• “The secret is not to dream,” she whispered. “The secret is to wake up. Waking up is harder. I have woken up and I am real. I know where I come from and I know where I’m going. You cannot fool me anymore. Or touch me. Or anything that is mine.” Terry Pratchett
    The Wee Free Men

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Wondering Woman

Hearing a recording of Malala Yousafzai speaking can apparently make me start leaking tears.

Here is the text of the speech.

Here is a chunk of that:

Though I appear as one girl, though I appear as one girl, one person, who is 5 foot 2 inches tall, if you include my high heels. (It means I am 5 foot only) I am not a lone voice, I am not a lone voice, I am many.

I am Malala. But I am also Shazia.

I am Kainat.

I am Kainat Soomro.

I am Mezon.

I am Amina. I am those 66 million girls who are deprived of education. And today I am not raising my voice, it is the voice of those 66 million girls.

I’ve been thinking a lot about that sort of thing.

(Unrelated to church, but related to the reasons: Michelle Obama’s speech in Phoenix, which included: “Whether we’re Democrats, Republicans, or independents — it does not matter. We all understand that an attack on any one of us is an attack on all of us. And we know that that this is not who we are. No, who are we. We are a nation founded as a rebuke to tyranny. A nation of revolutionaries who refused sovereign reign from afar. Hear me — we’re a nation that says give us your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free. A nation built on our differences, guided by the belief that we’re all created equal.”)

So, the sermon this week covered a lot of things I don’t have a lot to say about – such as non-Muslim usage of Muslim swimsuits because of things like sunburn and “why would I be showing this much skin to strangers, I don’t do that normally anyway, I feel weird” and related – and one thing I actually can write on.

Apparently the UN named Wonder Woman as a flag-carrier or something or other about women’s rights. And a lot of people objected, because can’t they find a real one? But mumble mumble seventy-five years of showcasing mumble. But, you know, a pinup-proportioned-and-clad white woman wearing US-flag motifs not exactly Miss International Whatever.

(And for all the mumbles I occasionally hear from other kinky polyfolk, “kinky polyfolk” is not the most oppressed demographic in desperate need of promotion and overt social support. And if you don’t get that snark, look up some stuff about William Moulton Marston. Wikipedia will do you.)

Symbols are complicated.

And finding a real one, that’s a real thing that would have mattered if they’d done it – finding a Malala Yousafzai, or any of a number of other women (sermon listed a number of them) who have done things that make them worthy of being regarded symbolically – I can’t help but think of the conversation I had with the girls last week abut Bree Newsome.

I’m willing to bet, though, that the logic was that they wanted something that wasn’t mortal, bound by the specific causes of specific individuals, and likely something controllable, because Wonder Woman isn’t likely to say something about the UN, and Malala Yousafzai might. Or perhaps it’s that they didn’t want to open various cans of worms – about favoritism, perhaps, or about those people who suggest that what happened to Malala Yousafzai means that there must be some sort of war conducted against Islam itself, or whatever else.

Of course, those cans of worms are just as open when you pick a story, like Wonder Woman. A particularly American story (but perhaps we have forgotten that Western-imperial-commercial stories are treatable as The Universal Stories, and everyone else’s are niche); a particular model of the roles of gender, a very particular collection of things. And perhaps those are invisible to some, but they are very visible to others. Wonder Woman isn’t a human universal, she isn’t less provincial and specific and focused on a set of issues than a Malala Yousafzai or any other person – it’s just that that is made invisible by the structural nature of story.

(Nrg, I need to write about cultural structural narratives of villains, but I don’t think that fits there. Consider this a promissory note.)

Here is a thing about symbols, though: a person who is a symbol becomes fictionalised. Mother Theresa the person, whose care for the ill left a great deal to be desired to say the least (lack of triage, use of dirty needles, lack of pain medication, stealth baptisms of the dying, etc.) – this is not the same person as Mother Theresa the impending saint. (Or has she been canonised? I’m not sure about the timing on this.)

It is only through the process of fictionalisation that someone can serve as a symbol; real people will do things that are inconsistent with the symbology. (People who have known me for a while can probably guess about my Kemetic theology commentary there.)

Whether she wants it or not, Malala Yousafzai is become a symbol. She was a symbol to the people who shot her; their actions made her that much the more so, to a broader world community. She appears, from everything I know of her, to be aware of some of the problems of this – of the tendency to valorise an exceptional single example and leave all others behind – and she is striving against that, but that’s what happens when one has a symbol.

But what happens when one doesn’t have a symbol is people don’t care. People don’t know how to get involved, how to connect, because one of the tools for getting into our deep thinking is symbolic, is representational, is image-based, is, flatly, magical. There is always that tension between the tendency to exceptionalise and put up a shrine and say “There, that’s done” and the need to have something clear enough that one can build the internal shrine that contains a principle worth fighting for, the will to act.

(The thing that started me needing more political action in my life in some form was having a child. It was too late for me to have a life that was not full of traumas, but it was not too late for my daughter. And that, there, that matters – not just for my child, but for all children – but it starts with my child, who is in this regard a symbol. And who is also a second grader who is a bat for Halloween, a real person, not just the fictionalised engine for my pursuit of meaningful action.)

So a concluding thought for this totally rambly, um, ramble: the nature of Heru is that which makes a symbol, the power of unifying many into one purpose.

E Pluribus Unum.

(Also I am experimenting with sending full text of blog entries to tumblr rather than just opening excerpt. We’ll see what that does.) (Apparently it does nothing. Will have to fuck about with settings.)

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