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Dark Star

Author Carolyn Baker examines the price of desire

By Gretchen Giles

AIN'T IT GREAT to be a gal? Women, those fortunate creatures who start out as sugar and spice and everything nice, are experiencing a vogue as gosh-darn goddesses, near immortals walking among us, buying the groceries, suckling the babies, and exalting in the mysteries of the menstrual cycle. They meet in moon circles, run with the wolves, love too much, and yet still keep the floors clean and the children fed while bringing home a paycheck. As for the men? Well, they really know how to work that TV remote.

'Nuff's 'nuff, imputes Santa Rosa author Carolyn Baker. The deification of one gender to the detriment of the other isn't doing any of us a whole heap of good. What women need, she suggests, is to take a page from the mythopoetics of the men's movement as articulated by such leaders as poet Robert Bly. If we would but look into the archetypal stories written by the Grimms and grimly retold by Carl Jung, we might find that all is not rosy in the women's room. In fact, there is more than just a blush of black.

Taking the story of Rapunzel as her framework, Baker has written a book--Reclaiming the Dark Feminine: The Price of Desire (New Falcon; $12.95)--weaving the compelling argument that the stridency of the early feminist movement is no longer necessary, and that women, too, have more than their fair share of complicity in the patriarchal structures that she believes are strangling us all. If men and women could only drop the negative aspects of our male selves, and recognize and surmount the negative aspects of our female selves, well--it makes one giddy to even consider.

"On the level of the sacred and the unconscious, we're very much the same," shrugs Baker.

CAST BACK NOW to bedtimes and consider the story of Rapunzel. Conceived as a result of her mother's rapacious desire for greens growing in an adjacent garden, the as-yet-unrealized Rapunzel is promised by her father in exchange for the salad. Once born and given in a deal to an awful crone, Rapunzel is locked away high in a tower upon attaining majority, letting down her braids each day as a ladder for the crone. One day, the sound of the girl singing attracts a passing prince, who cajoles her into letting her braids down for him as well. The girl is happy: like a demented popular song of yore, she has the hag in the morning and the prince at night. Of course, the couple is found out--Rapunzel expelled, the prince thrown bodily from the tower and blinded, both forced to separately wander forest and desert. Of course, the girl gives birth alone. Of course, the couple, now a family, are reunited, and the sweetness of the girl's tears restores sight to her lover's mangled eyes. The end. Go brush your teeth.

For Baker, however, this is just the beginning, and she tells the story down to its bones. Rapunzel is a story assailed by feminist criticism for its archetypal woman-as-prisoner motif. Baker refuses that thesis, assaying it along affirmative lines that closely question the actions of the female characters, according them all of the rights and responsibilities of the prince. Of particular note is her restructuring of the hag figure, one that the goddess movement and others have claimed in an overwhelmingly positive sense, emphasizing the wisdom and beauty of age.

"Generally the dark feminine shows up like this hag figure: she's a devourer, she's possessive," Baker says, seated in her Santa Rosa office. "She feeds off of the vitality of this younger person, but she isn't just there for no reason. She has a purpose, and the crone in literature is there to help with transformation. It's through her formidability that people can make a new relationship. She's there as a healing force also. Sometimes I think that we tend to prettify her, thinking that oh, she's just this old wise woman who is there to teach us, and she is, but I believe that there's a process that we need to go through, like [Rapunzel's father] who goes over the fence in the story and has to face [the hag with whom he deals for the greens]--that we all have to face her and we have to face that ugliness and that formidability and struggle with it."

According to Reclaiming the Dark Feminine, every couple conceives a child, whether that child is flesh or no. Once the creativity of that conception is realized, the crone is always there hoping to claim it. This, then, is the price of desire--fought only by a couple's recognition of and defeat of the dark feminine that lurks within each. Unmatched and unattended to, this dark force negates and kills, and the divorce statistics continue to rise.

Baker, whose regular correspondence with Bly enlivens them both, reports that a letter just received from the Iron John author muses on just that proposition. "The hag gets stirred up as a result of desire," she paraphrases from his last missive. "It's kind of scary that every time you do something creative, a desire comes forth, she's right there waiting for you. She's not the driving force of desire, but when desire comes forth, there she is.

"The price of desire for both women and men, I think, is to have to deal with this dark feminine force," Baker continues, speaking for herself. "And I don't think that it's any more or less in women or men.

"But I do think that if we don't deal with some of these issues like the dark feminine and the dark masculine that we can become 'princess victims,'" she continues, referring to a term coined by author Elizabeth Herron, "with the idea that what is really wrong is just the men, and that if they would change, then we would be fine. That really puts us in a victim status; that really leaves us immature and undeveloped.

"Part of becoming a mature woman is beginning to take responsibility for yourself," she smiles, "and that's hard work."


Carolyn Baker discusses Reclaiming the Dark Feminine on Monday, Nov. 4, at 7 p.m. Copperfield's Annex, 650 Fourth St., Santa Rosa. Free. 545-5326.

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From the October 24-30, 1996 issue of the Sonoma Independent

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