What should I read if I want to learn about women’s history?” my student asked. I’ve been promoting Women’s History Month in my March writing classes. “How far back do you want to go? I could start you off with the Greek or Nordic pantheon of badass women. They’re mythological but also historical.” “I’d prefer women who actually lived,” she said.

I said, “I would start with an influencer of great depth and breadth, Mary Wollstonecraft. Often referred to as the “grandmother” of Frankenstein, Wollstonecraft’s daughter, Mary Shelley, is considered the first science fiction author. Ironically, Mary Shelley’s birth killed her mother, Mary Wollstonecraft — not the childbirth itself, but eight days later from “bed fever” due to unsanitary practices by male physicians.

In 1792, Wollstonecraft was a British firebrand, philosopher, traveler and writer. She shook up the English-speaking world with her book, “A Vindication of the Rights of Women,” the first known societywide conversation about the essence of feminine versus masculine as a social construct instead of biological. For the most part, it’s been the initiative of women to challenge so-called gender norms, norms that are impossible to live up to and equally impossible to ignore.

Two-hundred-thirty years later, we now have a plentiful public discourse beyond simply women’s studies geeks. … Hallelujah! A classic indicator of this progress is the pushback that inevitably arises. Case in point: Florida non-Gov. DeSantis, a wannabe full of totalitarian aspirations if ever there was one. He now wants to ban women’s history in the classroom.

I never thought I’d see our current conversations around “toxic masculinity,” partially due to the recent decade’s cascade effects of #metoo, #timesup, the Kavanaugh confirmation, etc. Some men react to all this by whining like little boys: Their delicate egos are offended as their “god-like” societal status is finally being broadly challenged. Hey, man up! The men we love, who value relationships, family and the more elegant aspects of life, have instead used these discussions for reflection.

On the other end of the spectrum is hyper-femininity, which I assert, in its most extreme expression, is also toxic. In my book “Beauty Bites Beast,” I describe the extremes of masculinity and femininity as “pathological.” According to the Collins Dictionary, pathological refers to people who behave in extreme and unacceptable ways and have powerful feelings they cannot control.

DeSantis has signed several pieces of pathological legislation at the state level; Tennessee dictator Bill Lee followed suit by signing a law squelching drag performers. Florida is a petri dish of anti-progressive germs. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that the “Don’t Say Gay” state’s repressive policies would spread elsewhere to counter the growing societal awareness of gender fluidity. The question of personhood —who are the arbiters of whether one is “enough” — is central to such legislation.

For me, I have behaviors that are simply human and yet are considered masculine, like my right to set and maintain boundaries. The influential men in my life have all been artists of one type or another and didn’t belong to the “Men’s Club,” preferring to relate to others as humans. They had enough self-esteem to allow me to shine like a goddess.

Speaking of goddesses, once again, I will be a “Goddess Guide” for a women’s wellness retreat. Say the word “goddess,” and many of us experience negative reactions, especially if we fall outside the narrow window of what conventional wisdom says a goddess is or isn’t. Not white? Not blonde? Not cisgender? Not “feminine” enough? Not commercially or conventionally beautiful? Not young or too young? That leaves out a lot of us! Not surprisingly, even the women whom others would call a “goddess” rarely relate to themselves that way, focusing on their deficiencies instead of their divinity.

Thanks to my hubby’s research, he discovered Elli, the perfect goddess role model. Elli is the Norse goddess of age and wisdom, two qualities American women feel obligated to hide! Elli rose to prominence in the Norse myths by — drum roll, please — wrestling Thor to the ground. Yes, Thor was dominated by an older and stronger woman! Let that sink in, then allow yourself to ponder why Elli has been historically invisible for so long.

Elli is my exemplar: As a Norwegian American, my childhood nickname was Ellie! At my current age, I’m supposed to go to pasture by most traditional standards of female power. I have genuinely grappled with gender norms for decades now, and I’m clear that I don’t want to damage or maim men; I do want to wrestle archaic notions of so-called male superiority and unhealthy “maleness” to the ground until they yell “Aunt!” instead of “Uncle!”

Please join me at the Goddess Getaway in Sedona, Arizona, from March 27 to April 2. For more info, visit ilumn8.life/summit-imagining-in-action and click on the pulldown menu for Goddess Living —> Next Getaway, or call Susan at 972-360-9694. It’s going to be a restful blast! Many women do all the work planning their families’ vacations and never fully experience one for themselves. If that’s you, this is exactly the getaway you need!


2023 marks the 30th year that Ellen Snortland has written this column. She also teaches creative writing online and can be reached at ellen@beautybitesbeast.com. Her award-winning film “Beauty Bites Beast” is available for download or streaming at vimeo.com/ondemand/beautybitesbeast.