We Are The Heroes We Are Looking For
My grandfather, rest his soul eventually, is still here in the land of living. He is not taking in much food, and he can barely open his eyes, but he is still here.
And my spider bite on my leg? The one that people have been worrying about and imagining it giving me Lyme's disease and gangrene? That's not killing me, either. In fact, it looks much better. I still have this sinus cold going on, though.
So, nobody's dead yet, and everyone feels like shit, but I've been having big thoughts, though, while we all convalesce. Let me show you them.
While I've been feeling like crap and worrying about my grandfather, I have also been lying in bed and thinking about how it would feel to feel like the opposite of crap, and I labelled that feeling heroic, and then I started thinking about how I was raised in a world that told me I couldn't be a hero. The world didn't tell me that explicitly, but it was explicitly implied when all the male characters in stories got to powerhouse their way through to glory, and that they often did so partially on the backs of the female characters, whose actions went largely uncelebrated. Even if a woman played a key role in saving the day, in the end, she expressed gratitude to the man as though no one could have survived without him alone.
And over this last year of learning how to be a different sort of person, the sort of person who doesn't smoke and drink and get high every time she has a thought or feeling, I've been trying to figure out what sort of archetypal figure I am to be in my life during this stretch of slugging it out with myself in the trenches, because picking an archetypal figure helps me to look a little more objectively at my path. It's obvious that I should be the hero, in a way, but it's also not obvious, because I carry around in me this idea that I can't win. I carry this idea around not only because I, as an individual, can't win, but also because I, as someone born with a vagina, can't win. Women are born not winning.
Our stories arm us with the power of belief, and the stories from my childhood as a little girl armed me with the belief that power looked like men and physical aggression and slain foes. As a biological female, I couldn't win. Someone else could win for me if I was lucky enough to be found by him, though, because the hero's female counterpart is always found by some kind of chance, you see. The female can't even be responsible for her own visibility in our stories. I would have to be found, and I dreamed about being found.
Since girls couldn't win, and girls had to be found, I subconsciously had this idea that I had to be a willing victim and hope for the best. This wasn't a conscious choice, of course, because it's a disgusting way to be, but there it is. I was subconsciously trying to be a beautiful gazelle who would get noticed by lions who would hopefully have the desire love me and give me pretty things rather than destroy me.
I think all of this thinking about heroes springs out of a conversation I had the other day on Twitter when @robinplemmons asked about whether she was depriving her child by not buying into the Disney princess thing, and it reminded me of Robert Munsch's The Paper Bag Princess. In The Paper Bag Princess, Elizabeth ends up dirty, wearing a paper bag, and basically telling the prince, Ronald, that he can stuff it. This book came out in the early nineties after I had already graduated high school, but I remember buying myself a copy and then giving away several copies as gifts, because Elizabeth doesn't win by being rescued by a handsome prince and looking clean and pretty. She saves everyone while looking the very opposite of a princess.
She is the hero who saves her own day.
Over the past year of making some serious life changes and committing myself to sobriety, I have started to learn how to be the hero of my own life, only I didn't see it at first, because I really didn't know that I could fill that role. Until I gave it some more involved thought, I didn't even know I had the idea ground into me that I couldn't be a hero, but I did. Frankly, it shocked me. I really didn't think that I had fallen victim to this terrible and unnecessary bi-product of our culture's inveterate misogyny.
Luckily, I am not lost and waiting to be found anymore. I'm not entirely sure how it is I managed to shuffle off the yolk of passivity over the last year, but I am standing up now and doing the hard work. It's aggressive and it's dirty and I hate a lot of it, but it's also powerful and gorgeous and really satisfying in a down-deep-in-my-guts kind of way, because I used to wait for heroes, but I don't have to anymore. The hero, it turns out, is right here.
And that is something I want more of us to see, because more of us subconsciously identify with Rapunzel or Sleeping Beauty or whathaveyou than I think we are aware of or are willing to admit. Those same stories are now the younger female generation's stories, and our girls are also being taught too often that their best hope is to look pretty and be found instead of the truth that all the real joy is in getting dirty and forging our own journeys.
We don't have to wait for heroes. We don't have to hope to be found or discovered like beautiful objects to be kept.
We need to arm ourselves with a new story, a new belief:
We are already the heroes, it is ourselves we are looking for, and we are right here.
Pass it on.