by guest blogger, Monette Chilson
Women’s stories tend to be told relationally, while men’s are often told as autonomous tales of accomplishments, the kind more likely to make it into the history books. Notice I didn’t say women are more relational or that men are more accomplished, just that our stories have been shaped in that way.
I have found two ways the voices of women are silenced. The first is by omission. The second is by distortion.
OMITING OUR VOICES
Omission leaves a gaping hole where the voice of the feminine should be. Women’s stories simply disappear, no matter how impressive their accomplishments. A recent spotlight on this type of omission is seen in the award-winning 2017 film, Hidden Figures which tells the stories of Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson and Katherine Johnson, female African American mathematicians who played a vital role in NASA’s early US space program. Until Margot Lee Shetterly released the book which preceded the movie, knowledge of these women—now thought to be some of the brightest, most accomplished of their generation—had vanished.
DISTORTING OUR STORIES
Through distortion, women—especially those who lead their lives in ways considered untraditional for females—will find their legacies bear little resemblance to reality. Again pulling from popular culture, let’s look at Masterpiece Theater’s current series Victoria which brings to life the monarch for which the repressive Victorian era was named. Secretly expecting to be bored to tears, I agreed to watch the series with my husband. I was shocked to find the Queen Victoria I saw bore no resemblance to the global icon best know for ushering in strict standards of personal morality in the 1800s. The strong, independent and outspoken portrayal of the young queen—carefully reconstructed from the 57 million words she journaled during her 63 year reign—likely comes closer than any we’ve seen to capturing the monarch’s essence. She was not the prim, well-behaved women we’re familiar with. She was—pardon my language—a bad ass. And, yes, you read that right. She wrote an average of 2,500 words a day, an prolificacy most of us writers would love to claim.
THE POWER OF ARCHETYPES
If squelching the stories of everyday women—even those who happen to be monarchs—can deprive us of such powerful role models and inspiration, imagine the impact of suppressing sacred source material. It’s like losing half of our spiritual DNA.
So, let’s look for a moment at the power of archetypes. Archetypes are like stories on steroids. Not only do they inform our understanding of who we are—by definition, they establish “the original pattern from which all things of the same kind are copied.” In other words, they are the prototypes. In terms of the Western understanding of femininity, Eve has been the prevailing archetype. This is problematic for us on many levels.
One of the best ways to see the impact Eve has as an archetypal understanding of femininity comes from using a lens I picked up from Toltec visionary HeatherAsh Amara during her talk at Body Mind & Soul a few months ago.
HeatherAsh, author of the Warrior Goddess series, described our integration of archetypes as unconscious agreements we make and then live by. Think about what kind of agreements we can inherit from our understanding of Eve.
Eve being created as a helper for Adam could translate into, “My needs are secondary to my husband or boyfriend’s needs.”
Eve’s portrayal as weak and more easily deceived could become an agreement that says, “I can’t trust my instincts because they will lead me and others astray.”
We need a new archetype to teach us what it means to be a woman.
THE LEGEND OF LILITH
This archetype, it turns out, has been here all along, waiting in the shadows of patriarchy. Her name is Lilith, and I tell her story in my newly released book, My Name is Lilith (The Girl God, 2017). Piecing together tales that survived and reimagining her outside the purview of a patriarchal understanding, I reintroduce Lilith to the world.
As legend has it, Lilith was referenced in the first creation story in Genesis when man and woman were created simultaneously. Eve was said to be the women created from Adam’s rib in the version a few lines later. Jewish rabbis provided this explanation in their midrashic writings meant to fill in gaps or ambiguous areas of the Bible.
Lilith, who left the garden rather than lead a life of subserviency, was forever demonized for her choice. Sound familiar? Strong women making choices that are good for them are still subject to criticism and name-calling.
By redeeming her story we help empower women today to lead lives of integrity whether or not they are living in line with the prevailing gender norms. We will create a generation of women who are unabashedly themselves. I will leave you with the book’s closing lines on how to recognize women embodying Lilith’s legacy today:
“Every time you see a woman stand up to those who would rather she sit; speak out in the face of those who would prefer her silent; say no when the world tells her what she “should” do, you are seeing my legacy. You are seeing Lilith, the forgotten first woman of this world.”
Monette Chilson is the author of My Name is Lilith (The Girl God, 2017) and Sophia Rising: Awakening Your Sacred Wisdom Through Yoga (Bright Sky Press, 2013). Signed copies of both books are available at Body Mind & Soul. You can connect with Monette on Twitter and Instagram @MonetteChilson or visit her website at www.SophiaRisingYoga.com