I just finished reading a wonderful book, called “Cassandra Speaks: When Women Are the Storytellers, the Human Story Changes” by Elizabeth Lesser. It’s a thought-provoking book that explores the power of storytelling and the values they perpetuate and talks about how women’s voices have been silenced throughout history. This book is about what happens when women are the storytellers too, “when we become the protagonists in the tales we tell about what it means to be human.”
Lesser talks about the tales her mother read to her as a child, Adam and Eve and other Bible parables, the Greek and Roman myths, Shakespeare’s tragedies, war stories, and heroic legends. She said, “I had absorbed those stories as if they were about humankind, about men and women. But here’s the thing: stories created only by men are really stories about men.”
Some of “the stories that have provided meaning and structure for Western customs and institutions are beautiful, instructive, and worth saving. But many of our foundational narratives that pretend to be about and for all of us were told by only a few of us, and therefore have served a mere slice of humanity. They have set in stone which values and temperaments should prevail, what power looks like, and who gets to have it.”
It’s important to recognize that “those who tell the tales are human beings with all sorts of motivations, including strong opinions, an ax to grind, an ego to stroke, a system to uphold.”
And before you think this is a book just for women, know that all people will find themselves in this book, and come away inspired, and challenged to create a better world for everyone. The myths explored by Lesser, are harmful to men and women and she goes on to suggest new ways that will benefit everyone.
“The people in charge for most of human history have been men, and a certain type of man, brandishing a specific version of masculinity.” This has hurt both men and women, as they were expected to stay in their own narrow lanes. For women, it’s mother, caregiver, keeper of the hearth, mender of the hearts, cleaner-uppers of the mess. For men, it’s being strong and silent, never crying, being the providers, being good at math but not book readers, and using aggression to solve problems.
The old stories solidified those roles so much so that over the ages, gender differences have been carved not only into our cultural norms but also into the grooves in our brains. And because of this, we carry within us a certain way of being, acting, thinking, and feeling.
“So many of the stories impart the same themes: men are the morally pure and noble ones; women are the ones who succumb to evil and tempt the men. The old stories paint a wildly improbable description of what it means to be a woman: erotically seductive yet emotionally fickle, in need of protection yet dangerous, all at the same time. Who could trust such a creature?”
“It’s important to know these stories and to ask questions like: Who told them? Why? And how have they maintained their authority all these years later? It’s important to understand that the stories were not created to help women respect their bodies, intelligence, and legitimacy. They were not told to help women tap into their strength, or to use their voice to influence priorities at home and at work and in the world. Quite the opposite. They were told and are still told to bury the truth of our equality, values, and voice.”
Our Western, patriarchal worldview is not something that has always been here.
“Remember that many of the creation myths from our earlier ancestors—the indigenous, pre-colonized peoples from cultures around the world—painted a different picture of the origin of women and men, and their worth and roles. In many of those stories, neither sex was created to dominate the other. Both men and women shared the responsibility to help the community survive, thrive, and connect with the sacred. Researching and reading these stories has given me a different vision of “human nature” and what is possible. But they are not the stories most of us were raised on.”
We can all benefit when we examine what we’ve been led to believe about our values and capabilities and those of other people. How much is everyone missing out on because they have limited themselves to what is expected and approved?
There is so much more to share about this book, but I’ll let you read it for yourself. It really was an eye-opener. Lesser is so good at shining the light on examples and after reading them they seem so obvious and yet I needed her to light the way.
I hope you read this book and share it with everyone you know. It’s time to transcend the limiting stories of the past.
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