Monday, August 30, 2010

Veiled Ramblings and Self-Actualization

Marie Claire Cover from late 30's.

A few days ago, when I visited the Acropolis in Athens, I hired a guide who gave me a psychoanalytical deconstruction of the monuments there. The artwork and the buildings, she said, symbolized the archetypal struggle between good and evil, or animal passions and the rational, within EACH man.

It was all right up my alley. She even told me something I didn't know. That the Greeks had a similar belief to the Hindus, that the center of awareness of each man ideally must move out of the stomach area (or third chakra) to the chest area, or fourth chakrah which she called the golden something and related it to the architecture of the Parthenon. Sorry I can't be more specific.

Which reminds me of something I learned back in college (and still retain).. That in the Iliad man's consciousness was located in various parts of the body as in "my arm reached out and slew my opponent" and that by the time of the Odyssey, it was centered within the person. And thus was born the biggest story ever told and retold and retold. Except that it was so male-centered. Odysseus 'internal' journey was made difficult by a series of anima, or female entities. The female side of his psyche.

Actually, I don't think I learned that in school. I learned it in some pop psych book called The Origin of Consciousness in the Something of the Bicameral Mind.. a book not on college reading lists.

So, of course, this leads me to think of veils. :)

Really. My book in progess, Flo in the City, is about a woman coming of age in the 1910 period and there's an awful lot about the 1910 period that is worthy of being studied by today's citizens. Especially when it comes to women's fashion and its relation to power.

I just came from Greece, where the women, however obese or small or shapely or not, wear string bikinis on the beach. Bravo, I say.

I am not a big fan of covering women up head to toe as the Muslims sometimes do. But I'm willing to concede that Western Culture, especially in North America and England, turns women's bodies into consumer products, which is why in North America, women who aren't skinny (and that's about everyone) are ashamed of their bodies.

I am also willing to concede we have nothing much to crow about when it comes to women's rights with respect to dress, since one hundred years ago, women were also shrouded in uncomfortable and confining clothing - and hid their heads under hats. (The fact that women like Marion, Edith and Flora Nicholson, didn't balk at this, and even found a way to enjoy it as a form of expression (as women do today) doesn't detract from the bare truth.

And as for veils, well, I was going through the 1904 Eaton's catalogue and it sold veils, mostly for mourning. (And veils remained a component of hat fashion all through the century as that cover from Marie Claire posted above reminds us.)

And of course there is the wedding veil.

I've never been a fan of the wedding ceremony. (I got married at a Justice of the Peace in a 90 dollar dress after having given birth to my first son, so I had jelly belly, with a long line of brides in various stages of pregnancy.) And that's because the ceremony so many find 'romantic' is a stark reminder of what marriage once was IN OUR WESTERN CULTURE. A man GIVES a woman away to another man (actually sells) and she is wearing VIRGINAL white and she has a veil.

Women in the past were wombs for hire. Love existed, but usually outside of marriage. (The books I have been reading about Edwardian Society reveal that the upper crust had a way around this: the bride had to be faithful until 2 children were produced, after that, she could have all the affairs she wanted. Clementine Churchill, apparently, was well known to be sired by a man not her father. ) The middle class, as usual, was more stodgy. Margaret Nicholson, of Flo in the City, had a very poor view of cheating mates. And the lower classes did whatever they had to to survive.

And even in 1910, a woman, however lovely and smart, couldn't marry without a dowry. Marion Nicholson, one of the heroines of Flo in the City, had no dowry, and so her fiance, Hugh, was forced to marry her against his parents' wishes and his parents didn't even come to the wedding.

In fact, I have a letter from 1913, the year of the marriage, from Hugh's Dad to Hugh, that is in response to some request regarding the marriage, but the dad never once mentions the marriage or Marion's name. The tone of the letter is kind and friendly, otherwise.

Of course, Flo in the City, is all about marriage, or as I put it "the push pull of biology and ambition". Even today, marriage is still a major theme of women's fiction and movies. (My website, includes a 1910 article by Gertrude Artherton, that asks why in the age of the 'new women' the quest for love and marriage is still central to women's lives.)

Well there are many reasons, economic and biological, BUT marriage also has an archetypal significance as well as a practical base. (I loved the silly film Mamma Mia because it makes marriage a symbolic act, the act of self-actualization. So. of course, the young woman in not ready yet for marriage, but her mom is. The three goofy men are her animus (is that the proper ending?) of the mom, parts of her psyche that need to be integrated before she can become self actualized - and from the box office take of this poorly crafted (but absolutely delightful) movie, this subtext resonated with women, mostly older ones. Like me. I saw the movie over and over.

And now I've been to Greece, so maybe I'm on the path to self-actualization. Finally...and that's maybe why the men in my life, my brother, my sons, my husband, all seem to be totally irked by everything I say and do, these days. (Unlike Pierce Brosnan and Colin Firth and that Swedish guy, my men are not keen on being my animi or aninmusses or whatever.... They have their own psyches to work on.