Finding The 'Wild Woman' Within Ourselves

In a time where female empowerment has become such a prolific and important conversation, we are asked as women and men to consider our roles in the depreciating, destructive and heavily sexualized attitudes that exist so predominantly within our society. This moment in our cultural liberality and expression of the self makes authors such as Clarissa Pinkola Estés important figure to consult in regard to our preconceived and socially ingrained attitudes towards our selves and the relationships within our lives. Estés’ psychoanalytical text ‘Women Who Run With Wolves: Contacting the Power of the Wild Woman’ was first published in 1992 and looks at the relationship between folktale and attitudes around the female figure. The author encourages us to ‘secure this wildest relationship’ (5) through our ability to look ‘deep [within] female psyche’ (4) in order to find our instinctual power centre that has long been ‘buried by over-domestication’ (5) in the cultural roles women have been tailored and confined to fulfilling.



The concept of the ‘Wild Woman’ is a creative, feminine and strong maternal figure that thrives on its instinctual nature, and as readers provokes us to look within ourselves for a sense of direction, self-confidence and purpose that is born out of our ability to look within and appreciate what we find beyond the constraints placed on us by our gender, class, and race. Only then can we unleash ourselves and allow our ‘creative lives [to] blossom’ (4). What we find through this self-reflexivity is the potential to be creatures that breed beauty through our creative and nurturing power as human beings. Estés claims she uses the word ‘wild’ in ‘its original sense, which means to live a natural life, one in which the creature, has innate integrity and healthy boundaries.’ (6) Meaning as women we must find ourselves aside from what our society tells us to be and instead look within. Only through introspection can we understand the beauty of ourselves and of what we deserve. It is a hard journey to make and at times both women and men have been made to believe by our surrounding culture that we must fit into a ‘type’ of personality, look, or possess particular attributes in order to have a successful relationship with a partner, attain a job role or become a parental ideal. Unfortunately, this only buries us under a mask provided by society, asking us to cover ourselves, remain quiet and be obedient.

Across the 20th-21st January weekend, we saw a collective embodiment of this wild woman archetype as many incredible women took a bold stand for equality at various marches across the globe – starting with the #WomensMarchLA and all the way to our own city as people took to the streets as part of #WomensMarchLondon. With all our actions and attitudes we are not only fighting for ourselves, but we are fighting for every self. Being a strong woman who knows her beautiful value and sets herself strongly in her opinions is not only making a change to her own livelihood but to all those men and women surrounding. Each and everyone of us is an important figure in this discussion within our societies, in Estés’ words this movement and empowerment of the wild woman will ‘cause women to remember who they are and what they are about’ (6) beyond the definitions of society as ‘the tracks we are following are those of the wild and innate instinctual Self.’ (4) The discussion has begun regarding what these oppressive attitudes have done to us as humans, making us believe in gendered stereotypes of both the masculine and feminine, only to shame us for not fully conforming to these rigid and backdated roles. It is natural as our society progresses, so should our attitudes towards gender and sexuality continue to enrich and abandon epithets that only demoralize us as humans rather encourage us to embrace our natural fluidity. As a society, we ‘lead women deeper, and more deeply still, into their own knowing’ (Estés, 6) and will only continue to do so.

Sometimes these outlines imposed on us are not so obvious, they can come from people we care deeply about and we may happen to adopt them subconsciously in order to satisfy someone else’s ideal. For example, when a partner imposes an opinion that goes against your natural habits or thoughts, such as saying ‘why are you wearing makeup, you would look far better if you didn’t paint that on’ or ‘you don’t look like you are dressed to go to the library, maybe you should change out of that skirt and put some jeans on’. What these comments have in common is the negative emphasis on someone else’s action or choice. These comments have a greater, more damaging psychological effect than we would initially believe. In fact, they are creating doubt within our self-assurance as individuals. Are these phrases not deprecating to one's self-worth? Does it not create doubt within our confidence, mind, and spirit? Each remark of its kind chips away from the way you can see yourself and how you imagine others to view you. Instead, these comments become ingrained thoughts that reoccur, although we may choose not to actively change, over time our mind becomes insecure with the idea of doing things that came so naturally to us before. For instance, the usage of makeup may become subtle or even stop altogether. Clothing choice may become tailored to avoid judgment from the significant other. The biggest paradox of it all, a victim in this situation may begin to feel they must become a version worthy of the person they are with, in essence molding them further away from the true Self and into a shell of a person their partner tells them they wished they could be. The result of this is an incredible amount of self-doubt that leaves the victim withered and seeking reassurance in the arms of the perpetrator, the very person who is destroying them.

Dr. Ramani Durvasula’s book ‘Should I Stay or Should I Go? Surviving a Relationship with a Narcissist’ acknowledges it can take some time to recognize psychological abuse, especially in a relationship, whether that be with a romantic partner, friend or family member. Reoccurring unwanted comments about dietary preferences, appearance, intellectual knowledge (or countless other things) can leave one questioning their value and knock confidence levels significantly. According to Dr. Durvasula, this can leave someone vulnerable to manipulation and co-dependency that only enacts further damage by seeking out reassurance through the opinion of another. It is important for us to see what is wrong with such behaviour, whether it is through the eyes of someone experiencing it or someone who is unconsciously inflicting psychological damage. Toxic relationships can pull you beneath the surface, leaving you to drown if you are not too careful, but remember it is never too late to cut the weight that has been pulling you down. Trust your instinct. Trust that you deserve better. You can swim up to safety where so many people who care about you will be there to give you all the help you may need, as you make the journey back towards your instinctual self. An important lesson I learned from Estés’ text is that the ‘Wild Woman’ is one who embraces everything she is, gains a power over herself that no one else can extinguish, and only once she reaches this pinnacle moment can she 'know instinctively when things must die and when things must live; know[ing] how to walk away, [and] know[ing] how to stay’ (6).

If you believe you may be in a toxic and threating relationship please contact the 24-hour National Domestic Violence Freephone Helpline: 0808 2000 247.



References:

Durvasula, R. (2015). Should I Stay or Should I Go: Surviving A Relationship with a Narcissist. Post Hill Press.

Estés, C. (2008). Women Who Run with The Wolves. London: Rider.




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