I dropped by the community library box in my neighborhood the other day and among the offerings, I found the 1997 best seller, The Red Tent by Anita Diamant. I’d always meant to read the novel, so I scooped it up and brought it home.
The story is about Dinah, a woman in Biblical times, who lives amongst a large family, which includes her father, his 4 wives and their many children. Dinah narrates her story in the simple language of an uneducated girl but the effect is a simple elegance reminiscent of the King James Bible.
Though Dinah’s narrative describes life in a patriarchal society, women have their sphere of influence, particularly under the red tent — the place where they go during menses and where men are forbidden. There, they share insights about birth and death with the youngest among them and perpetuate ancient feminine wisdoms.
Oddly enough, as I sat down to read The Red Tent, I’d just finished Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique. I expected the difference between the two books to be startling, like being dropped from a mountain stream into a hot tub. But I confess I was drawn to the Biblical time Diamant painted. Though the author is a contemporary women, the ancient world she evoked touched a chord in me, the same I’d felt when I read Stacy Schiff’s Cleopatra, a queen she described as a master of the “silken powers of persuasion.” (Cleopatra, by Stacy Schiff, Back Bay books, Back Bay Books, 2010, pg. 42.)
I spent some time thinking about this chord within me; yet even now, I am unable to describe it. It exists, nonetheless, like a buried memory recalled by a passing scent. What is a woman’s place in the world, I wondered. Is parity with men the goal? But we are equal. Perhaps we have distracted ourselves in a false, feminist pursuit. Perhaps we should use our power in other ways, for we have power. Men sense it in us better than we do. How else am I to explain why patriarchal structures often seek to constrain women rather than free them?
If balance is to be restored to the world, we women must find our true place. A new paradigm must emerge.
(Yin & Yang image courtesy of www.buzzle.com)