Wednesday, July 25, 2012

When our monsters save us

There is something that does not like an ambitious woman. Think about it: in Macbeth, Lady Macbeth doesn't kill anyone. Macbeth does. Yet when the monster in the play gets discussed, it is Lady Macbeth, and her overwhelming, unfeminine ambition, that is the monstrous thing. She prays to be unsexed, but it is because of her sex that her focused wanting is such a horror.

I have been thinking a lot in the past month about women and ambition and art. It was this post, from Sarah McCarry, that started it. She writes:

"When you are a woman or a girl or female no one says to you Look, artists who are great take without asking and take and take and do not apologize because when you are a woman or a girl or female the only thing you are supposed to take is a lot of other people's shit. No one says to you Be sure you are strong enough to take and not apologize and keep going when the taking leaves you nothing to go back to. Be sure you are strong enough to steal and live alone with what you've chosen to make yours."

And that's true. We, we women, we're taught to be polite. We're taught not to take the last cookie on the plate, even if we want it, because wanting is greedy and bad, and it will make you fat, the wanting, and so better that the cookie be thrown away than you eat it. Someone else should have it. Don't be selfish. 

Don't be selfish. Don't be that girl who wants to be the class president, because they will make a movie out of that wanting because oh, my God, can you imagine how weird it is to want something, if you're a girl. It's okay to be voted Miss Congeniality. You can want to be liked. But God forbid you ever say you want to be the one who wears the crown.

There is this post, too, written by Nova Ren Suma, in response to Sarah McCarry's post. It talks about the way you have to put your life into the shape you want it to be, in order to get the things you want. Nova talks about being a writer, and she says:

"I’m everything I always wanted to be—because I only ever wanted this one thing. And I’m also a bit of a monster, because when you have only one thing, you have quite a lot to lose."

But in the rest of the post, she talks about the fact that there are sacrifices to get there. That we make the choices, we ambitious women who value our art, to turn ourselves into monsters.

I am fine with those choices. If this is what being a monster is, I choose the monstrous.

Because there is also this post, from Megan Kurashige. And it talks about how ambition, the desire to create something, something huge and strange and maybe impossible, can save you. And that is true, too. Desire is the engine of the story, and the desire to create is perhaps the most powerful ambition of all.

And even there, we women are a problem. We are not supposed to want that room of our own to write in. We are supposed to be the muse, who brings the story to the person, the man, best equipped to write it. We are supposed to pose for the painting, then slide, consumptive, into the footnotes of history. To be looked at, but never to be the abyss that stares back.

But I want. I want to create, and I am ambitious enough to want to create something extraordinary, and to not want to bow and apologize beneath the weight of that desire. That desire has made me who I am.

And I will be a monster, if that is what the wanting makes me.


  1. There are some stories that can't be told by men -- or at least, not told in the fullest, truest way possible -- because a woman's perspective is often different from a man's, with emotions he can't fully comprehend. Both sexes have a unique and valuable perspective to contribute to the craft of writing.

  2. "We are supposed to pose for the painting, then slide, consumptive, into the footnotes of history. To be looked at, but never to be the abyss that stares back."

    You are perfect.

  3. How dare you desire to be a complete human being with desires and dreams! You monster!!!

    In all seriousness, if my wife and I ever have a daughter, I hope to raise her to want, to dream, and to understand that she can be anything she wants. And I hope she doesn't feel monstrous for a second about it.