“To be a woman is to be incarcerated, and to struggle against incarceration, and to long for it”.
Susan Sontag wrote these words in “A Double Destiny: On Anna Banti´s Artemisia, which was to be one of her last essays just before she died in 2004. Collected in a Penguin paperback edition in 2007 under the title “At the Same Time”, Sontag´s last essays include a moving preface written by her own son – David Rieff.
Sontag, the militant reader, the woman, the writer, is with her political engagement, her awareness of the Other and sense of mission one of the people I most admire. “Against Interpretation” and “Regarding The Pain of Others” are part of the few books which have moved with me throughout different cities.
Unfortunately, to be a woman today still includes a great lot of thinking about one´s own sex and role in society. Men experience no such thing. Because we are still subjected to sexist comments at our work environment, because we still earn less money even if we perform exactly the same task as a male colleague and because we are torn between the different roles (as competitive professionals, mothers, wifes, etc) society expects us to fulfill under one single harmonious behavior, we are acutely aware of our own gender and its culturally imposed limitations.
And the worst is that women who assume a defence speech and take action against the discrimination are labelled by others – sometimes sadly by other women also – as “militant radical feminists”, constantly dismissed, mocked and put down.
According to the Midrash, Adam´s first wife – Lilith – rebelled against and abandoned him. Throughout history she has been alternatively seen as a female demon, evil spirit, a murderer of children, a vampire, an erotic goddess and the snake which offers the apple in Paradise. It was only in the seventies that the figure of Lilith was first reabilitated by feminists.
Lilith was a free spirit. She understodd herself as an equal of Adam, for they were both created from the ground, and when he asked her to have sex in the missionary position she refused and told him that she would not lay beneath him for they are equals. And so they argued and she abandoned him.
God had then to create a second wife who had so much hair that Adam was scared and disgusted and then a third – Eva -, who was created of Adam´s side, and was finally perfect! (Its a relief to know that even God doesn´t hit it right at first!)
So from the very begining the two female archetypes can be found: “the serving, self-sacrificing wife (Eve) and the wild, man-dominating woman (Lilith)”. The first defying free will, the second defying subservience. Lilith may have sacrificed the paradise of Eden, devoted herself without thinking twice to exile and suffered the death of hundreds of her children as a consequence of her choice for freedom and equality, but in the end she gained immortality (unlike Adam and Eva she didn´t eat the apple in the Garden of Eden).
Lilith and Eva represent the different and contraditory sides /desires still battling in every one of us. But for me, Lilith stands defiantly alone as the ideal for self determination, freedom and equality. Voluntary exile, yes indeed!