Saturday, December 12, 2009

No Country for Bold Women

I’ve been trying to figure out a thing or two about my life. This is hard work, this life thing. Harder still when you want your own life, not the life proscribed by the society we inhabit. I’m back, as ever, to my father and the hard way. Why don’t you want to settle down, have children, buy a house, raise a family? Why must you do everything the hard way? Because I must, that’s why. There is no other way.

But, still. If I don’t want all of that business, all the things my father wishes I would want, what do I want? I’m reminded again of the feminist re-rendering of Freud’s rather problematic question: “What? Do women want?!?” Because I want. I may not know precisely what I want, but I sure as hell know that I want.

And perhaps this is where, as women, we begin. It’s hard to want. Harder still to admit to it—that wanting. I too want my own life. I want the struggle and the pain of figuring out precisely what that means. I want no labels, nothing holding me back. Virginia Woolf famously wrote: “As a woman, I have no country. As a woman, I want no country. As a woman, my country is the whole world!” This, I think, is a wonderful statement. The vagaries of gender have given us this particular gift from the universe, the ability to be a subject of the world. Men can accomplish this as well, but I’ll wager it’s a bit harder. We paid our ticket for world-travel. Most of them have yet to do so.

I wouldn’t trade this purchase on world-subjecthood for all the privilege that comes with being male. Sure, it’s harder to know precisely who I am. I’m stuck taking the hard way. But I get to take that less-traveled path, I get to stumble and struggle and find out who I am. I get to participate in the enormous mystery of this thing we call life.

I agree that if anonymous was, for much of our history, a woman, that’s because there’s some profound power in anonymity. My preferred definition of the term is: a person whose name is not given. Given that I want to coin my own name, not have it determined for me, this anonymity is precisely the thing I need for becoming. I want no country. I want no name. I simply want to live my desire. Is that too much to ask?

In my high-school Spanish class, when we had to choose our Spanish names, I chose Alise, a name incredibly similar to my own. I chose it because, by that time, I came to realize that I had named myself. The Spanish version of the name references nobility, the English version of my name references a promise. These things I choose. I choose them because I desire. Say my name.

We must never forget that these are choices. Surely, they may be choices made in some form of negotiation with a world which doesn’t want women to choose. But if we know ourselves, if we own our names, perhaps we can choose to be subjects of the world. And, then, we can make the world our subject.