I didn’t think I was an action hero, either. Photo by Christine Banna, 2010.
A few days ago, I came across a fantastic post about narrative, and how easy it is, given that we’re narrative creatures with storytelling in our DNA, to tell the same stories over and over about things, even when they aren’t true.
The title of the post is “‘We Have Always Fought’: Challenging the ‘Women, Cattle and Slaves’ Narrative,” and it’s by Kameron Hurley, who besides having a name very similar to my maiden name, is obviously awesome.
The gist of it is: we look at history and decide that women had only one role for the most part: male property. Women weren’t fighters, or soldiers, or warriors. But a growing mass of evidence – including DNA testing of Viking skeletons – shows that in fact, women did fight. Often, and in great numbers. Yet even the stories we currently tell – in films, books, video games, and so on – tell a different story: the story that we already “know” to be “true.”
This is an important lesson for the ways in which convenient, but untrue, narratives become True Actual Facts in our cultural lexicon. But how many of us do this in our day to day lives – or have cultural narratives pressed upon us in ways we aren’t even aware of?
The work I do begins in the body, and the new theme of the Rubenfeld Synergy Method brand is “Befriend Your Body, Transform Your Life.” Part of the reason for this new slogan is the realization of how much daily, lowercase-t trauma people go through around their bodies, just from the narratives that surround them. How many women go around thinking they’re fat, constantly dieting and obsessing about their shapes? How many men think their desires are shameful, due to oppressive religious ideas or traditional “family values”? How many people out there truly love their bodies, think of them as an invaluable resource, their best friends? Mostly, the prevailing narrative of the body in this culture is of shame, oversexualization (with very few acceptable notions of attractiveness), and forceful transformation: by our culture’s mainstream standards, our bodies are vehicles to carry our brains around, or else meat machines to be molded to our wills into a shape that is more desirable by the standards of Madison Avenue and Hollywood.
What about the things that are true on the ground: that people come in all shapes and sizes, and that many of them are healthy? That people have a wide range of gender and sexual identities, not just the ones we regularly see on TV? That beauty is everywhere, and in everyone?
And what about all the subtler ways we tell ourselves stories about our bodies? I’m a climber, and I find myself constantly telling myself what I can’t do. Imagine my surprise when one day I realized that I was consistently successfully climbing a level above what I’d been doing. How often do you tell yourself, “I can’t,” or “Nice girls don’t,” or “Real men don’t do that,” or “That’s for other people?”
Yes, you can; you just haven’t tried. Yes, nice girls do. Real men eat quiche, garden, wear skirts, and dance.
Women have always fought.
What might happen if you decided, today, right now, that your body was your greatest ally, instead of your enemy?