There’s a famous tale–if you’re a fan of fantasy or Tertullian, perhaps you’ve heard of it–concerning Eve and a feeling of being dirty.
I refer not to the famous douching scene so histrionically dramatized by Bette Davis (with a notable assist from Anne Baxter) in All About Eve.
What? You don’t remember that scene? Time to add the title to your Netflix queue and prepare a bowl of parmesan black-pepper popcorn to nosh on while you savor that cinematic gem. If, at the end of the film, you’re still waiting for the legendary douching scene, wondering when it’s going to happen, relax. You missed it when you dozed off there for a bit in the middle. Try backtracking the DVD to approximately minute 43, and give it another whirl. Maybe stay awake this time–or you might not only miss the douching scene; you might also miss that quirky moment when Godzilla and Mothra lumber through the background of the awards ceremony, fully engaged in monster battle.
Incidentally, why are we even dwelling on this, when I told you from the start that I wasn’t even referring to All About Eve?
I refer, rather, to the story of Eve in the Garden of Eden and that sly serpent turning simple Eve’s head and beguiling her guileless self into eating the forbidden apple–persuading our jejune ingenue that receiving knowledge of all the world’s goods and evils is worth risking the wrath of The Capricious Pappy in the Sky. Eve, first woman, template for all who would follow, falls sway to the serpent’s charm, and in doing so, sets up an enduring construct wherein females–credulous, immaculate, malleable–become the device of downfall.
I like to fancy that Eve had a bit more going on than tradition credits to her. I like to think that Eve, although trapped by the limiting circumstances of the garden, a judgmental, all-powerful God, and a whiny mate, has developed an internal life and emotional complexity that keeps leashed the justified rage that would have her scything the garden into compost; renouncing her role in a needy God’s plan to keep Himself blame free; and lashing Adam to a quince tree with grape vines, shouting as she departs, “By the time you free yourself, Gomer, I’ll be halfway up the Euphrates in the company of a passing band of faintly-apeish nomads whom I fully intend to join once I hop over that popsicle-stick fence you and Yaweh built in an attempt to keep me corralled for your Fall-Taking purposes. Oh, and I’m disavowing the name Eve. From now on, if you ever meet up with me in the bazaar by the Tigris, call me Ayla. I will probably have invented the needle and thread by then and will be accompanied by a cave lion and a recently-domesticated horse. Peace. Out. Laddies.”
I mean, really. With only God and Adam for company, she has to be scrappy as Satan’s hell, well able to resist their agenda of scapegoatism. Thus, while this multidimensional Eve might exist in the thrall of God’s spell of innocence, and while she might not yet have had her chance to leap the fence and make a break from the bizarre for the bazaar, I daresay her moment with the serpent evidences a more complicated dynamic than Evil vs. Gullible Greed. At the very least, the idea of shaking up her world, of teasing an incomprehensible possibility into reality, of shattering God’s glass ceiling
has to create in Eve fear, awe, power, unease, excitement–a goodly mental freak-out. Standing there under the apple tree, entranced by the serpent’s flickering tongue, roiling with suppressed unrest, trying to play the diplomat after years of diminishment, Eve is fully human, and it is thanks to her courage–look at Adam camouflaging himself in the canopy as he eavesdrops!–that the apple ever got bitten. Without knowledge, consciousness, dimension, nudity, sex, love, blame, embarrassment, shame, anger, wonder, regret, guilt, freedom, individuation, and death, humans would remain God’s pets, the mascots of His hubris.
Eve breaks us free from oppressive paternalism. Her bite of juicy apple frees us from eternal mascotry.
Aw, c’mon. She couldn’t save everyone.
Delicately, she nibbles at the peel–wary, yet wanting to convince the serpent she’s not intimidated by impending wisdom; gaining confidence and tapping into the insatiable hunger that lives like a phantom pain down by her left rib, a space in her being that is completely fed up with Adam’s insistence that she “eat like a lady,” she tucks in to the flesh of the orb with a more determined CRUNCH…
And suddenly, all is brambles and exposed cellulite.
And nothing is ever the same again (*she typed while miming a dramatic whew across her forehead*).
A woman did it. An apple did it.
Now, thousands of hedonistic, sin-filled years of painful childbirth later, I am the new Eve, except for the part where my weakness in the face of temptation paves the way for humanity’s damnation and creates an object lesson for values creation in millions of sponge-like children. Seriously, that Garden of Eden business is a seriously unjust load of nonsense to assign to any one individual, and I feel pretty certain I can get my name into the Bible without having to weave myself into The Origin Story of Misogyny. Like, for example, I could change my name to Joshua and learn to play the trumpet, and there ya go: I’m in.
I’m like Eve, rather, when it comes to problems resulting from apple eating. My fall from grace, however, won’t involve a peevish God or a resentful mate but instead will hinge on mindful, healthy eating (stacking my daily food pyramid with heaps of apples!) that leads to loss.
You see, one of my baby teeth never fell out,
and now its gum is receding,
and the hygienist (that serpent) hisses into my ear every six months, “That baby’s gonna come out one day when you bite into an apple,”
and then she lays out the bridge vs. post options for repairing the inevitable black hole in my head,
and I try to marshal those thoughts to the back of my brain, because, if the tooth has made it 44 years now, why not enjoy that ride instead of worrying about a potentially-unrealized future?
But then I go out running after dark, as you do when you’re in Weight Watchers and have a metabolism as stubborn as Eng Bunker**, and so, several times a week, I do this thing called Exercising Twice a Day (bumping up my normal once-a-day daily commitment) in the hopes of peeling off another recalcitrant quarter pound before the next weigh-in.
Thanks again, Eve, for all that cellulite awareness.
And what happens one lovely November night (for Eve, it was a lazy July afternoon) is I hit the length of sidewalk near a house on 43rd Avenue where the owners never trim their hedges, and because it’s dark and the sidewalk is broken, I do this lurching lope thing where I hold a hand up to my forehead like a salute to passing cars whose lights blind me; because my vision is partially blocked, I take an untended and unintended branch to the face,
and after a nanosecond during which this non-voter rants internally about the importance of upholding the Social Contract (in my case, that means trimming your greenery along the sidewalk and not necessarily showing up for the referendum on that topic),
I then think, frantically, “That untoward bramble not only whipped my cheek; it went so far as to insert itself into my mouth with great effrontery. OWW. Did that effing branch just knock out my crazy baby tooth? Am I a hillbilly now?”
Sorry to deny you the desired moment of crisis, but NO, it didn’t, and NO, I wasn’t. Despite the intrusive stick to the mouth, my tooth remains intact, so there is no high-larious photo of me dandling on the knee of Granny Hatfield-McCoy, sipping ‘shine and playing the banjo, to accompany this story.
If anything, the stick to the mouth drives home the fact that the hygenist hasn’t been talking bunk to me–that my tooth is going to fall from its current and extended state of grace one day, and if I feel like twisting quirky allegorical logic towards my tooth, I can rejoice in the tooth’s refusal to be God’s mascot. Or something.
Fortunately, once I am certain I still have every tooth in my head, once I’ve accepted that my tooth will one day hop the popsicle-stick fence that is my mouth (um, which actually further makes my tooth the Eve in this story, but I find myself deeply amused by the image of a tooth hopping a popsicle-stick fence, so I refuse to revise), my brain works its comfort and takes me off into thoughts of Other Stuff Besides My Face with a Hole in It.
I flit through a thought of how I’m trying to exercise two times a day several times a week and how my students, curiously, misuse “several” (startlingly often, they write things like “Several soldiers have died since the war in Iraq began” or “My grandma lived for several years and died when she was 94”).
Then my thoughts bounce to how cliched stereotypes about hillbillies are, yet somehow I persist in applying them, and why do I do that?
Then I marvel at all the houses that have three-car garages yet have six vehicles parked outside on the driveway; I may love Stuff, but we have a single-car garage, and we are quite able to park a car inside of it, so maybe other people’s multiple cars on their driveways somehow indicate I’m a actually good person.
For a quick moment, I wish I’d cut my toenails before heading out to run.
After that, though, I contemplate “douchebag” and the idea of misogyny, which then leads me to thoughts of famous misogynists in history. In a way, that’s a list too easily compiled, as it could just read “All the men who ever did or wrote anything since Forever up until 1974” because what we now call ‘misogyny’ was pretty much just accepted as ‘regular thinking’ until them Libbers came along and started making some noise. Anyhow, I’m not able to come up with many individual names–and here Eve went and started the process of individuation, but for what?–so pretty much I have to go back to laughing at the Mark Maron podcast piping through my earbuds.
The day after I was attacked by foliage, I applied the Magic Google Machine to unearthing the names of famous misogynists throughout history, which is a pretty good time, really, because it drives home a feeling of relief that most of those bastards are dead and buried in their own Gardens of Eden. The main thing that comes through, when one is doing a cursory overview of The Words of Misogynists, is how miserable they all seem, so hamstrung by their own certainty of superiority that they are paralyzed into petulance. It’s not that they were stupid; it’s that they didn’t want to know better. Nothing summed up that fact better for me than a single quote from Norman Mailer, who once commented that women don’t make good writers because “The sniffs I get from the ink of the women are always fey, old-hat, Quaintsy Goysy, tiny, too dykily psychotic, crippled, creepish, fashionable, frigid, outer-Baroque, maquillé in mannequin’s whimsy, or else bright and stillborn.”
The staccato power of his comment strikes me as starkly beautiful compared to the bullshit sentiment he’s expressing, a feat which underscores how very much better he could have been, had he not been hindered by the popsicle-stick fence of his biases. Mailer’s forceful words stick with me and remind me–should remind all of us femmes who compose–that the purpose of our every recorded word is to smear Mailer’s long-dried ink, that thinking so very turgid, antediluvian, Brutish Alter Kocker, fireplug, too straiggoty cocksure, stunted, gallish, choleric, fatuous, entrenched-oppidan, caparisoned in sybarite’s debility, or else cavalier and vainglorious.
I’m pretty sure Eve would agree.
**Long after medicine had progressed enough to assure them of a safe separation, Eng Bunker and his Siamese twin, Chang, refused the surgery because it would put an end to their marketability. When Eng woke up one morning to find Chang had died, he refused to have his brother’s corpse excised from his still-living body, a decision that assured his own death in quick order. At least he died knowing he’d stuck to his, um–what?–principles? (haha: if Chang had been the head of a school at which Eng taught, Eng could have died stuck to his “principal”!)
Anyhow, kudos to all of you who realize I jammed this Eng Bunker simile into a sentence where I was kvetching about excess weight, and yet you refrain from “Hey, maybe you could go Full Siamese Twin and excise little ‘dead’ flesh off your body, too, Joce!” comments.