“She had wandered, without rule or guidance, into a moral wilderness... Her intellect and heart had their home, as it were, in desert places, where she roamed as freely as the wild Indian in his woods... The scarlet letter was her passport into regions where other women dared not tread. Shame, Despair, Solitude! These had been her teachers—stern and wild ones—and they had made her strong, but taught her much amiss.”
“...if truth were everywhere to be shown, a scarlet letter would blaze forth on many a bosom...”
-Nathaniel Hawthorne, The Scarlet Letter
International women’s day makes me hopping mad. One day? Why not all year find a way to dance as persons – together? Maybe it is just the cold that has me grumpy. Could be the grim season of Lent…. This pondering sometimes consumes me. So I take myself out for walks to move through the darkness into more light.
Last week, on one of winter’s final evenings, I was stopped in my tracks by a hopeful scene. In spite of the cold temperature and early sunset, I had set out for my usual walk, resigned to just getting it over with. I tramped along one of Paris’s most stately avenues unmoved by the commanding architecture. Then the warm sight of a brightly illuminated window gave me pause. In front of it were silhouetted figures: women well wrapped up in winter gear. They were standing waiting for their daughters, forming part of one of the most reassuring panoramas I have ever seen in my life.
On the other side of the vitrine was a lit-up dance studio filled with girls moving in unison. They were being led by a kind-looking, middle-aged lady whose Lycra dance gear was made more modest by a carefully draped cotton T-shirt. The children, when they spun around in perfect formation, were wearing their own stunning uniform. On the breast of each one of these agile, graceful little women was a huge metallic crimson ‘A.’ Emblazoned with flames coming from one side of the letter, the symbols flashed like blood as the girls swirled in synch.
All the recent news about women being abused systematically came rushing back into my mind. I’d been studiously avoiding it because I am a victim of such behaviour and because I felt totally powerless to join the conversation. Immediately the old image that a red ‘A’ had been described to mean came to mind. That “famous and important” novel studied by so many people in high school, Nathanial Hawthorne’s ‘The Scarlet Letter.’ In it an adulteress must wear a red ‘A’ on her clothing to publicize her supposed sin.
How things stay the same. And yet how each new batch of little humans bears the hope that we can change the things we have made the same by our obstinate behaviour. Our lazy attitudes about what the truth is in our world.
Here were girls, under their mothers’ watchful gaze. They were dancing free, wearing their red A’s not as marks of shame but as an advertisement for ‘Studio A,’ here in Paris’s 15th Arrondissement; a place to move together! Yes, that is my answer to the terrible trend of abuse. Please let’s learn to dance together again. Isn’t it a way we humans can co-operate, enjoy our bodies and celebrate our capacity to move in harmony instead of laying blame on one or the other for thwarting someone’s insistence on a kind of jig that serves to gratify only one party.
That evening, I stood by a mother waiting for her daughters. She told me that they had been attending this Friday night class for over five years. “It is a great way to let off all the energy they build up over the week!” she chuckled. And then she told me about the kind-looking lady’s success in establishing the school after her own career as a dancer was cut short.
I can’t say any more than this: after drinking in the scene of these girls making a blur of the letters on their chests, my own step got lighter. I no longer wanted to go home and gorge on the news the media keep providing to distance me from the hope I carry within. I know I will savour the delight of this scene for a long time. It’ll have me waltzing on the Nova Scotia shores all summer. Today I’ll shimmy a bit for International Women’s Day….
Magdalena Randal is a Nova Scotia filmmaker and artist currently studying in Paris.