Virginia Woolf’s Incidental Pilot, Marianne Wex’s Legroom and the Dancing Man

By | 4 May 2016

Wex extends her study to the exploitative and disproportionate proffering / pensiveness, child / authority etc., advertising image to ‘porno’, to religious and historical nuance and gesture in antiquity, heads and body forms. She includes an autobiographical series – from the age of five to forty – to demonstrate the inveterate subtleties of social conditioning and conventions. At five she sits ‘like a boy’, by sixteen she has assumed minimisation. By forty she endeavours to take back her space.

This pressure and distortion creates holding patterns; grounds, we taxi. Wisteria fences drip and exhale.

A long-haired woman stands alone at a bus stop just before 9am. She is not soliciting, does not seek attention or affirmation – she’s waiting for a bus. She thinks about her work, the notes she has made in the early hours. She thinks of the raised asterisk and his younger brother; inky in bold, solarised. Wex’s observation could intimate a context of implicit provocation and the proffered sensuality of long hair and various folklores would counter that with, ‘The hair is symbolic of thought, that which issues from the head.’1

A prior, ignored, innocuous rippling-finger wave’s ‘playful’ pretext from a stranger in a passing car becomes an overt leering, (swaying) phallic, open-mouth curb-crawling predation. Her space is aggressively lessened. The embodiment of her freedom is momentarily ridiculed and intimidated, then challenged. She is objectified by the typically hostile hyper-arousal, lack of inhibition in social judgement and opportunism – in contrast to the contemptible ‘known’, by loose toxic association, who by sly transgression will exploit inter-female, emotional allegiance – of the ‘unknown offender’. She redefines her idea of flight and fight, and mourns the inevitable shattering of the little girls’ states of innocence, those being walked past her to school, their resonance.

Recently the media has covered the aberrant, escalating and horrific scale of domestic violence: its largely unreported ongoing anxiety and sickening struggle; its ignorant misogynistic social commentary regarding the alleged rapes by Bill Cosby (the grading of ‘rapeable / unrapeable’ women); has reported, in a few lines, the threatened humiliation and rape-as-punishment for the sisters of a man who transgressed ‘caste law’ in Northern India and job interviews that became recidivist sexual assaults; it manifests in the naïve, banal and idealistic hysterical reaction to Chrissie Hynde’s pragmatism regarding her experience of sexual assault at twenty-one; its openly uncomfortable and considered coverage, by a young male journalist, of well-paid young women who chose to objectify themselves as naked fruit platters at a VIP media event; the primary alleged case of female genital mutilation in NSW began in the Supreme Court in 2015 and didn’t sustain headlines, its live coverage of Cardinal George Pell’s Royal Commission Testimony staggered, gripped, us.

We lift, leave the ground, encounter turbulence, ecstatic cicadas, the fantastic moonstruck. Down below it’s August 15th, 1945, and we hover above Elizabeth Street, Sydney. Both Virginia Woolf and Amy Johnson left the earth’s ‘surface’ four years ago and Marianne Wex is eight years old.

We follow the tramlines, and by the exaggeration of silence and delight, we watch one man dance. He is an existential masculinity leaping – the urge to dance and leave the ground, the natural motion and grace of a loose-limbed body, elation, the flair of his lifted hat held as he turns, veers and dissolves into a pacific chaos.

To see that existential ‘him’ dance in Southern Tanzania in a rite of passage – one to embody in a belly mask with scarification and cowries, carved from a single tree, and with swollen breasts and full gravid belly, mimicking childbirth, we hover to see the recognition of the other – is not parody. It is flight. I wish all men such grace.

  1. From Women Who Run With The Wolves, Clarissa Pinkola Estés (Ballantine Books, 1997), 360.
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