The Women Named Death: An Essay


I’ve heard it said that all comedy is fear in the rearview mirror; which is a neat, if not pat, explanation, for why the world hasn’t felt very comedic lately. Let me introduce a corollary to this saying, for a more thorough illustration: Rage is fear, seated right in the passenger seat, relentlessly attempting to yank the wheel away from your hands.

So what then, of rage, of fear. What about humor?

I don’t believe I need to say this, but this shall be my pro forma nod that “not all men,” “not all women,” “not all whites,” “not all liberals, conservatives, pirates, or faux-punk rockers.” Freely assume that I am admitting, “yes, all heartless, soulless, magically animated lizard-people,” because I am, as far as I know, the only one.

So, fear first. There is one thing, universally and inevitably feared, and we call her death. What is death, really? Peaking into the other two universal realities of our existence, war and religion, death permeates and demands attention and acknowledgement. What do we see when we look? Atropos. Morrigan. Erinyes. Kali. Every hurricane pre-1979. The plane that dropped the Nagasaki bomb. Sketched on cave walls all the way until Neil Gamman’s gothic manic pixie dream girl. Death, we call a woman.

Why? Nobody, much less myself, knows absolutely for sure. But we can make some educated guesses. Centuries before science could really explain fertility and childbearing, the idea of creating life was thoroughly and dangerously occult, in both veins of the word. It is hidden from sight, and seemingly magical.

Wouldn’t it follow that she who creates life can take it away? This thing that can bleed for days and go on living? And men, don’t they yearn to lose themselves in the warmth of the very place that gave birth for them? Aching to die, une petite mort, between the soft legs of a woman? This is the only way for him to create life, just a little. The only way for him to die, just a little, and keep on living.

And what if she refuses you, if the warmth of her legs is closed to you? If she says, like that nameless woman says to J. Alfred Prufrock, “That is not what I meant at all. That is not it; at all.” Or, worse, she encourages the seed you died just a little to create, only to snuff it out before it germinates. If, rather than wanting a bird she chooses to install a cuckcoo-clock in her nest. If she opts to be mechanical; she chooses not to need you. Each of her choices carries a death for you. Your once chance at immortality through your children is in her hands. And you fear these things and you hate the fear, yes. But the cause of the fear, you will hate even more.

I’ve heard all politics is personal. This cliche beautifully illuminates the truth while simultaneously imprisoning it. Very, very few people would define their beliefs, their stances, their interactions as fueled by fear, of thwarted entitlement and unfulfilled greed. It would be almost refreshing to hear that women must be controlled because feminine sexuality poses a threat. Of course, people have always believed this, and behaved like they do believe this. However, in last few centuries, in particular, we’ve halted outright calling women sirens and blaming our shipwrecks on their songs. We’re often much more diplomatic, lately.

But isn’t it ridiculous? You, sir, are bigger than me. You’re stronger than me. You could break me, snap my bones. Yet, you fear my laughter, my ridicule so much that you grow to hate me. You hate us. You fear us. And you’ll do anything to stifle the laugher, but you won’t kill me. You can’t, because you still want us. You need us. And you are existentially and totally frustrated by it.

Margret Atwood said, “Women are afraid men will kill them. Men are afraid women will laugh at them.” You are hysterical; I use that word advisedly. Hysterical, ridiculous, amusing. And I will not stop laughing.

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