It is International Women’s Day, and it’s also my first-born’s birthday. Therefore, I find myself contemplating of what it means to be a woman in the 21st century, how I influence my own daughter, and how my mom influenced me. I’m also pondering the status of women, especially in light of the misogynistic remarks of Rush Limbaugh and some of the disturbing events in regard to women’s rights occurring in society now. But I don’t want to discuss those. Instead, I want to celebrate women. So below is a list of women in the public eye who have helped shape me, be it politically, socially, spiritually, and/or creatively. This is not meant to be a comprehensive list for anyone, but simply an affirmation of those who’ve shaped me along the way (so far). I hope it may introduce you to someone new, and I encourage you to respond with your own list and introduce me to other women who’ve influenced you.
In a way, it all began with Elaine Pagels. After reading Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code, I wanted to know facts, so I began with Pagels’s The Gnostic Gospels. I quite vividly remember reading this during Christmas break one year, and leaning over the toilet to throw-up the turkey I’d eaten for dinner. Her text obviously had a very visceral effect on me! My entire upbringing in the Christian faith was cast under a new light – an academic light. A light that provided the psychic distance needed to see things in a myriad of ways. Reading the Secret Gospel of John was akin to reading Greek mythology. Suddenly my world view in regard to religion changed dramatically.
Speaking of the Greeks, one of my least favorite classes in undergrad was Greek mythology. I found these gods and goddess fickle at best, and rather full of themselves. They were impulsive, full of pride, and simply not what I considered a “god/dess” to be. Why? Because they were more human than god-like! My dislike flipped around when I read Jean Shinoda Bolen’s Goddesses in Every Woman. Her updated Jungian approach of applying the goddess archetypes to myself gave me valuable personal insight, and it also made these mythological beings ones I could relate to.
But before I ever got to Pagels and Bolen, I was comforted (or to say it better, my existential angst was somewhat alleviated) by Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar. Esther Greenwood’s deep depression and battle with such let me know, at a very young age, I was not alone. If she made it, so could I. Later I would read and be moved by her poetry, but it will always be Plath’s The Bell Jar that spoke to me first.
Also speaking to me at a young age were some of the many books on my parents’ bookshelves. It was here where I met Anais Nin – in both her lectures and (later) in her erotica. Sue Monk Kidd was there long before I read her, and her honesty in Dance of the Dissident Daughter: A Woman’s Journey from Christian Tradition to the Sacred Feminine, was integral to my growth. Reading her and Bolen within a similar span of time was uplifting and empowering.
Then there’s Naomi Wolf and bell hooks, whose writings on feminism confirmed much of what I felt intuitively, yet had no words to define. Add to these the creative writings of Erica Jong, Anais Nin, and Anne Carson. The Fear of Flying, Henry and June, and Decreation all either chronicled the author’s life or examined key elements the lives of incredible women, introducing me to ways of being that are not often spoken of in public.
Finally, I have to mention just a few poets I’ve read whose work conjures the feminine in ways that are above and beyond the usual – either through voice or place or a mix of such. These include Beth Ann Fennelly, Marge Piercy, Anne Carson, Natasha Trethewey, Louise Gluck, and Anna Swir.
So this is my short list of celebration of women who exist in the public eye. Some are more known than others. And, whether we are in the public eye or not, we are all full of potential and beautiful energy. So tell me, who will you celebrate today, on International Women’s Day? Give me some names. Introduce me!