Why the female quest is so radical

Novelist Vanessa Veselka wrote an essay for American Reader called Green Screen: The Lack of Female Road Narratives and Why it Matters that blew my mind. (HT to Shaula Evans at The Black Board once again.) Drawing on her own experience hitch-hiking and her research into murdered women at truck stops--as well as piercing readings of classic novels of men on the road--she compares the way our culture experiences men and women journeying by themselves:
Often, I was asked why was I travelling. But over time, I came to understand that the question was not “why,” but “how.” As in, how could I have left? How bad was it? How could this have come to pass?
These are very different questions from “why.” “How” is about events, as in “how did it happen?” Whereas “why” points to individuality and agency. Why did you go that way? Why do you like Gouda and hate Swiss? Why do you think that this is a good idea? The difference between “how” and “why” marks a fundamental divide between the male and female road experience.
...A man with a quest, internal or external, makes the choice at every stage about whether to endure the consequences or turn back, and that choice is imbued with heroism.
Women, however, are restricted to a single tragic or fatal choice. We trace all of their failures, as well as the dangers that befall them, back to this foundational moment of sin or tragedy, instead of linking these encounters and moments in a narrative of exploration that allows for an outcome which can unite these individual choices in any heroic way.
 ...A man on the road is solitary. A woman on the road is alone. This is not cute wordplay, but a radically different social experience.
These projections are true at truck stops on Earth, and they're true in our books and at the movies and in galaxies far, far away.
True quest is about agency, and the capacity to be driven past one’s limits in pursuit of something greater. It’s about desire that extends beyond what we may know about who we are. It’s a test of mettle, a destiny.
...Power and patriarchy can’t afford women the possibility of quest, because within these structures women are valued as agents of social preservation and not agents of social change. You can go on a quest to save your father, dress like a man and get discovered upon injury, get martyred and raped, but God forbid you go out the door just to see what’s out there. And these are the tales of rape and death that get handed down to us.
Thus, every story we create that gives women (and others who are marginalized) a "why" and not a "how"--either by writing it, sharing it, or living it--is an act of narrative revolution.
...There is no way to snap one’s fingers and make mythology. There is no way to pry open a national narrative and insert an entire population. But we do get glimpses. One day, in a book or a film, a new woman appears, and she feels real. Not contrived or reactionary, she transcends the page or the screen.
Read the whole essay, and ponder. 


  1. It's our job as authors to change this narrative: "God forbid you go out the door just to see what’s out there. And these are the tales of rape and death that get handed down to us." Creating a new narrative and new role models is what motivates me as a novelist and what motivated me to write my YA epic fantasy series about Henrietta The Dragon Slayer. http://author.bethbarany.com/ya-fantasy/. It's our job as storytellers to put new stories out there. We women are just as much responsible for passing down oppressive stories as are the men. Time to take agency up a notch and reshape the stories!


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