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Taming The Dragons
"Is there really a dragon out there? Wait...I'm supposed to do something about it?" —Eve, the Innocent
IN THIS HIGHLY CREATIVE APPROACH to the problems all women face in varying degrees througout their lives, Brenda Wilbee identifies the many choices women have when faced with conflict and pain. Beginning with Eve the Innocent, Wilbee asserts that even though women would like to go back to the Garden of Eden and childhood innocence, they must confront their inner and outer dragons and grow beyond denial into the kind of action that brings a strong and healthy self-awareness.
Based on six achetypes identified by Carol S. Pearson in The Hero Within, Brenda defines six major choices women have at their disposal for any given conflict. Each choice is explained using women fro the Bible, history, literature and fairy tale, and from contemporary women and herself. Her research is extensive and woven throughout the stories. [NOTE: Not yet available. Please contact me—link below—to sign up for a notification notice.]
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Once Upon A Time
Once upon a time a dragon stepped across our path. The hero pulled his sword. The damsel swooned. And here we are, men slaying, women submitting, all of us forever locked into fairytale roles that have somehow been Christianized, thinking this is the only way to respond to conflict. And we wonder why we live in defeat.
There is defeat because, typically, men have always been taught to conquer conflict—to slay the dragon. Counterpoint, women have always been taught to submit to conflict—to subdue by swooning before the dragon, to give in.
When both of these two roles of conquering and submitting are practiced exclusively, it puts all of us at risk and backs us into a comer. For one thing, it leaves men always on the battlefield, without any R & R, and we all know that men are dying younger than women for it. Alan Basham, former director of the counseling center at Seattle Pacific University in Seattle, Washington, adds another interesting angle. He believes that men are dying younger than women because they are never allowed to experience the love of damsels in distress until they first relieve the distress. And so men, use of sword and shield an art form, are dying not so much from battle wounds but from something far more deadly. They are not loved for who they are but only for what they can do.
Women, on the other hand, are surviving, but in today's violent world they're surviving too often as victims, helpless damsels who cannot, dare not, pick up sword and shield in self-defense. As women, we are to await the hero and in the event of the hero's absence, to submit. We grow up learning to depend on rescue, and failing rescue, to then commit ourselves to martyrdom and self-sacrifice—in the hope that if we are just "good enough" rescue will come! Like Rapunzel?
So if statistically men are dying younger than women, women statistically are surviving as victims. But if we're to defeat this destructive pattern and find victory for both men and women we need to recognize roles other than those our fairy tales have assigned.
But, is that fair? Is there not more to story than just hero and heroine, Warrior and Martyr? What of other characters and other choices when up against peril? Peter Rabbit fled. Thumbelina asked for help. Fairy godmothers guessed riddles and transformed rags into riches, frogs into princes. Warriors and Martyrs, yes, but there are also Pilgrims, Orphans, and Wizards!
There is more than one way to skin a cat, and when up against conflict there is more than one way to tame the trouble. For one thing, we can trade shoes. If we are men we can learn what it means to submit, to be a Martyr, to swoon in the face of conflict—as did Hansel at the wicked witch's house. Likewise, if we are women we can learn what it means to be the fairytale Warrior, to slay and conquer and defeat—as did Gretel to save Hansel. Both of us can try on new shoes altogether and learn a few new roles. What about the Pilgrim, Orphan, Wizard? It's when we insist on doing it the same old way every single time that the dragon wins—and why so many of us are not living happily ever after.
For a woman, particularly one who's been raised in the church, this concept of choice is difficult to grasp. The male Warrior and female Martyr roles are the fundamental warp and woof of our heritage; they have for ages been woven into our literature, our myths, our laws, and then passed down to us. So it's quite difficult to look at Scripture and see a different story, and this is why it is so difficult for us as religious women to see that we have choice. We can't help but look at the Bible and see reflected from its pages our own cultural misunderstandings.
We look into the pages of Scripture and almost automatically see only the fairytale roles of Warrior and Martyr. David the Warrior. Martha the Martyr. And so when the dragon roars, men rush to slay, women to submit, all of us dying and being victimized, and we zip right past all the other possible choices. We forget that there is choice. We didn't even know to look for choice.
I didn't know to look for it. Like most women raised in the church I only knew the role of Martyr. This was it as far as God was concerned; in conflict I was to swoon, to give in. But at the age of twenty-nine I was forced to wake up to the fact that this wasn't working. Self-sacrifice was getting me just that sacrifice of self.
Why? I wondered, looking around at the failure of my life. Was I, I had to ask myself, doing everything I could? Or was I missing something important? I spent a couple of rough years pouring over Scripture to find out where I had gone wrong. At first I kept finding verses that supported the role of Martyr—good old Sarah keeping mum and winding up in the Pharaoh 's harem, Martha washing dishes and serving tea and sweeping floors. These women kept shoving me back to square one. Fogged by cultural mandates I saw only men slaying and women submitting and it all seemed to work out so well in the Bible, but in real life? Was the sacrifice of self a woman's only option? Is this why we were born?
But then one day eating granola at my kitchen table I ran into Deborah, a Hebrew prophetess and military commander. Nobody in Sunday school had ever told me about female warriors. And then I found Abigail while eating cold toast. Nobody had ever told me about her either. She disobeyed her husband and, before it was all done the King up and married her! Disobey her husband? And find a whole new wonderful life? Suddenly I began looking at men and women in the Bible with new understanding. Every morning over breakfast I was able to find, easily enough, all kinds of roles being played out in the lives of dozens of men and women all down through Jewish history as they battled the dragons before them! Here was Tamar, playing prostitute in order to assure herself of her lawful rights to a son by the house of Jacob! Here was Jacob "pulling the wool" (so to speak!) over his father's eyes! Suddenly, no longer stuck interpreting Scripture from my fairytale assigned position as Martyr, I began at last to grasp the concept of alternatives. In the face of conflict I could flee, I could fight back, I could play tricks, I could choose! Behold! Deborah the Warrior! Ruth the Martyr! Esther the Orphan! Hagar the Pilgrim! Abigail the Wizard! For me, a religious woman taught to blindly submit, this was liberating illumination; I rejoiced in this affirmation, this permission to make a different choice!
This was my beginning. I have since gone on to discover these same roles everywhere—in men and women today, in women of history, in the characters of our favorite stories. They can even be found in our fairytales—and oftentimes more picturesque there than in the book of Judges. We don't know Deborah the Warrior, but we do know Mrs. Jumbo. Few of us have been taught to see Ruth in the role of Martyr, but Piglet? Taking Rabbit at his word and jumping into Kanga's pocket in lieu of Roo? We certainly aren't used to looking at Wizards in the Old Testament; this idea almost seems threatening. But in fairytales? We love and applaud our fairy godmothers.
In looking back I am not sure how any of us missed the obvious, for choice is the underlying theme both in childhood stories read to us from the cradle—and Scripture. I am not sure why the matchstick girl sticks in our minds or why we get stuck on Martha when Jesus Christ himself said Mary's way was better—for all stories—from "in the beginning" to "once upon a time"—teach us choice.
I'm not sure, and yet for some reason we have restricted ourselves, and in our self-imposed restriction the dragons win.
How then, do we choose and dragons lose?
Naming a thing brings power over it. God said, "Let us make man in our image,...and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground ."(1) And then, once man was made, he told man to name every living creature.(2) Naming empowered mankind to rule.
ln the same way, by naming our choices we gain the power to make a choice. In my own life, once I got it through my head that I could choose, and that I had at least five options—Orphan, Pilgrim, Martyr, Warrior, and Wizard—I discovered that given any crisis I could literally sit back and decide which of the five I would use to resolve my problem. Choice took the sting out of my powerlessness. Choice enabled me to move from victim to victor. Did this particular dragon, I'd ask myself, naming my options, call for Mrs. Jumbo, the fairytale Warrior? Or Abigail, the Old Testament Wizard? Or was the battle one to martyr myself for, as did Ruth of Moab? As did Piglet in the Hundred-Acre Wood?
Orphan, Pilgrim, Martyr, Warrior, and Wizard. Naming is one thing, understanding another. Fortunately we have the Bible to offer example, and fairytale to offer metaphor. Out of the Old Testament we have our beacons of choice: Esther, Hagar, Ruth, Deborah, and Abigail. We also have in The Wizard of Oz, handily enough in the one fairytale, Dorothy, Scarecrow, Tinman, Lion, and Wizard. An odd combination to be sure, but one that serves a clear service.
Both Esther and Dorothy are Orphans, needing and finding help through their own courage. Hagar and the Scarecrow are Pilgrims, fleeing cultural expectations in order to seek clarity of mind and identity. Ruth and the Tinman are Martyrs, sacrificing from a position of power in order to redeem. Deborah and the Lion are Warriors, drawn into the fray to protect. And Abigail and the Wizard are Wizards, taming evil by naming it for what it really is and bringing into play creative alternatives. By following in the footsteps of these Biblical heroines and by metaphorically walking the yellow brick road of Frank Baum's Oz, we can discover on a more personal level what it means to make these choices.
Each section of this book opens "onstage" with a character from The Wizard of Oz that we might more easily "see" what each role is. I quickly introduce one of our women from the Bible that we might understand the scriptural support. And then because the idea of choice is so difficult for women to grasp I go on to tell nine short stories of women who have made these choices—to bring further assurance that God has called us to creative resolution—and to bring to light another facet of that choice. For instance, a woman Warrior may fight back with the "weapon" of a tent peg, as did Jael, or with fasting, as did Gladys Steffenson's daughter, or by simply holding back her cards, as Hezekiah should have done. A Martyr may choose to die, as did Betsie ten Boom under Nazi Germany; a Martyr may also find strength in weakness, as did Corrie ten Boom in the concentration camps. Each section then has nine of these stories: two women from history, two women from literature, two contemporary women, two more women from the Bible, and one personal example from my own life.
Finally, stories told, each section concludes with a second, closer look at The Wizard of Oz and our Old Testament role models to gain further clarification as to what each role means. An Orphan asks for help, yes. But an Orphan also learns, in the process, how to help herself. A Wizard names evil in another person's life, true. But a Wizard also names the evil within her own life.
My own personal dragons are largely those of poor health and of having been a single parent. Others have problems with their marriages. Still others have conflict on the job, with their kids, with their finances. Men, too, have their troubles. All of us, by the very nature of the game, are caught in conflict. Yet it seems very few of us—if we're going to be honest about it—aren't coping with crisis very well; we have become expert at persona. And I am convinced that for both men and women we live in defeat—and from behind plastic masks—because we remain stuck responding to conflict in one prescribed way. But by choosing among our several options taught to us by our fairytales and modeled for us in our Bibles—we can begin to see God alongside us, and because we've chosen to, we can begin to put away our despair and pain and move toward redemption and new life. And this is the "happily ever after' our fairytales promise.
Once upon a time...the raging dragon...a hero and a damsel in distress. But wait! The hero doesn't pull his sword, the damsel doesn't swoon. Both pause, and then choose—Orphan, Pilgrim, Martyr, Warrior, or Wizard. We too can choose. We too can live happily ever after.
(1) Genesis 1:26 (NRV).
(2) Genesis 2:19, 20 (NRV)