The Fem Spot

The Charlotte in me

Posted in Feminist Theory, Personal Essays by femspotter on September 30, 2009

September 30, 2009

My favorite name is Charlotte. How I wish I were Charlotte! The name comes from the French language and means “little” and “womanly.”

This longing, of course, goes against everything I stand for: the annihilation of gender stereotyping and the ascension of women and men to positions of self-acceptance. Let us not hate ourselves because we are women who challenge authority or men who cry.

Somewhere in time, I was doing my usual bit to overturn “the way things are,” and I started to cry often because this tendency of mine to scrape other people’s authority and bruise egos made me largely unlovable. Oh yes, I am an unlovable, abrasive crier as opposed to the alternative: a politician. And so, I find myself at an interesting gender crux: I try to rebuke hypocritical authority but I am weak and I cry. I try to epitomize my theories and principles, but what I really want is to be petite, slender, pretty and feminine – in the Victorian sense – just like the magazines tell me I should be. I want to be Charlotte even though “Charlotte” is…wrong? And people think that I have bad, selfish intentions when I question authority; but in my mind my intentions are noble.

Victorian novelist Charlotte Bronte did something revolutionary: she wrote about what really goes on in the female mind. In Villette, she wrote about Lucy Snowe and her madness, fearing her state of spinsterhood and haunted by the tragic ghost of a nun (as she perceived the apparition). She wrote about the mad black woman locked away in the attic – who at once represents the slavery women face in matrimony and the enslavement of the natives in colonial Jamaica – in Jane Eyre. Bronte wrote about “crazy” single girls; but her girls weren’t really crazy…they were merely thoughtful and frightened by their limitations as women in a patriarchal culture.

As much as I’d like to say that Bronte is the Charlotte in me, I am compelled to tell you the truth. This is the Charlotte in me:

Charlotte: "Little" and "Womanly"

This is my pit bull. And like me, she is largely disappointed in her state of being and commonly misunderstood. (I would call her a “pit bull mix,” but the “mix” part doesn’t seem to matter much to people who don’t know her.) She has a sadness in her demeanor.

How is Charlotte disappointed? She too wants to be pretty and petite.

A few years ago, we surprised her with a little sister: Tootie, the Boston terrier. Tootie is cute, and she is petite compared to Charlotte: they weigh in at 15 and 62 pounds respectively. And so it is that Tootie is more of a “Charlotte,” though she is the dominant dog in their relationship.

Charlotte and Tootie

Charlotte and Tootie

Nonetheless, Charlotte and Tootie have adopted each other; they clean each other’s ears. Tootie, though small, fancies herself big and rules the roost by humping and sleeping on Charlotte. Meanwhile, Charlotte fancies herself petite and tries to climb on my lap whenever she can.

All of this is well and good at home. It doesn’t transition smoothly to the dog park, however. This picture (at right) is a picture of two secure dogs who know their pecking order and who accept “the way things are” at home. But at the dog park, the pecking order changes and they become insecure and a little crazy.

Why go?

I like to see my dogs running free. We walk them several times a day, but they are always leashed in such cases. My husband even believes that Charlotte “smiles” when she runs at the park. It’s worth the risk that Charlotte might snarl at another girl dog and offend a nervous owner.

I have been able to sit back and observe some interesting canine behavior during our visits to the park. When a new dog enters the arena, many of the dogs gather to perform an inspection. This 20- to 30-second period usually consists of ass-sniffing in a circular kinesis. One dog sniffs another dog who sniffs another dog, etc. Occasionally, there’s the assertion of authority: dogs – usually female – snap at each other causing a rumble.

The females are generally dominant at the park, and Charlotte is no exception. She likes to run with the boys and hump them to prove her superiority. Additionally, she loves when she can get a boy dog to lie on his back so that she can stand over him in triumph. (Somewhere, deep inside, all feminists want this experience too.) I think that Charlotte is afraid to let the boys win. And I think she is just afraid of the girls…period.

The dog park is also an interesting vantage point from which to observe human behavior…and so it is the human park too. There’s the man who hits dogs. That’s right; he hits them. He’s given Charlotte two strong whacks on separate occasions when she’s gotten a little bitchy with another…well, bitch. There’s the “lesbian brigade” (my nickname for these metaphorical or perhaps literal lesbians) who have staked a claim to the center picnic table and who bring at least half a dozen rescue dogs who circle around the table in playful glee. There’s the sweet but disabled elderly woman who is nice to chat with but who cannot physically restrain her dogs and relies on the hitter. There are the macho men with macho dogs (Rottweilers, Doberman Pinschers, Boxers, etc.) who stand on the benches to lord their superiority over the lesbian brigade, smoking big, fat cigars. There are the shy girls with big dogs and the shy girls with little dogs. (I guess I am the shy girl with both.)

So it would seem that girls rule in dog world…perhaps not so much in the human world? There are hitting, smoking lords and nurturing, adopting, soft-spoken ladies at the dog park, at least during peak hours. While Charlotte may be in control, or at least fighting for authority, I am sitting quietly in a corner reading books by authors like Jose Saramago and Margaret Atwood, merely dreaming of Utopia. And what did I do when the hitter attacked Miss Charlotte? The first time, he apologized, to which I replied, “That’s okay.” The second time I merely wandered away. Coward! I am angry at myself for participating in the assumption that I am a member of the weaker sex.

The thing that’s easiest to observe in people at the dog park are the relative levels of fear. In general, there is a pervasive wariness of pit bulls like Charlotte. Historically, some have bitten people and such stories always draw media attention. But Charlotte doesn’t bite people, and to my knowledge she has never bitten another dog. If she were a biter, she surely would have bitten the hitter. I probably wanted to bite him more than she. Charlotte just got down low to the ground with her tail between her legs and crawled away…as did I, in spirit.

The women at the dog park are less fearful of pit bulls. They keep and love them. It is only the gentlest, kindest, quietest men who bring pit bulls to the dog park. Most pit bulls are loving and silly…and a little bit dumb. You never see a smoking or hitting macho man with a pit bull for pit bulls really, by their own God-given nature, are not rough enough to show for these men.

However, it might be fear that keeps these men from owning pit bulls. And that is where the tables have turned: that is where women show their dominance in the human world, in our unwillingness to fear the underdog and our confidence to sit and read novels at the dog park.

When Charlotte is safely back at home, exhausted from an afternoon of play, she resumes her subordinate role to the wacky Boston terrier. She resumes her romantic sadness…and sleeps. And while we have silly names for the Boston (Rootin’ Tootin’ Tootie, Toots McGee, The Tootster, etc.), Charlotte has no nicknames. She is just Charlotte to me in my own home: “little” and “womanly.”

And while Charlotte dreams of being smaller than her 62 pounds, trying to get me to lift her up the way I did when she was a puppy and I plucked her from the shelter cage and she rested her head on my shoulder and sighed…I cherish my greater size so that I can hold her, care for her, love her like a good mommy does. In this madness – the madness of loving a pit bull – I am glad, for once, not to be so meek and little as I must seem at the park. I am glad to be brave, and just a bit big.

And I promise, Charlotte, never to let that man hit you again. For you are a part of me, and I see myself in your dog park play.

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