In Part I of this series I outlined some questions Naomi Wolf's Harper's Bazaar piece Girl VS. Girl raises about the nature of female conflict and rivalry:
• Is it inborn or are we socialized to engage in emotionally devastating struggle with one another?
• Are there alternatives or other ways of being?
• What kinds of social conditions would have to exist for different relations between women to emerge?
• If this dynamic is based more in nurture than nature, who suffers most and who stands to gain by the way women are acculturated to be in fierce competition at all times?
• Are women's relationships distorted in the media and pop culture to insinuate a higher prevalence of rancor and social sabotage - and if so - who is getting their kicks at our expense?
How best to wade into the whirlpool of these questions?
I will tap into the twin wellsprings of True Blood and the surging movement of women's studies - scholarship, (and particularly feminist scholarship) in the areas of history, religion & spirituality, anthropology, archeomythology, linguistics, art, literature, and more. Bubbling up from both of these abundant sources are the stories, allegories, images, narratives, and analysis that can support us to:
• Understand contemporary women's relationships within the context of our prevailing (dominator) culture and to take a look at how its social structures (i.e. dating & courtship, career ladder, marriage, and family) can impact on a woman’s ability to maintain continuing, fruitful connections with other women
• Explore the assumption that all women feel isolation and separation from or animosity toward other women; is it part of a larger trend towards conceptualizing women's experiences in universalizing terms that exclude diverse perspectives (i.e. women of color, indigenous women, etc.)
• Seek representations of, or models for, the creative dynamic of women living in relation with one another; multigenerational patterns of connection, continuity, cooperation, and community amongst women to foster deepened insight into our relationships with each other at the personal, cultural, and archetypal levels
SO LET'S DIP INTO THE FONT, SHALL WE?
A Swimming Pool for the Metaphoric Mind
You remember my last posts' overview of the metaphoric mind, right? Well, to carry along the water metaphor I started above, what follows is a a virtual swimming pool for the metaphoric mind...and it ain't no kiddie pool, folks!
No, dear friends, it's a near-bottomless well in which we can dive deep into select images that illuminate women's relationships on True Blood and surface with insight into the parallels that exist between the complex interpersonal dynamics and story arcs of the show's female characters and the art, myth, narratives, and histories of archaic cultures and living traditions that bring nuance to our ways of being and interacting with each other. Let's try to plug into our metaphoric minds and see where they take us...
No Simple Answers
Here's what this discussion isn't meant to be:
- An attempt to idealize women and our relationships with each other, deny our rivalry and conflict, or to paint us in broad, reductionist brushstrokes. After all, the feminine is no simple construct. I'm not saying Naomi Wolf has it all wrong; we women get along just fine all the time, thank you very much. To do so would deny the need to critically engage, interrogate, and challenge female conflict.
- An exhaustive, authoritative, or all-encompassing review or history lesson; it's a discussion of women's relationships organized around a sampling of True Blood images on the themes that stood out for me and the parallels that emerged from the historic and sociological record.
- An argument for the superiority of the mythopoetic worldview which speaks clearest to the metaphoric mind; it is a call to strike greater balance between this way of thinking and being and the linear-rational that dominates today.
- A call to retreat to the past. Even though many of the preeminent scholars of archaic Goddess-based cultures (Marija Gimbutas, Merlin Stone, Carol Christ, Max Dashu, Riane Eisler, Vicky Noble, etc.) agree that the Neolithic and pre-Classical cultures which flourished in Old Europe and the ancient Mediterranean, Near, and Middle East showed all the signs of peaceful egalitarianism - no fortifications or caches of weaponry which would speak to the presence of war, no palaces which would indicate royal hierarchy or the existence of haves and have-nots but the remains of housing which evidences a comfortable quality of life enjoyed by all, and an artistic tradition which documents the free, joyous, and sophisticated societies our forebearers lived in - we can't, and shouldn't pine for a time machine that can take us back to those days. As Gadon (1989, p. 377) writes, "We cannot - would not - wish to return to some golden prehistoric age; but in reclaiming our lost heritage we can build upon the values encoded in the prehistoric survivals".
- A recommendation that we engage in cultural appropriation or a justification to think - misguidedly - that we can graft some romanticized vision or version of other cultures or lifeways upon our own.
The main idea here is that WHEN WE ARE MET WITH...AND SEE THAT THERE HAVE BEEN - AND STILL ARE - ALTERNATIVES TO THE STATUS QUO, new paths open and we see that the way things are isn't the way they have to be.
We are washed out into floodplains of new and expanded human possibility in terms of women's relationships with each other.
A Exploration of Women's Relationships Organized into 5 Themes
Here's the 1st theme:
The Archetypal Mother-Daughter on True Blood: Themes of Separation and Connection
TARA & LETTIE MAE
Let's begin by looking at one volatile rendering of a most primal of female bonds; that of mother to daughter, which seemingly reinforces Shakti Woman author Vicki Noble's assertion, "The Feminine is fragmented, shattered, and scattered about the earth. Women have been isolated from one another" (1991, p. 3): Tara and Lettie Mae.
In her feminist reconceptualization of the Demeter-Persephone myth, Charlene Spretnak (1989) affirms the power of this original matrix and the fundamental importance of female relationships, asserting that the sacred story of archetypal Mother and Daughter long pre-dates the Christian deification of father and son; in the ancient Eleusinian (pre-Classical Greek) religion it was celebrated as an expression of the central human mystery.
The myth of Greek Goddesses Demeter and Persephone is the classic story of descent, death and rebirth, and of separation and reunion between archetypal Mother and Daughter (Austen, 1990).
Austin (1990) posits that in the original mythology, Persephone chose to leave the paradise of life with her mother of her own free-will; perhaps she descended to the underworld to experience another side of herself like the Sumerian Inanna did, perhaps to gain wisdom from Hecate, the ancient Goddess of the Underworld.
Either way, each version tells the story of descent and re-emergence, of separation from and reunion with the mother.
In her book Stories from the Motherline: Reclaiming the Mother-Daughter Bond, Finding Our Feminine Souls psychotherapist Naomi Ruth Lowinsky quotes feminist poet and essayist Adrienne Rich who reiterates the mother-daughter bond’s power:
Although there have been some poignant moments of tenderness between them, we have certainly seen more painful estrangement than deepest mutuality in Tara and Lettie Mae's relationship as they struggle to repair the frayed cord of their mother-daughter bond:
There is nothing in human nature more resonant with charges than the flow of energy between biologically alike bodies, one of which has lain in amniotic bliss inside the other, one of which has labored to give birth to the other. The materials are here for the deepest mutuality and the most painful estrangement. (1992, pg. 53)
Lowinsky's (1992, pp. 34-35) vision of the pain and separation that punctuates the mother-daughter dance mirrors Tara and Lettie Mae's relationship:
We are all born of deeply wounded mothers...In listening to the stories from my patients' Motherlines, I can usually trace the deprivation or anger back for generations...They look at their daughters with the hatred they feel for their own female selves, and profoundly stunt their daughter's development.Video courtesy of YouTube user kathchick7, thanks!
She continues, "In a great collective leap we distanced ourselves from the lives of our mothers and grandmothers...Mothers and daughters suffer a wrenching distance between them" (Lowinsky, pp. 28, 31).
Gadon (1989) writes that separation and reunion, the restoration of the primary relationship to the mother, is the great motif underlying the Demeter-Persephone myth. We have seen Tara and Lettie Mae cycle back and forth between separation and reunion; they seem in constant conflict and yet also seem to always - in one way or another - long for each other. Will we see their mother-daughter bond ultimately repaired and restored? Does this story arc comment on the value our society accords the mother-daughter bond, or women's bonds in general?
As Jessica's ties to her family of origin - and to her biological mother - give way to the new blood tie between she and her maker/father figure Bill, Season 3 of True Blood finds her involved in a trio of pseudo mother-daughter relationships that speak more to separation and strife than to connection:
Arlene tries to ward Jessica off
What is she so afraid of? Is she fearful because Jess is a vampire,
Demeter and Persephone were so closely linked that they were simply known as "The Two Goddesses"; as Gadon (1989) writes, in the early 5th century B.C.E. bas-relief to the left, mother and daughter are nearly indistinguishable in appearance - the maiden is characterized only by the flower she carries, the mother only by the fruit. The key to understanding the symbolic meaning of this image, as mother and daughter gaze intently - smilingly and knowingly, even - into each other's eyes, is that flower and fruit, narcissus and pomegranate, represent their respective roles. For Jungian Eric Neumann, the unity of Demeter and Persephone is the central content of the Eleusinian Mysteries; the goddesses belong together in their seamless transformation from one to the other. Gadon (p. 161) quotes Neumann, "the daughter becomes identical with the mother; she becomes a mother and is so transformed into Demeter. Precisely because Demeter and Kore (Persephone) are archetypal poles of the Eternal Woman; mature woman and virgin, the mystery of the Feminine is endlessly renewed.
Is it such a stretch to cast Arlene and Jessica similarly as archetypal poles? Think back to when Sam first hired Jessica - do you remember Arlene chastising him, saying something like, "you know there's only one redhead at Merlotte's!"? Arlene sees a younger version of herself in Jessica, and when they're face-to-face in matching Merlotte's uniforms it's hard not to see a resemblance. Arlene fears being displaced by her "younger self"; a fear not entirely unwarranted in our youth-obsessed culture. Rather than embracing the vulnerable baby vampire, either as a young woman in need of a mother figure or as a symbol of the cyclical pattern of eternal rebirth, Arlene allows her fear to cast her into competition and conflict with Jessica.
Jessica's relationship with another potential surrogate mother figure; Maxine Fortenberry, her on-again-off-again human boyfriend's mother, doesn't fare much better (for different reasons), as these images attest:
Jessica yearns for mothering, and we can tell from her video blog that she'd like to think maybe she's found it (what she herself refers to as a "big-sister-crush") in Pam - a female vampire she looks up to and turns to when in need and no one else is around to help her - but who is also a a party to Jessica’s stolen humanity - she too can be seen as a (begrudging) surrogate mother figure:
Here's Pam callously kicking Jessica into her grave...
Athena came into being after her father the Sky God Zeus killed the Goddess Mettis and swallowed her; from his head was born Athena, fully formed and girded for battle (Christ, 1997)
And so it is that the Goddess comes from God, female from male; like Athena born of Zeus, Aphrodite was born from the severed genitals of Ouranos (Christ, 1997), the ancient Egyptian God Ptah caused all the other gods to come into being through an act of masturbation, thus totally eliminating the need for a Divine Ancestress, and as the Judeo-Christian Adam and Eve story - which to a certain extend pervades the collective consciousness of today's Western culture - states, "For the man is not of the woman but the woman of the man" (Stone, 1976, pp. 227-228).
Not only does this kind of mythology deny the biological truth of birth (thinkers like Christ and Stone posit that this was almost certainly a political move undertaken by the molders of these revisionist myths as a shift from matrifocal to patrifocal social structure was taking place), but it also paints a very different picture of the importance of the mother-daughter bond than does the Demeter-Persephone myth: it totally subverts, refutes, and disavows it.
Does this type of thinking - that the mother-daughter (and by extension, the woman-woman bond) is inherently prickly, has little real meaning, and is therefore expendable - have any bearing upon today's female relationships?
SOOKIE & TARA
What do Tara and Sookie as surrogate sisters have to do with the theme of separation and connection between mothers and daughters? True Blood offers us some images of them in close sisterly bond which radiates out - at least in part - from their orbit around the same mother figure: Gran.
The relationship between Tara and Sookie has its ups and downs - like relationships between any sisters (Rebecca and I included) or very close friends usually do - but despite their differences and the trouble that always finds them they are joined by a deep mutuality. Their relationship sometimes comes to blows over men but it is never minimized or overcome by the men in either of their lives.
Their caring for each other is born of the love they shared with and received from Gran, the same woman who was not their mother but to varying extents played that role for both of them from their childhood.
Lots to think about, huh? So what do you think?
If you'd like to explore my take on the Archetypal Mother-Daughter bond, which (as evidenced in the images from True Blood we see here) can manifest through a connection we have with a woman from our own bloodlines, or with a woman of an alternative or chosen lineage such as an adopted, surrogate, spiritual, or mentor mother figure further, you might be interested in checking out a paper that I presented at a conference on spirituality and social work in Canada in 2008: Re-Imagining the Myth of Demeter and Persephone: Exploration of the Constructs of Marriage and Nuclear Family
In it, you'll find a practical guide for tracing the Motherline, which is what Lowinsky describes as a name for a pattern, for the oneness of body and psyche, for the experience of continuity amongst women. She conceptualizes it as a central organizing principle in the psyche of women, "like the stem and the roots of the tree of life, through which a woman is related to the ancient earth of female procreation" (p. 4).
Whether or not we feel a close connection to our mothers, whether or not our mothers are still living, the Motherline heritage this is passed down to us, or that we choose to subscribe to, can provide a rich exploration of our deepest selves. Tracing it might open new windows on the concept of female rivalry and conflict.
In the next installment, I'll look at images of women's relationships in True Blood and their parallels in the art, stories, narratives, and histories of the past and present in the context of these themes:
Bye-bye for now!
Austen, H. I. (1990). The heart of the goddess: Art, myth and meditations of the world’s sacred feminine.
Christ, C.(1997) Rebirth of the goddess.
Gadon, E. W. (1989). The once and future Goddess. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco
Lowinsky, N.R. (1992). Stories from the motherline: Reclaiming the mother-daughter bond, finding our feminine souls.
Spretnak, C. (1989). The Myth of Demeter and Persephone. In Plaskow, J. & Christ, C. P. (Ed.), Weaving the visions: New patterns in feminist spirituality. (pp. 72-76).
Stone, M. (1976). When god was a woman. New York: Harcourt, Inc.