This year’s music project is a 3 EP trilogy based on old pagan archetypes and how they persist in the modern world. Maiden, Mother, Crone is a set of EPs to be released in April, July and October 2014. Pre-orders opened on Feb 4th on Bandcamp, and anyone pre-ordering will be posted their copy before the actual release date. Grab yours here.
The “Crone” EP is the first release in the trilogy. It is a collection of songs made from vocal loops and tribal drums, and told from the perspective of a character I have used before, and call “the old woman”. It’s deliberately unimaginative as a name ;) as it is meant to show how we lump all “off the radar” people into one generic category, without giving them the chance to become a specific self. “The Old Woman” first appeared in the ghost story / murder mystery “Remembering the Dead” and does actually have a very distinct character. it is this character I take onto the EP. The Old Woman is political because she can be. She is often ignored and marginalised, but because of that, she feels free to speak her mind. Sometimes speaking her mind gets her attention. Sometimes it results in further marginalisation. She is also somewhat angry: angry that she feels she has as much life in her as she ever had, but that her own face and body betray her - by inviting opinions to the contrary from others.
The themes of assessment, moral judgement, and body alteration have all been magnets for me in choosing which songs go on which EP. Some of the songs are sung as a male protagonist, from his view on the central character and what she means/ represents to him. Others are sung from the protagonists perspective themselves, or other women reflecting (with various degrees of insight, or lack thereof) on their own situation in regards to their life stage.
Background - Your Mum is a Wealth of Info and Experiences.
The Maiden Mother Crone trilogy is 3 sets of songs grouped according to how women are perceived at their various life stages. The Maiden Mother Crone motif is an old one, but in talking to my mother about her experience of old age, I realised that whilst images of women over the years may have shifted, ways of viewing and constructing women are still very tied to old age-based ideas.
Two comments from my mum were the catalysts. The first was when she said:
"Every day I get up, still feeling like this same self I have dragged around the planet for decades, and then I look in the mirror and think ‘WHo the f’##k is this old woman? Is that seriously me?’".
For me, her comment says that her own physicality is confusing to her. She herself sees old age as invoking certain ideas on how and who one is meant to be. If we have wrinkles, we are expected to be a different kind of character than if we don’t. If we don’t feel old (and my mother is certainly one of the most alive people I know) then our inner ideas of who we are come into conflict with what we are led to beleive the facts of our physical age imply.
The second comment my mother made was about visiting the supermarket, where she had to return an item only minutes after buying it. It broke on the way out of the store. On returning to the sales clerk (a man in his early to mid 30s), with the item, barely 2 minutes later, my mother said
"I just bought this a minute or so ago, and it broke on the way out of the shop. Could I grab another?". The man looked at her blankly, then replied that he didn’t remember serving her at all.
"It was like I was invisible or something", mum told me.
What my mothers experience shows - and she said this to me herself - is that once our attractiveness in societal terms diminishes, we actually fall off the radar for many people. Her own invisibility, my mother noted, was a direct product of her being uninteresting to the sales clerk. Her being uninteresting was quite likely linked to her not being “attractive” to him. If she had been a woman his age, with a slim figure and styled hair, he would far more likely remember her. For him however, she was not memorable in any way at all. She didn’t get to even register as existent because she was not first attractive.
Society, for men and women alike, still structures our characters primarily in terms of our physicality. For women, our physicality also dictates whether we will be paid attention to or not. To be considered a person, or competent at what we do, we must first be considered attractive enough. It’s like the admission test. If we don’t make that first hurdle, we simply do not register as being. We see this in politics where women politicians are criticised for their looks (before their competence is even considered), whilst men are criticised only if they do something unpopular in their actual jobs. We are, by commenting on a woman’s looks first, asserting that women should not enter into areas of competence unless they meet the criteria of attractiveness. In short, women are still meant to be attractive first and foremost. Men, these days, have a massive pressure to be attractive too, but what they do can still count even if they are not good looking. An “unattractive” man still gets to be visible.
There is actually a positive side to my mothers story. Being deemed invisible has another edge to it. It gives you a certain amount of leeway. As an inherently shy person, my mother often bottled what she felt for fear of being told it was not acceptable to disagree. Nowadays, she relays stories of a new-found confidence to say whatever the hell she thinks. Loudly. Being outside “the gaze” in everyday encounters, she can voice opinions she didn’t dare utter before. She will tell the local government representative doing his pre-election speech that his talk is “A bunch of useless waffle with every tired old trick of rhetoric in it”. She will tell the pompous ex lecturer in her book club group that he is “full of sh#t”. All things she would never have done before.
"Cos I know he doesn’t care what I think", she says, "He will probably just write it off anyway, and it feels so good to actually be able to say it. I get to be myself more if I say it. So I say it".
Where Facts Meet Fiction (yup, it’s always been my shtick ;)).
Physical change with age is an unavoidable fact. What isn’t an unavoidable fact is set of symbols and narratives we tie to physical age. Our society’s beauty ideal is very homogenised (thanks to the all pervasive nature of advertising) and it happens to be young - as evidenced by the massive success of beauty products that offer “anti ageing” effects. Seeking eternal youth via altering our faces and bodies means we do not have to face invisibility, or the moral/ public narratives placed on the mother figure. Persuig eternal youth is, of course, a futile pursuit. I used to wonder why people bothered, but as I too get older, I realise that the ageing itself is not the key issue - it is the set of narratives and symbols (old and new) with which people assess our value and character based on that age:
In capitalist culture, the idea of constant and full control over the body is a multi million dollar industry. We are told that the body can be altered, if we only work hard enough. This “working hard enough” has the added effect of linking looking attractive with being hard working, and therefore “good”. In other words, our physical appearance also has a moral element attached. If I have worked hard to attain my looks, I am therefore “good” in some way. The belief that science and personal perseverance will not fail us results in the idea that there is no excuse for not looking good. We can therefore make something of a moral judgement on those who do not look attractive - they are “not trying hard enough”.
As someone every bit as effected by pressures to be a certain way in order to be “visible”, I think we all owe it to each other, as people, to look more closely at why we feel a certain way about some people over others. Why do we not take person x seriously? why do we think person Y is of “weak character”? Why are we more inclined to personally tell the pregnant women that it is not OK to slap their child than we are to personally tell the football hooligan that punching someone in the teeth is somewhat antisocial?
At some point, age and death catch up with us all. It is something we cannot control. What we can control is our assumptions - if we look closely enough at them. Eventually too, we will be the ones on the receiving end of the marginalisation of the elderly. Our daughters will have to go through the assertions of their worth or worthlessness based on impossible beauty ideals.
To finish, an often repeated joke - but one that fits.
"If you ever need to remember how to spell the word "assume" - remember it makes an "ass" out of "u" and "me".
Despite my own fascination with old narratives, the pressures society places on us obviously alter throughout time. The artwork for each EP in the Maiden, Mother, Crone trilogy is an attempt to set the older archetypes of women (Maiden, Mother, Crone) in a modern day context in terms of the pressures exerted on them. The artwork also uses the idea of different pressures on women according to life stage:
The crone is the body to be altered. Ageing involves passing out of the realm of attractive. Our faces and breasts start to sag. We develop wrinkles. These things are seen as flaws to be corrected. With such corrections, we are led to believe, we can retain the attractiveness that keeps us engaging for others. We can retain what still counts for women as “power”.
The diagrams on the Crone cover are taken from cosmetic surgery pages - face and brow lifts specifically.
The mother is the moral and public body. Any woman who has been pregnant knows that by some mysterious force, people seem to think they can both touch and make moral assessments on your body. A pregnant woman seen drinking wine at dinner will get gayes from strangers, who will take the time to monitor if it is more than one glass. Acquaintances will come up to you and touch your stomach, though they never would have dreamed of doing so if you were not pregnant. Society, for better or worse, feels perfectly justified in commenting on the aptitude of mothers.
The diagrams from the Mother EP are taken from medical health journals. They show the instructions one must obey to be considered “good” in terms of looking after ones own body.
The maiden is the judged body - a body constantly measured against the ideals about beauty and femininity. Through the process of passing on gender roles, we teach girls that attractiveness is of the highest importance. We also teach them the rules and regulations of beauty/ femininity. Thinness. Clothing style. Grooming. A non aggressive manner of speech.
The diagrams from the maiden EP are taken from modelling agency pages. They represent the ideals promoted to women in terms of what constitutes beauty.