public transit issues.
I get the same pissed off, “Get off my property” rebellious anger when dealing with bureaucrats – they don’t teach you that in the postwar world. It is deep and it is genetic. A pacifist, I wonder sometimes at my quiet inclination to maybe, quietly, get some shooting lessons. Just in case.
Where does this come from? Many will say, attitude is not genetic, but they’ve found now that trauma impacts your DNA. Can roofing a house at 14 give you a feirceness you pass on, even if to a “dumb” granddaughter?
He does not see me as dumb. But I feel that if I had taken his opinions seriously, growing up, I would have been. I feel I had to make my capability a non-issue.
Maybe he’d say his dad made him feel the same way.
I’m trying, struggling, to express a true dichotomy. Is it love if someone is woven through you? Even if that person has, at best, come to respect you in your third decade because you gave him no option?
Even if, at best, he has forgotten how to hate and now just wants to chill the fuck out.
I have no words of redemption for my grandfather. But his ethos has influenced mine. Not the hate, but definitely the determination.
What can I say? John Wayne was beloved for a reason, Republican bastard though he was.
Maybe he’ll make 90 and I’ll read this to him.
As a writer of naughty stories I am on the very outer ring of the planetary system that is public female sexuality, with women who take their clothes off onstage being in the center, models, singers and actresses closely orbiting them, and those of us who only assist others in imagining sexual activity as the little asteroids. And even I, an asteroid, encounter men who hear that I write erotica and immediately assume I am either a sexual enchantress or that I am ready to have sex with them right now.
These attitudes explain why most of the burlesque performers I’ve met tend to have thick walls up. A lot of men still aren’t sure what a woman’s sexuality is for. Just because a woman engages in a sex-themed artistic activity does not mean she wants to have sex with you.
Anne Hathaway’s polite refusal to let Matt Lauer discuss her lack of panties is a beautiful example of drawing boundaries around one’s sexuality without letting someone classify you as a prude or a slut.
This prude/slut thing is the crux of my point.
A couple years ago I had an argument with a male friend about whether or not I’d join him and his buddy at a strip club. “But you like burlesque,” he protested, not understanding that a strip club and a burlesque show are about as different as two forms of entertainment could be. I’m not putting down stripping, it’s just not my bag.
A burlesque routine has a story or a concept. It’s choreographed and costumed by the performer herself. The best routines have a joke or bit of social commentary squeezed deliciously in. Most importantly, burlesque tends to be about what the performer finds sexy, not what she believes her male audience is going to find sexy. You’re either in on the joke, or the turn-on, or the challenge, or you’re not.
I find that entertaining. I don’t find strip clubs entertaining. It took most of my twenties to reach a point where I can say that and not feel defensive, un-sexy or un-fun. I know that I’m fun, in fact, experience thusfar suggests that I am very fun. Just not with that guy who was mad at me for not going to the strip club.
I want every little college girl trying to be a liberated American woman to know that she doesn’t have to be a Girl Gone Wild to be hot. Sometimes you wonder about the Muslim argument that our liberation is not so liberated.
I was disturbed when Cosmo argued in their February issue that more women are going to strip clubs with their boyfriends because they want to be seen as “fun.” If I knew that every one of those guys was reciprocating by going to Chippendale shows with these women, I’d feel a lot better. Somehow I doubt it.
Channing Tatum and Matthew McConaughey made me squeal with delight in Magic Mike, but maybe that’s just me.
Even more odd was the article’s suggestion that women are more aroused by a lap dance from another woman, than they are by a Chippendale-style male strip tease. Sure, the Magic Mike thing can be goofy. But a straight woman is attracted to different things than a straight man and usually those things don’t involve another woman’s breasts in her face (not always, but usually). The same thing applies to porn. More and more women are watching porn, whether solo or in a couple, but c’mon, these movies are not being made for women. You have to dig through the proverbial bins searching for something that has a decently attractive male lead or a scenario that might bring a tingle to the lady-parts.
Shouldn’t we be demanding entertainment that appeals to us rather than bending our sexual tastes to what’s available? It’s like, there’s nothing to eat, so I’m going to eat cardboard and say that I find it delicious.
Sex is supposed to be fun. Burlesque and strip tease and pole dancing and belly dancing and naughty stories and dirty movies are supposed to be fun. If you’re not having fun, it’s not you. It’s them. So say so. If he doesn’t get it, trust me, the next guy will.