Just Believe

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The first time I heard the name Mary Wollstonecraft was back in college during a women’s studies history class.  I admired her right from the start for not only having a strong voice, but the courage to use it at a time when women were largely expected to be silent.  Her writings have an air of elegance, but they are also among the first to advocate equality between genders, which made her one of the first feminists in history. She had guts, intelligence, and fortitude when the whole world told her women had no right to any of those things. Still, she believed.

Wollstonecraft died well before the women’s rights movement took off in the mid-19th and early 20th centuries, so she never got to see the ideals she supported take shape.  Seneca Falls, the suffrage movement in Europe and America, and a slew of other gender related battles took place long after her words. Long after there was any hope of them coming true.  She still believed, when all seemed impossible.

There are, of course, many individuals who contributed to the long journey of women’s rights, but I have a soft spot for Wollstonecraft.  She understood the importance of believing in something even when it seems so far out of reach.  While an incredibly difficult thing to do, it is well within our grasp if we make the choice to believe.

For the last two years, I’ve chosen “believe” to be my word of the year.  It appears throughout my home – on the refrigerator, end table, dream board, as well as several hidden places where I’ll unexpectedly happen upon it one day – to help keep me focused.  A couple of months ago I made a necklace with a “believe” charm to wear on days when doubt threatens to steal my determination.

"Believe" Beaded Necklace, created by c.b.w.

Each strand of the pendant has charms that I chose for both meaning and sparkle.  I’ve always loved leaves and their ability to bloom even after a cold winter, while dragonflies are the epitome of strength and grace.  On the third strand is the all important “believe” ring, an infinite tribute to the idea of believing without fail.  Just as Wollstonecraft kept writing, so will I.

My goals for this year are daunting and the propensity for rejection is immense.  How easy it would be to give up, but . . . I won’t.  I must believe.

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Factoid: Wollstonecraft’s daughter is Mary Shelley of Frankenstein fame.

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c.b. 2012

The Bell Jar

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The Bell Jar by Syliva Plath tells the story of Esther as she descends into the depths of mental illness. Esther starts her story during a stint as an intern at a popular woman’s magazine. She is a young and intelligent, but also a little lost. She doesn’t click with any of the women who are part of the intern group, nor does she seem to fit into the accepted boundaries of society in the 1960s. Esther doesn’t buy into the idea of marriage or the so-called “duties” that were expected of women at the time.  The idea of being submissive clashes with her headstrong ideals and she refuses to play the game of accepted male/female roles. Most of her qualms concerning men and relationships has to do with the double standard that exists in terms of purity. The hypocrisy of the fact that men can go out and sleep with whoever with little consequence, while woman are expected to stay “clean” aggravates her.

Esther wants to be a career woman, but she has no idea what career path to follow. Her inability to fit anywhere in the private or public sectors triggers a deep depression that ultimately makes her suicidal. She refers to her mental illness as a “bell jar” that surrounds her and  forces her to breathe in the sour air of her own mind. There is no fresh air or the possibility that things could be different. Interestingly, towards the end of her illness, she uses the bell jar analogy to describe young women everywhere. It’s all too easy for a young woman to find herself stifled by what is expected of her rather than entertain the notion that it’s okay to break out of the mold. In effect, society as a whole is a bell jar. It’s a fitting descriptor for a time period when so many women felt trapped by the societal expectation of marriage, motherhood, and housewife expectations, (there is nothing wrong with these roles, but social norms made the concept of choice in these matters almost non-existent).

Plath chooses to tell Esther’s story in a first person narrative which makes it a very personal and emotional journey for any reader.  The writing is simple and clean, yet poignant and soulful.  Once you know Esther, you will never forget her.

 

c.b. 2011