Marriage as Portrayed in George Eliot’s Daniel Deronda

Daniel Deronda, a Victorian novel I am currently reading, is one that was considered controversial in its day due to its sympathetic portrayal of the Jews.  Set in England, the novel’s events are described chiefly from the perspective of the upper class white Gentile community. I’m too early in the book to have experienced any of the material regarding Judaism, but I think its depiction of marriage as the end of freedom for women is still, in some ways, controversial.

The stereotype persists that men view marriage as the end of freedom, while women crave the institution the way thirsty desert wanderers crave a cold glass of water. The latest spike in reality shows featuring plural marriages – one husband and several wives – as well as the tireless Bachelor franchise, and the jokes that permeate most sitcoms seem to support this stereotype. I think the truth has always been more complicated.

The novel’s author, George Eliot, sums up her narcissistic, manipulative protagonist, Gwendolyn’s, view of men with the following statement (though she’s talking about gambling, not marriage): “she cared for the excitement of play, not the winnings” (p. 6). Gwendolyn loves the attention of being pursued. She callously enjoys the fact that she can break hearts. She has no real desire to be tied down, though she knows that it’s inevitable at some point.

The patriarchal and hierarchical society of the Victorian age put women in two unfortunate positions: they needed men for their economic survival, and they were expected to be the passive recipients of male desire. It makes marriage the ultimate goal for women – the way an interesting, lucrative job is the ultimate goal for men. However, it deprives women of the opportunity to go for it, as it were. They have to look pretty, wait, and hope to be chosen.

This understandably bred resentment in many women, which, of course, could not be openly expressed (not if they ever hoped to be chosen). So, as annoying as Gwendolyn is, her response is altogether reasonable, given her situation. And the reality, even today, is that marriage tends to be more work for women than it is for men. There are still many men who view marriage as the procurement of nursing care, maid services, and a personal chef – and in response the man brings home a paycheck. Hopefully.

So, while the stereotype of women being desperate to get married persists, it persists, I believe, out of habit and tradition, not out of a rational response to the status quo. Unmarried women tend to live longer than married women. Although most married women work outside the home, they still do most of the childcare and housework. Perhaps, like Gwendolyn, it is the “play” that we really like – the attention, the romance and the drama of a wedding, for example – not the “winnings” – a man who sits on the couch waiting to be fed.

I’m being facetious, of course. I’m not knocking marriage. It’s wonderful with the right person. It’s a chance to grow and mature as a human being. Through the power of synergy, two people can do more together than either one alone. The legal commitment brings a certain sobriety and sense of family to the couple, which can be quite rewarding. But marriage for marriage’s sake is no bargain. As Gwendolyn says “…what is the use of my being charming, if it is to end in my being dull and not minding anything? Is that what marriage always comes to?” (p. 23).

That is not what marriage always comes to, but, if we don’t question society’s narratives and group-think, we can naturally fall into some pretty unhealthy patterns. In 2018 we can surely do better than that.

Peace and love,



Stephen King, Owen King, and #MeToo

“That instinct, to doubt what women say, it’s always there. To find some reason not to take their word. Men do it…but we do, too. I do it.” P. 439 of  Stephen King and Owen King’s Sleeping Beauties.

I’m on page 495 (of 700) of the above captioned book. This quote struck me for many reasons. But, it touches on the spirit of what’s happening in response to the #metoo movement. The problem of sexism and abuse is not the fault of a specific man or group of men. The problem is not strictly even about men. The problem is the culture as a whole. This is a culture which treats women’s words as suspect or frivolous, and men’s words as authoritative and important. Even if the man is lying. Even if the man doesn’t know what he’s talking about. Even if he is not credible. He is given a kind of “benefit of the doubt” (also called privilege) that women, by contrast, have to work long and hard for, if it’s ever given at all.

In the novel Sleeping Beauties, the women are disappearing. (There are no real spoilers here, but if you don’t want to know anything about the book, skip ahead to the next paragraph). They are falling asleep and not waking up. They are not dead, but they are no longer around. Without them, the tiny town in which the story takes place is falling apart. The problem is global. Chaos is reigning all over the world. Women are trying hopelessly to stay awake. Men are trying to live in a world without women. Some men react with sadness; others take to violence. But, throughout the story, the authors comment subtly on the state of male/female relationships.

I don’t know how the novel is going to end, but I can confidently assert my opinion in real life: men and women need each other. We complement each other. Women’s words, their feelings, their experiences, are just as important as men’s. There is nothing we can’t do, if given a fair chance. For tasks where physical strength is necessary, we rely on men on to help, but it is not a requirement. Humans are always creating ways to do things that are physically impossible without mechanized assistance. Men can nurture children and care for elderly parents, just as women stereotypically do. There is wisdom, however, in the division of labor.

This division of labor does not always line up according to gender. Some men are better with children than some women. Some women are much more rational and are better leaders than men. There are gender tendencies, but we are not locked into those. Those difference merely let us know that we need each other. Tasks should be divvied up according to talent and interest, not genitalia.

As we embrace both sides of our natures, we become more mentally balanced, confident, and whole. As a woman, I have some stereotypically female traits: I love babies, I am interested in relationships, I love to make my environment beautiful, and I prioritize people over money and things. On the other hand, I rarely cry, I hate to shop, I’m highly rational, and I’m task-oriented more than social. A man who would balance me out would probably have opposite or complementary traits. Polarity causes attraction, and nature is always seeking a balance.

So, with all the noise and sad news out there, let’s not buy into the idea that we are enemies. Some men do hate women; and some women hate men. But the truth is: we need each other. Sexual harassment is not a women’s issue. It’s a human issue. Listening to women, and taking care of our little girls, is about preserving our human societies. We cannot thrive in a world where women are regularly abused while gaining educations, earning livings, or simply walking down the street.

Men can help protect our societies by protecting the women. Women can express gratitude, acknowledging the good men in our lives who do this automatically. Women can help themselves by refusing to buy into the cultural idea that our thoughts are less relevant than men’s. Discrimination often leads to self-hatred and insecurity. We can’t let this happen. Keep speaking up, ladies! Even when it’s hard. Even when people don’t listen at first. We need our women. And we need our men.

United, we are a human family. Divided, we are each other’s worse nightmares. We get to choose.


Peace and love,


Thoughts on Quentin Tarantino and Other White Storytellers Who Love the “N” Word

I am someone who is absolutely IN LOVE with story. I love stories in books, movies, plays, poems, puppet shows, even a good commercial. But I am not undyingly loyal to any particular storyteller, regardless of how many accolades the culture has chosen to give, or withhold, from that person. For me, all that matters is the story. Is it told well, does it move me, is it gimmick-free, is it honest, does it portray a world I’m interested in – these are the types of questions I ask myself to determine whether or not I like a particular story. And I’m loyal to the storyteller only in so far as they consistently present material that meets these standards.

So, I’m not a big Tarantino fan. I have tried, because I am fond of a few of his stories. I love Reservoir Dogs. I like Django Unchained, and Inglorious Basterds. I despise The Hateful Eight. I’ve seen a couple of others, and for me, they are just okay. Frankly, if I’m going to be called a N—– to my face by anybody, particularly a white person – or several of them as in the case of The Hateful Eight – there’d better be some kind of payoff in the end. By payoff, I mean that the overall content of the story not only justifies the use of the word, but justifies why I would endure the direct insult when I don’t have to.

For example, the word is used liberally in the movie Detroit. But the movie not only justifies the use of the word (mostly by racist white cops) but also presents a heretofore untold and true story about police brutality and the culture that supports it. The movie has meaning and depth. Watching that movie can elevate one’s consciousness with regards to race and power. It depicts the effects of racial abuse on both the abusers and the abused. The movie is important as well as entertaining. And, as someone who sincerely wants to be a paid storyteller, this is the holy grail for me – entertaining and important.

But, back to the N-word. I don’t use it and never have. Not as a term of endearment. Not as an insult. Not even quoting someone else. The word is crass, low-class, outdated, and has no redeeming qualities in my opinion. Do I get mad when I hear other black people use it with one another? No. It’s disappointing, it tells me where they’re at, but I get it. It’s just not my thing. I also don’t refer to my friends as “dogs” or “sluts,” or any other playful pejoratives. But that is my spiritual discipline at work.

Words are powerful. The way you talk about yourself, and others, and the way you tolerate others talking to you, reflects your own level of awareness and self-esteem. So I don’t let people talk to or about me in just any old kind of way. I also don’t let ME speak any old way about myself. There’s a certain dignity with which I regard myself and anyone in my orbit, regardless of how mad I may get. Of course, certain things are outside of my control. If someone chooses to call me the N-word, which has happened, of course, I can’t do much about that. Nor does it change or effect who I am. But for me to spend money and/or precious time, and allow someone to hurl racial epithets to my face, would be acting counter to who I am, and how I’ve chosen to show up in this world.

The argument is often made: “It’s just the characters saying it! The author (or director, or singer, or whomever) isn’t racist!” Samuel L. Jackson even went so far as to say that it’s “impossible” for Tarantino to be racist because he made Django Unchained. I’ve heard that Tarantino is determined to rid the word of its power by saying it over and over. I’ve heard other white people make this claim as well – that they’re “taking the word back” somehow by tossing it around insensitively. Sorry, but no. It is not impossible for anyone to be racist. In fact, I would say that it’s almost impossible NOT to be racist to some extent, given the country we live in and its history.

And no, no white person can ever “reclaim” that word. Black people have actually reclaimed the word to a certain extent, and defused it of some of its power, through music. But anytime it comes out of the mouth of a white person, it is what it is – a vile word meant to degrade an entire group of people. If a character says the word, and it makes sense for the character to say the word, I have no issue with that from a creative standpoint. Life isn’t always pretty. If it makes sense for a character to say or do something that I find vile, bravo!

But for me to subject my little brown eyes and ears to it, I have to be able to justify it for myself. For example, pedophilia is a part of life as well. There are people who rape children, even babies. Would I watch a movie about that? Well, I have: Spotlight and the documentary The Keepers. Would I watch a movie that casually portrays a pedophile main character as a hero who just happens to indulge in a little baby rape in his spare time? No. Would I follow any particular artist who regularly portrayed pedophiles as main characters? Not a chance.

As a consumer, as well as producer of stories, I do feel a responsibility to consider my own soul, spirit, consciousness (whatever you want to call it) whenever I consume or produce a piece of art. Just as words are powerful, so are images. What we consume becomes a part of us in a fundamental way. When we get used to seeing disgusting things portrayed as acceptable – so acceptable that it isn’t even commented upon – we subtly believe that that’s just the way things are. In previous generations, almost all portrayals of racial minorities were bigoted. Not because it was right, but because they could get away with it, due to the laws and the social climate at the time. Regardless of how famous or successful someone is, that alone is not enough for me to accept and approve of whatever they do. Is Tarantino a racist? Who knows? Probably not. Are most of his movies offensive to me? I’m afraid so.

But that’s the beauty of the first amendment. It cuts both ways. I wouldn’t want to live in a world where Tarantino or any other creative person was prohibited from saying what he wants to say. And I’m sure in person he is perfectly lovely, smart, and interesting. That is the relevant separation between the art and the artist for me.

But, in response to “social critics” whom Tarantino says criticize his use of the N-word, he said his job is to “ignore them and not pay attention to them.” He’s right. And this is also my job as a consumer. When it comes to storytellers who tell stories that offend me while offering nothing of redeeming value in return, my job is to ignore them and not pay attention to them.

I know and embrace the fact that I’m in the minority on this. Fame and power are awesome things and I have neither. All I have is my opinion and a computer. But there it is. I don’t allow just anyone to access to my body, and I don’t allow just anyone to access my mind. That is spiritual discernment in a nutshell.

Peace and love,