A houseful of children tonight. Much swinging in the living room hammock (it’s raining, yes), a discussion at dinner about the two ten-year-old girls running as a joint ticket for president, a revealing of whom everyone’s parents voted for in the last presidential election.
One of the girls asks what I’m writing about, and I hold up a book and say, There’s a folktale in here about what women really want. So, I ask the girls, What do women want?
They think. This question is a stumper, no doubt about it. One of the girls offers, Freedom. I can see the glint in this child’s eye, the allure of this ten-year-old vision of freedom, not the Janis Joplin version, not anything at all but a clear sunshiny day and an ample bowl of ice cream. I also see blueberry pie in her gaze, which I know this child adores.
At the end of this strange folktale, the Lady Ragnell is transformed from a hag into a beauty when Sir Gawain grants her the freedom of her own autonomy.
Pose this as a koan: as women, we can’t obtain what we most desire, without the blessing of our spouse? Is that a backhanded way of getting exactly what you need, when it’s already in your hand? Is the story far more complicated, laced through Western centuries of female subjugation and denial, the banishment of childrearing to lowly status or else so sanctified mothering is glorified into absurd heights, a challenge we inevitably will fail? Why do women so often cling to this notion of Prince Charming in all his glory, bending down on one knee to kiss our hand, as if that magical kiss will shatter our haggardness, transforming our ugly selves into princesses? Why not demand the prince meet us in the kitchen garden, with everyone’s feet firmly on the ground and hands offered equally over the seeded beds?
Or is the story, instead, far simpler? Put another way, perhaps what women desire is the depth of work and love, and the tranquility to lie down on the earth and gaze up at clouds scudding along an azure sky.