A few years ago, I became aware of the existence of the Mediaeval Baebes. They are an all-female band from the United Kingdom who remix mediaeval* songs, hymns and poetry into modern pop songs, musically accompanied by period instruments being played in ways that their designers probably never imagined. I’m a recovering mediaevalist myself, so I found the idea to be interesting to say the least. While I would say that the vision that they present of the middle ages is perhaps a shade too ‘neo-Romanticist’ (in a New Agey, “Marion Zimmer Bradley”-sort of way), I have to say that I enjoy it quite a bit–indeed, they have become one of my favourite bands.
One of their songs, of which I am especially fond, is called “I Am Eve,” which is based upon a Middle Irish poem, narrated by Eve herself:
As you might imagine, Eve was not the most popular biblical character in mediaeval Christianity, and the lyrics (translated into English) are predictably misogynist; however, the Baebes sing them in such a bold, uncompromising and unapologetic way that somehow the song flips right around from its original intention and becomes a feminist anthem.
You have probably guessed that I put very little stock (indeed, none) into the Biblical account of creation; however, last night I happened to hear this song for (I believe) the very first time since I started living openly as a woman, and it suddenly dawned on me that I, too, am Eve. Understand, of course, that I mean this in only the least literal, most mythopoeic sense; but whether I personally believe in them or not, the fact remains that, by being a woman, I have made myself heiress to a whole slew of cultural memes pertaining to what womanhood is (some of them, like this one, being quite deeply rooted in mythology). Indeed, the truth or falsehood of these memes is to some extent of secondary importance; I have inherited them, and so I think it unavoidable that others will come to judge me by them, at least some of the time. Perhaps more importantly, however, is that occasionally I will judge myself by them: Am I being suitably ‘femme’ today? Shouldn’t I be acting more ‘ladylike’? Both questions are, in essence, equivalent to asking “What would ‘the Archetypical Woman’ do?”
It is a trap and it must be avoided. The fact of the matter is that there’s no such thing as an archetypical woman; there are only women, and whatever I end up doing is what a woman would do. Still, I find myself fascinated by the shroud of religion and myth which surrounds the idea of womanhood.
*Or, more accurately, pre-eighteenth century