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What place does a genuinely sensual and erotic woman hold in a world that can only comprehend perversion? | May 20, 2011


There are nearly as many different stories about Mata Hari and the accusations of treason for being a spy, as there are pictures of her in her full exotic, glittering dance attire. Prior to World War I, she was generally viewed as an artist and a free-spirited bohemian, but as war approached, she began to be seen by some as a wanton and promiscuous woman, and perhaps a dangerous seductress. She is most well known for being a Dutch exotic dancer and courtesan, but was accused of being a spy who, although possibly innocent, was executed by firing squad in France for espionage during World War I. Specifics of it all seem lost in translation, leaving room for contemplation, since a good part of her story exists in her resistance. Mata Hari resisted the dominant story that women must be coy and docile, and instead led an unapologetic, radical life. Hari existed in a time when female dependence on their husband was pretty clearly forced, as no other option was given and any other option created was strongly oppressed. At 18, she fled her Uncle’s home by answering an advertisement in a Dutch newspaper placed by a man looking for a wife. Her husband ended up being a Dutch Colonial Army officer and she was violently abused and psychologically beaten down throughout their relationship. After the mysterious death of her son, custody of her daughter was stripped from her and she was abandoned as useless. In a culture where women were not allowed to earn livable wages, Hari found independence on stage and in paying men’s beds. She worked to pay lawyers to regain custody of her daughter.

People reflect on her life and express concern over her objectification. The fallacy of that reasoning is that there was and many times still is no interaction with women without objectification. Is the woman who wears slacks and presents stiff jawed and stern still not playing a part for the patriarically dominated world? Is the woman who balances her motherhood and caretaking with success in the “American Dream” not still oppressed by the inability to relax and breathe?

Hari’s resistance took the form of owning her sexuality. A common lesson of the dominant story in America is that women, if not every form of gender, must subjugate their sexuality to be taken seriously as equals. This is a lesson that was refreshingly refused by Hari every time she swayed the curves of her body to the tune of the wind that caressed her. She fought to liberate the prostrated female psyche while she harnessed the erotic power that flows so beautifully from our femininity. As Audre Lorde reasons:

“This is one reason why the erotic [natural female desire] is so feared, and so often relegated to the bedroom alone, when it is recognized at all. For once we begin to feel deeply all the aspects of our lives, we begin to demand from ourselves and from our life-pursuits that they feel in accordance with that joy which we know ourselves to be capable of. Our erotic knowledge empowers us, becomes a lens through which we scrutinize all aspects honestly in terms of their relative meaning within our lives. And this is a grave responsibility, projected from within each of us, not to settle for the convenient, the shoddy, the conventionally expected, nor the merely safe.”(Lorde)

I purpose Mata Hari as a martyr as a lesson to women. For, it is other women like her who provide a frame of reference for her existence: other women bring ontological balance to this often dismissed territory by giving it context, meaning and purpose. Mata Hari was not alone in front of the firing squad.With her black thigh high stockings stood the societal damnation of the wifely and motherly loci. With her eyes wide open refusing the blindfold, the femme martyr stood with her quasi freedom stunted by the barrel of military guns, phallic symbols firing one more bullet at her chest to show that the constructed image of male dominance is still in control. Like the stain of red on her lips and the soft powder illuminating her skin, her confidence in her final moments acted like a beacon to women who came after to be powerfully sensual. Mata Hari was not in the company of those that empower and enable her to overcome her injustice. She was not with other women that day. Other women were pinned against her as we all so often are against each other. Transversely, she is now in the company of each of us that decide to resist our prefabricated roles. Mata Hari was not executed for spying on the Russian Army. She was executed for subverting the dominant story that women must be silenced and obedient and offering a replacement story where women trust the power that rises from our deepest and non-rational knowledge, where women truly trust their intuition.

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1 Comment »

  1. We’re of a different kind laughing too much- attempting to conceal raw emotion. Some try to call us socialists, but we all know change comes from mass consumption. We’re ticking away the day in costumed places eating chinesefood with our high fructose corn syrup; battling between who gets to own god so cars can go vroom. Jupiter and the liking with all their thunderbolts re-resurrected in Eden only to end up wandering through the desert shouting at all things bright and shiny. Then a baby married a prophet causing hijacks to run rampant. God-owning destiny manifested as an invasion into anything seemingly resourceful. Displaced refugees either followed or plotted the new ideas. Culture shocked by itself

    Comment by Aaron Gadbury — May 20, 2011 @ 11:57 pm


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