It’s perhaps the most deeply rooted human dream. Flying. Women Who Fly, by Serinity Young, is a fascinating book. Subtitled Goddesses, Witches, Mystics, and Other Airborne Females, the book covers all of these and more. The dream of flying is played out in many ways here, but often the narrative comes back to how patriarchy imprisons women. Is it any wonder they want to fly? Very wide in historical scope, the book can’t cover all cases in equal depth. It nevertheless demonstrates how pervasive the idea is. Beginning with ancient female figurines bearing bird-like features, Young moves through the related concepts of captivity, transcendence, sexuality, and immortality, showing how female characters are related to these idea in universal and unrelenting ways in the form of flying females.
There are many lenses through which to view patriarchy. It can be explained as a consequence of settled agricultural existence with its subsequent division of labor. Such a scenario raises questions of whether women dreamed of flight before that, and I believe the answer must be yes. For as long as we’ve observed birds and associated the sky with gods we have longed for flight. Although birds make it look easy, it is an incredibly difficult and costly adaptation. Still, women dream of travel without obstacles (let the reader understand) to the realms where deities dwell. It is difficult to summarize a book that covers so much historical territory. Young doesn’t limit herself to western religions but also spends a fair bit of time among Buddhist, Hindu, and Daoist ideas of flying women. She covers mythical, folkloristic, human, and historical flying females all the way up to modern astronauts.
As I was coming to the close of the book the real message hit me—I can be thick at times, although much of my own writing is metaphorical—men have actively tried to clip women’s wings for a long time. Often under the auspices of religion. Think of it: for centuries of existence the major monotheistic traditions have refused female leadership. The one (inevitably male) god has set up a boys’ club of sacerdotal leadership. As Young points out, even the named angels in the Bible are male. I used to comfort myself with the explanation that male leaders were simply too self-centered to consider others, but it is becoming clearer, the more I read, that men have always had a tendency to try to keep women down. And thus they fly. There’s much in this book for both women and men to ponder.