The Reaper by Natalie Weaver


elizabeth-taylorI have begun to call my mother the “Reaper,” which I understand could be to some mums sort of insulting. Images of the Reaper are typically not terribly flattering, you know, with all that sunken skin and stringy black cloth flying around. My mom looks nothing like that, by the way. In fact, she has at all stages of her life borne a striking resemblance to Elizabeth Taylor, causing many a stranger to run up to her over the years, exclaiming, “Oh my goodness, do you know who you look like?” And, let me add, often much to the consternation of those in Mom’s company, such as, well– me, for example– when I was trying to deliver my first baby and the attending nurse ignored me in order to chat with my mom about her resemblances. But, I digress here.

Mom is the Reaper because she is at that point in her life when she rather unabashedly tells it like it is, “reaps truth” as I have come to think of it. Though she may look all violet eyes and white diamonds, she is beyond mincing words.

Is this a feature of aging? I once read that the decreased estrogen and increased testosterone levels in post-menopausal women may contribute to a personality shift where women are more inclined to report on what they are thinking. This may be a factor, but I would find it likelier that many women, menopausal or not, simply get to a point when they have seen/heard/experienced/endured enough that they find little merit in putting up fronts, regardless of hormonal predisposition.

Plus, I am wildly unimpressed by some of the material out there on menopause. It seems like a lot of conflated nonsense that correlates every aspect of female sexual maturation with hormonal imbalance and impending doom. I recently read a book by an “expert” named Dr. Miriam Stoppard – great last name for a menopause specialist, right? – that actually gave medical advice alongside hints about make-up tricks, relationship management tools for your depressed mid-life spouse, and what girdles to wear to help hold up your sagging flesh.

It is interesting that “women who speak their minds” are even an object of contemporary cultural commentary at all. I mean, would there be any talk at all about males who speak their minds? Young girls who speak their minds are cast as feminists, strong-willed, scary to boys, unfeminine, and so on. Of course, the embedded androcentric assumption is that they are doing something contrary to normative female behavior. Older women who “speak their minds” are cast as rude hags and crones, spreading around their venom and disappointment, especially if they swear. This blog on post-divorce dating, kind of says it all:

A woman who speaks her mind is simply too lazy emotionally to check herself before uttering something hateful or rude. Having an internal filter is the hallmark of anyone with good character, especially a woman. Double standard? Yes, but no worse than any other. A sweet, pleasant woman doesn’t need to be a plain speaker, she would be able to get her point across even with a healthy dose of verbal restraint.

Woman Up!

Think before you speak. And don’t even get me started on women who curse. The F word is the hallmark of low class.

And, these insightful replies:

First, the “woman who speaks her mind” is a woman who does not filter and does not internally challenge her impulses. She says whatever impulsively comes to her mind without regard for its appropriateness or its validity. This just shows someone with an un examined life that they don’t test their impulses.

Secondly, there is the glorification of the “woman who speaks her mind” that she is in some way a feminist because she “doesn’t care what anyone else thinks”. So she doesn’t care that she can look like a buffoon with what she says and she doesn’t care who she hurts with what she says.

And in response to one comment that women should not use the “F” word:

True. If they have a potty mouth, they should expect to be used and disposed of like toilet paper, and they will be, often.

And:

A woman’s profligate use of profanity is a slut tell.

To be sure, these culture critics have categorical assumptions about women and a limited poetical awareness of language. I am not sure which is worse. Well, “F” that, says even a pre-menopausal woman! Of course, celebrating Reapers of truth as I do, I must concede that cruelty, harshness, or rudeness in speech is aggression, no matter from whom or where it comes. These gentle authors included here above, for example, seem to stand outside their own delicate standards of decency and tolerance about vulgarity and politeness, and I find that… rude! There, I said that too!

In the absence of truth telling, we allow to get away with “rudeness” not just divorced men looking for:

my dream of a gorgeous 45 year old virgin with a tramp stamp who dresses girly girl and doesn’t swear... *sigh*

 We also, in silence, would allow much more pervasive wickedness, such as the huge error of failing to note that Pope Francis, for all the good things he said to Congress, did not explicitly invite “dialogue” about women. Or, the correlated dereliction of failing to note that without addressing women’s world situation directly, it really doesn’t matter too much what we say about violence, dislocation, poverty, immigration, and on and on and on. Or, the correlated evil of failing to note that women’s situations in the church mirror their situations in all other social-political arenas. Or, the evil of failing to speak outrage at the yet correlated truth of the horrible data on sexual assault and rape of women, including those college co-eds who are trying to develop their minds to speak. Or, the persistent and staggeringly high risk of battery and abuse that women experience in intimate relationships. Or, the evils of predation and power, such as Jeffrey Epstein (along with some of the most powerful men in the world) running around on private jets with known purveyors of underage prostitutes/slaves/trafficking victims with relative impunity. There’s really no stopping point to such a rant, is there?

So, I totally get it. When a woman speaks or swears or tells it like it is, I get why no one wants to listen; why it is tiresome and laden conversation, full of judgment and rage. I get why it’s impolite and trampy and non-maiden-like and hormonal and “f…n pissed off” and unattractive and haggish. It is kind of like the Reaper, dark and terrifying and best left unspoken. And hard to look at.Grim-Reaper

I know my observations here are not new, and it is I who am coming into a new appreciation of them. Mary Daly’s Gyn/Ecology named it … hags, harpies, crones, witches, spinsters – all terrifying examples of dangerous female categories for speaking and being. But, in this month of October, and especially after the keen-reaping example of my mom, I would like to add to the “crones” and “hags” the category of “Reapers,” perhaps the scariest ones of all. Happy Reaping!

 

Natalie Kertes Weaver, Ph.D.is Chair and Professor of Religious Studies at Ursuline College in Pepper Pike, Ohio. Natalie’s academic books include: Marriage and Family: A Christian Theological Foundation (Anselm, 2009); Christian Thought and Practice: A Primer (Anselm, 2012); and The Theology of Suffering and Death: An Introduction for Caregivers (Routledge, 2013)Natalie is currently writing Made in the Image of God: Intersex and the Revisioning of Theological Anthropology (Wipf & Stock, 2014).  Natalie has also authored two art books: Interior Design: Rooms of a Half-Life and Baby’s First Latin.  Natalie’s areas of interest and expertise include: feminist theology; theology of suffering; theology of the family; religion and violence; and (inter)sex and theology.  Natalie is a married mother of two sons, Valentine and Nathan.  For pleasure, Natalie studies classical Hebrew, poetry, piano, and voice.

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Categories: Aging, Feminism, General, Women's Agency, Women's Power, Women's Voices

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7 replies

  1. Natalie, Thank you for this article. I am at an age when I can now be considered a crone. My friends and I have taken to a lot of truth telling. We always tell the story of our friend’s mother, Ellie, who when admonished for her truth telling told her child that she had received her “letter”. When asked what that meant, she replied she got her permission letter that said at her age she had earned the right to say the truth. Maybe that is why older women tell the truth – they feel as though they have earned the right. When I was young and living in a male dominated society, in order to survive and learn my way in life, it was expedient that I kept my mouth shut and eyes open. Now that I am 66, I feel as though I have well learned my life lessons and can tell the truth especially to the younger women in my life and hope that they benefit from it.

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  2. Natalie:

    I thank you, too, for this piece.

    At 70, and self-croned, I find I have developed a certain fierceness which has nothing to do with hormones — I lost those years ago! — but a lot to do with a shift in personality: I respond more viscerally to ignorance, prejudice, deceit, mean-mindedness, fear and all the other qualities of smallness and downright evil we seem to be seeing more and more in American society.

    I am happy to include myself in the categories of “hags, harpies, crones, witches…” (being married, I omit “spinster”) and now, “reapers.”

    Perhaps we can use our metaphorical and verbal scythes to cut to the quick, tellng the truth, uncomfortable though that might be to us and our listeners, in whatever ways we feel appropriate. That truth (or more correctly, “those truths”) should stand in direct opposition to that sad, insulting website you chose as an excellent example of patriarchal terror at losing control.

    Best regards to you and your mother!

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    • What you wrote about a shift in personality resonated with me. It’s about having tolerated so much injustice for a long period of time. i know that sounds dramatic, but being discriminated against and fighting for equal rights are injustices. Is it solely because we have wombs and the ability to give birth to another life? We should be revered and celebrated. It’s about seeing how men are praised for their comradery, which often includes cursing and opinionated personalities. Why is a woman unable to state an opinion or bluntly call a spade a spade? I am much younger but have been admonished all my life for being direct and saying it as it is. It’s sad to live in a society that doesn’t embrace diversity of thought or behavior.

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  3. Yes please, where do I go to sign up for a scarlet “R”? I would like to wear one on my chest, so as to alert the public (Hester Prynne style) of whom they are up against.

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    • Can you embroider?

      “It was the art – then, as now, almost the only one within a woman’s grasp – of needle-work. She bore on her breast, in the curiously embroidered letter, a specimen of her delicate and imaginative skill, of which the dames of a court might gladly have availed themselves, to add the richer and more spiritual adornment of human ingenuity to their fabrics of silk and gold”.

      ch: Hester at her Needle, The Scarlet Letter, Nathaniel Hawthorne

      The back has to be so neat as to be indistinguishable from the front.

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  4. I have just been through an experience where I was vilified for the aptly named Reaper traits you articulated. Thank you for expressing “us” so well. I’ll be sharing your blog with other Reapers!

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  5. Great post thank you (came to it via Jean Raffa). Thank you for pointing out about the Pope’s almost dereliction of duty in non mention of eg abuse against women. This is where women’s voices need to become more powerful and to say about the Pope who is so good on many other levels yet did not address ‘women’. Are you sure he didn’t? I heard some of his speeches in the US where he was definitely speaking out about quite a bit –

    So, all hail to the Reaper – and greetings to your Mum.

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