Thursday, March 23, 2017

On Being a Hero: Aragorn's Cape and Me

I got this fabulous vintage cape to wear on my mobility scooter this past winter. But then uncharacteristic snow hit us hard and I couldn't use my scooter for a long time. Nevertheless, I wanted to show off my cape to you, dear readers, so Beau took me out scooterless to do this photo shoot.

Looking at the photos, with their vaguely medieval overtones, got me thinking a lot about many our culture's, long-standing, popular fairy stories, mythological heroes, and updated medieval legends -- and the ways women are generally portrayed in them.

Skirt: Be Still My Heart; Boots: Keen; Gloves: I forget; Right hand ring: Birks; Shirt: Reitmans; Cape, jacket, earrings, purse, brooch, and bangle: vintage; Wedding Rings: bespoke
This cape lends itself to such ruminations, especially since Beau decided to get particularly artsy when taking the photos.

It makes me think of fairies ...

... Little Red Riding Hood and Sleeping Beauty ...

Pauline Baynes. She also illustrated the Narnia books.
... and The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings.

Full disclosure: I mentioned in my last post that I read The Hobbit as a child but, and this will shock you, I have not read The Lord of the Rings Trilogy. I have tried. Repeatedly. I just could never get into them. I'm more of a Narnia kind of a girl.

It's particularly ironic that I haven't read the books, given that I have a BA and an MA in English, and I taught college English for years before I had to go on disability. Not only that, but I absolutely loved my studies of both Middle English and Old English (i.e. Anglo-Saxon) literature, upon which Tolkien drew heavily for his trilogy. I even read scholarly essays by Tolkien and Lewis when I was writing about the fabulous Old English poem, The Seafarer. It was a delicious pleasure to read the essays of two people who gave me such joy when I was a child.

And yet, I haven't read the Lord of the Rings trilogy. I've seen the movies. I know, it's the not the same thing. I'll be the first to admit it. And I admit that, when I think of Lord of the Rings, I think of the movies. So, when I write about the trilogy here, I'm writing about the movies, movies which played and play a huge role in modern Western culture and our conceptions of the fantasy genre.

But first, as always, the outfit.

This vintage cape is of really great quality. It's 100% wool and fully lined. Unless you're able and willing to pay thousands of dollars, you simply cannot find capes like this new. Even vintage, it wasn't cheap and I eyed it on Etsy for a long time before taking the plunge. Even at $200 it was a good deal so I went for it.

The colour is great, alternating between a deep burgundy and a purple, depending on the light. I thought the rich, creamy enamel in this brooch matched the rich colour of the cape.

I do already have a cape, of beautiful, deep blue wool. I get I get constant compliments on it. But blue is a cool tone and I wear far more warm tones than cool ones so I'd been on the lookout for a second cape in a warm tone. This one goes with a great deal of the clothing I already own, like this leather jacket with burgundy appliques.

But it doesn't go with the purse. I thought it would but nope.

The purse does, I think, go well with what I was wearing under the cape: a 1970s inspired outfit with a beautiful, warm, plaid skirt.

Whenever I wear plaid, I wear this diamond and gold ring, which I often refer to as my Keith Richards ring because I can see him wearing it in the 1970s. To me, the triangles echo the plaid pattern.

I added this lovely, purple, glass bangle to match the various purples, pinks, and burgundies of my outfit.  

Not that anyone could see my jewelry under all that clothing! It's been a long time since it's been so cold here that I've found myself huffing and puffing like I am in this photo but I did a lot of it this winter. Why do we do that? Does it warm up the air before it hits our lungs?

It was yet another day when lots of layering was absolutely necessary.

Yes, I have a tattoo. Yes, I'm queer. No secrets there. I got the tattoo as a sort of coming of age present to myself when I turned 21. I'd endured so much physical pain as a child, this was a way of both gaining some control over my pain, and of claiming my body as my own, to do with what I would. It was a pretty powerful thing for this former sex trafficking victim to do.

The tattoo is obviously a lesbian symbol, but it was also, for me, a symbol both of my DID, and of my connection the more female side of God.

But I digress.

In addition to my boots and two pairs of tights, I wore a leather jacket, long leather gloves...

... and a warm, long sleeved T-shirt.

The shirt is quite tight and Beau teased me about my boobage. He's very fond of my boobage so I didn't mind.

I think lately I've become so insecure about my belly that I sometimes wear shirts that are too baggy, totally concealing my waist and therefore making me look a lot bigger than I really am. I think I need to regain my confidence about wearing shirts that fit me better. So it reveals the fact that I'm quite buxom. That's okay.

Why hide it? I like my chest.

It does, however, pose some problems in finding clothing that fits me properly. Any of you buxom readers will know this all too well. When I got my cape, it had snaps on it which immediately popped open the minute I moved, especially if I was sitting on my scooter. I got buttons put on it but the wool is too heavy for them and they pop open too. Only these rope fasteners work but that doesn't help keep the cape over my legs when I'm on my scooter.

Wool can be very heavy and I do find getting this on and off can be hard on my back. It's okay once it's on though.

But there really is nothing like wool. It's beautiful, warm, extremely durable, and pretty much waterproof, if you don't mind that wet wool smell, which I don't. If you do wear wool in the rain or snow, just be sure to hang it where it can air out and dry when you get home, or it will get fusty and unpleasant.

Nearly waterproof, this hood keeps my hair and face dry, even in a downpour.

But it does really limit range of vision when I'm on the scooter. I can't see what's beside me.

And, with my limited mobility, it's quite hard to get up onto my head, especially when I'm wearing gloves. My stepson does it for me when we're out together. I think it amuses him.

But by far my favourite thing about this cape is that I think it makes me look like Viggo Mortensen as Aragorn: all intense and mysterious.

Like twins, right? He even has a leather jacket ...

... with a cut not dissimilar to my own.

And just to add to my brooding hero look, my plaid skirt ...

... immediately calls to mind Liam Neeson as Rob Roy. Right?


These earrings may be vintage Avon but they could pass for Medieval baubles ...

... like Aragorn's pendant. Right? Right!

Same goes for the intertwined vines on my wedding rings.

Then there's the mysterious hood effect.

An uncanny resemblance!

Of course I have a crush on Aragorn. Who doesn't?

But I also want to be him; I want to be a strong, stoic, and hero like him. Because of my past, and because I survived to become a relatively sane and moral adult, people say I'm a hero. I disagree.

To me, surviving hell isn't what makes a person a hero. The willingness to go into or back into hell to help and even save people is what makes a person a hero. I was simply the damsel in distress, as women generally are in our legends, but without a hero to rescue me. The women and children in distress in such stories are really just ciphers for the (male) hero's story. Our individuality, our dreams and hopes, even our suffering are really immaterial. These are not our stories.

But wouldn't it be great if they were? Wouldn't you love to read more stories about the damsel who saves herself, or, better yet becomes a hero by going back to save others? Like Harriet Tubman, badly scarred and disabled by beatings, who escaped slavery, and then went back, thirteen times, to help about 70 other slaves escape too. 

Where are those stories? Where are our stories?

Do I digress? I don't think so.

Anyway, I know I don't actually look like Aragorn. Beau says I look more like a hobbit.

Damn him! He's right.

This is especially so when I put my my hood up.

See what I mean?

Hobbits are cute. Heroes shouldn't be little and cute, and, if they are, they should at least be male.

I tried hard to think of any red-caped, female heroes from my internal rolodex of legends and fairy stories. The only one I could think of was Jill in C.S. Lewis' The Silver Chair.

Of course, there are archetypal images of women in capes, but they don't tend to be heroes. 

Some are mysterious, desperate, sexually provocative women ...

... like Meryl Streep in The French Lieutenant's Woman ...

... herself explicitly modelled on the highly stylized, mysterious, sexually provocative, young women in Rossetti's, Pre-Raphaelite paintings.

Other women in capes are mysterious fairies, glimpsed through flowers ...

... if you can call those slender, ageless sylphs women.

Beau gave me this beautiful gold chain as a Valentine's Day present last year. I like to wear it to remember that I am loved.
While such women stay home, men often wear items of their jewelry to remember them ...

... when they go off into the fray. Women's love inspires them and keeps them going. Heck, in many Medieval tales, the man doesn't even know the woman who inspires him. She's just a beautiful, slim, white figure glimpsed once through a tower window. Isn't that enough? This isn't her story, after all.

Women can inspire a man to be a hero. But they don't come with him. They're not the heroes. These are not their stories.

Even if you're little and cute, you leave the women behind.

Treks and adventures are not women's work.

Nor are battles. When you're pressed to find more warriors, you suit up small boys who surely will be better in battle than grown women would. Won't they?

I can't even fathom thinking this little of women!

In such stories, men also get to age.

Their lines and scars give them a sexy, world-weary look.

Not so with women. 

Apparently ageing and old women are so ugly as to become indistinguishable even from beasts!

That is, if we are not the beasts themselves. We often become the villains from whom the male heroes must rescue younger women.

Why don't we get to be the heroes? Where are our adventures? My age gives me wisdom and skill too. I could rescue someone too, couldn't I?

One of the most disturbing of all our stories of caped females is Little Red Riding Hood. The story itself is terrifying. But what's worse is that this story of a little girl in mortal danger ...

... is so frequently sexualized. Do a Google image search of Little Red Riding Hood and tell me how quickly images like this one (and far worse, including ones of pedophilia) pop up.


The implications are clear: it's sexy when a female, even a female child, is in danger. The parallels to rape are unmistakable.

In case this is in any doubt, many artists are more than happy to make the implications and parallels explicit for us. 

Absolutely charming.

In retellings of the tale, Little Red Riding Hood never conquers the beast. At best, she tames him with her sexy thighs and gentle, feminine ways.

Even a little hobbit can fight a wolf.

But girls and women can't -- apparently.

And, if we're ageing, we're actually confused for the wolf! Old woman. Wolf. Same dif.

All this applies to another perpetual danger to beautiful young women: the dragon.

Here's a fun fact: in the original Medieval stories from which Sleeping Beauty is drawn, the prince rapes and impregnates her while she's in a coma. 

It kind of puts the dragon's efforts to prevent him from reaching Sleeping Beauty into a new light, eh? If I were a dragon, I'd want to stop him too! Wouldn't you?

Even in our modern, rape-free, Disneyfied version of Sleeping Beauty, she does not rescue herself.

Women don't conquer or kill dragons. We tame them with our beauty and feminine touch.

Also, we don't wear much. Fantasy art is full of images of scantily clad, slender, young women cuddling dragons. It's much harder to find images of women slaying them.

If a dragon needs to be vanquished, call a man. 

Guess who this dragon is.

You guessed right: She's an ageing woman. 

I saw the Sleeping Beauty movie when I was about eight and I immediately wanted to be that witch who could become a dragon. I think it was the first time I'd ever seen a woman depicted as having that much power.

I often fantasized about being able to transform myself like she could -- to protect myself from my many rapists.

I especially imagined claws growing from my hands, so I could tear men's hands off my body.

Over time, my fantasies, which were almost more like DID identities, morphed and into an imagined, female dragon protector, my gentle friend ...

... with whom I could retreat into an imagined, safe, green land, like Narnia, where nobody could touch me. 

And woe betide anyone who tried!

I had no physical power but I had the power of my imagination.

And I used whatever was available to me to feed that imagination in empowering ways. The prince became the bad guy, the dragon the good ...

... my hero where I had none.

Yeah, you better run, you bad little man!

Run from the little girl you want to hurt. Run for your life.

Because she's the hero of this story, not you.

Is that lady-like enough for you?

(I'm sharing this with Fashion Should Be Fun, Rachel the Hat, Adri Lately, Not Dead YetNot Dressed As Lamb, and Tina's Pink Friday.)