Whether or not to become a mother is one of the biggest decisions of any woman’s life and one that is often outside her control. Collecting and drawing on a range of female experience, two academics have produced deeply felt personal accounts of motherhood and childlessness respectively, but both […]
Writing a themed-post on the letter X is a task with limited options. Fewer words begin with the letter X in the English language than any other letter. Even with the inclusion of Ex words we have an exceptionally small number of words with which to work. My theme for this A to Z challenge is Iconic Femininity. So let’s review Genetic Xes and Speculative Fiction that commemorates eXtinct species.
Iconic X Chromosome
The obvious post for me would be the Iconic X Chromosome. But this would kind of be cheating. I covered the subject fairly well in a couple of previous posts.
Exes, Sexes, and Mitochondrial DNA was written in 2015 for this challenge and is a great post about the an incredibly iconic aspect of being female: the X-Chromosome, that is THE female chromosome.
When I reviewed my earlier post, the Exceptional Letter X, to write this post I was reminded of a NYT article that is a wonderful resource piece for writers about Mothers Day and genetics. For Motherly X Chromosome, Gender Is Only the Beginning is the fun NYT Science Section piece that I linked to in the 2012 post. I encourage others to read my post and the NYT for Mother’s Day inspiration.
The eXtinct Oryx & an Iconic Feminist Writer
I also previous covered what was, for me, an obvious choice for an X entry, OryX and Crake, what I consider to be a must read (or listen to) speculative fiction novel by Margaret Atwood in the MaddAddam Trilogy. Everything Atwood writes is feminist at some level, and her speculative fiction is often of an eco-feminist bent. I listened to an audiobook version of the first volume in 2004 on a cross country solo road trip. On a post about the roadtrip I wrote,
Finished listening to Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake yesterday. The language in the book is exquisite. The story is compelling. All the soul deep questions one asks in a lifetime are there. Her voices are so real.
Later, when I wrote the above-mentioned eXceptional post (2015) I said,
The novel is a dystopian, near future, parable that I listened to as an audiobook on one of my cross-country drives when DC political and Indiana family commitments meant I was on the road a lot. It expores the implications of genetic engineering, the ever widening gap between the haves and have-nots in gated communities turned into walled enclaves, as well as the likely development of garish sexual culture of underclass employment.
I finished the trilogy in audio versions too after writing my 2015 post. The genetically new human-derived species was a bit, well, silly, but I adored the development of the women characters and the depth of time over the series so that we could view not only an ecological collapse but how women played a significant role in building a new infrastructure that might help humans rebuild their place in the world.
This post was difficult for me as I feel like I had done a great job with my previous X posts. But there is always room for improvement and nuance, right? So I decided to get over my cringe factor with a story that is completely composed of the cruel, confining stereotypic elements of a morality tale. It is classic.
Wikipedia summarizes the original story quite well, and you get the idea right away..
The protagonist is a woman who has been thrown out into the street without any money by her jealous husband, when he discovers she has been carrying on an affair. She is not even allowed to see their young son. She sinks into depravity.
Then flash forward a few decades and her current lover wants to exploit her former husband’s high status through blackmail, so she kills him. So in her trial for murder in which she will only reveal her name as Madame X, she ends up with her son as her attorney and to spare him the shame and such she signals her ex-husband to keep her secret. She has her classic fallen women, “Oh, please understand…” speech, after which she becomes ill, kisses her son/attorney, and dies. Can you say, “melodrama!” or what?
It is nothing that I would want to read. Quite a few people must have loved the concept of punishing women for not conforming to societal expectations for wives and mothers because the play has been remade many times in many formats including inexpensive Kindle 2017 version.
However, if you are in the mood for a classic film, the 1960s version with Lana Turner and John Forsythe is probably worth the streaming fee or purchase price. This adaptation adds a few elements, updated to mid 20th C. from early 20th C., such as a nasty mother-in-law. Grab your tissues and head into the classic zeitgeist of mid-Century Modern American Culture. This has been described as classic soap opera, very Stella Dallas, or Peyton Place-esque, and this version certainly captures something of the American mindset before the post-modern era.
Once a mom…always a mom. I think that is one of the reasons that until I was over 30 I was certain I would never have children. It is so… um well, irreversible. There are irreversible changes in brain chemistry once you are in a motherly way. At least that is the way it is supposed to work. Broody phase and all that. You know when the hen has an overwhelming urge to sit on her nest until the eggs hatch. Women's brains do something similar, except it isn't a phase that ever ends, at least not completely.
Biology lesson time. There is a trajectory in mammalian evolution toward the retention of juvenile characteristics; this is also known as neoteny. And as I have said, so many times, over and over again, there are no unidirectional processes. While offspring change, parents probably change too. Staying dependent, a juvenile characteristic, for long periods of time requires parents stay in parenting mode for long periods of time. The change that allowed for lots of learning required lots of teaching. Everything moves in multiple directions. That is one of the things that most amazes me about life. Nothing has but one facet; well except for Möbius strips (those are slices of a Klein bottle.) There are multiple truths for every single fact. Truth is about interpretation. No two people will ever have the exactly identical interpretation of anything. We are unique individuals. Even if somehow we had the identical biological identity, as with identical twins, the environment of gestation, before birth, will not be identical and will shape the forming persons differently.
So, that is enough bio lesson for now, but women have evolved to be, and this is metaphor folks, lifelong wombs. I love the Gaian concept of the planet Earth being our mother. There is a largest level of life on this planet that can be understood as a single living system. The misconceptions about this theory are staggering in their shear numbers alone. Living systems are so complex that we cannot untangle all the relationships to understand them. So we have ways of understanding that are simplifications. Science simplifies. Religion simplifies. All ways of knowing are simplifications where only part of the truth that exists can be conveyed from one being to another. To have words be perfect representations would mean that the description and the thing would be identical. And that is impossible. Just speaking is simplification. Rarely do our words match the elegance of our thoughts.
Gaia, the Goddess, and motherhood are, for me interrelated concepts. I play with concepts in a way that most people would find strange at best. But I love thinking about thinking. And I believe that we as a people, and as a planet, need to incorporate as much of the feminine into our models or representations of our world and our understanding as is possible. Others may not see it that way. That is fine. I just wonder if there is any way to coexist with peacefully with people who insist that everyone else in the world has to agree with them on a particular point. Mothers know that every child has a unique sensitivities and gifts. Truth changes a tiny bit with the interpretive filter we each put it through. Nearly all women and girls have the spark of a caring nurturer and fierce protector in their hearts, that essence becomes active within every cell of our bodies during gestation, and I am convinced that once activated it cannot be turned off.
The feminine divine, the inspired mother, the sacred feminine, and the holy mother are all ways we as a culture marvel at the mystical power to bring new life into the world. I am not sure we can ever know where one state of being stops and another begins. And maybe that is the lesson we are to learn. The Mother Goddess within us all is Mother Möbius where there is no beginning nor end.