My father had a VHS tape of Clan of the Cave Bear. It had that same patina of heroism of the Kipling poems I memorized bouncing on his knee, my fee for the most dependable kind of love I got as a kid: that look in his eyes at my ability to memorize his idols. But in this movie, the hero was a woman. A Cro-Magnon girl, who can learn and adapt, unlike the Neanderthals who adopt her after the rest of her clan dies. Her ability to evolve and be different is seen as a threat, and one of the things she learns that a woman just idn’t supposed to know is how to hunt. She uses this hunting sling and she’s better at it than any of the men and for 1986, I guess this was a pretty big feminist move even though she slings it wearing an off-the-shoulder wolf skin that bares more than it covers.
She’s played by Daryl Hannah who my Daddy loved with his penchant for leggy blondes, but she’s hated by her adoptive clan for her blue eyes and light hair. She’s also raped more than once by the one who hates her most at age 10; she gives birth to his son at age 11. His spawn’s big ole Neanderthal head almost kills her coming out. I don’t know if Dad knew the book it was based on was written by a woman, who at the age of 40 felt like she’d hit her glass ceiling and was pissed, but I know he was in it for the action more than the proto-feminist dystopian themes.
It had this moment, see, this moment where the woman is holding a baby. They’re being stalked by a cave lion, and she knows if the baby dudn’t quiet down, they’ll both be eaten, so she tries to hush the baby, keep them hid and she hushes that baby alright, she hushes it dead. And yet another moment comes just like this one later on in the film. Though it seems unlikely, this I get. This I get now that I lived long enough to know that moments and people, whatever we can’t swallow, really, repeats on us. She gets this moment with another baby, not her baby, but a baby and another big animal trying to eat ‘em both and the baby starts crying and she starts hushin’ and she flashes back to that other baby and you can feel her change her mind. You can feel that spark light like when she invents fire in another part of the movie and they’re standing by a fire this time and you can just about feel her think, “awh, HELL no, hell no, man, I ain’t gonna hush this one to death, too.” So she holds that baby up like it was Simba. She waves that baby in a circle like saying come on and just you try and take us down. Make all the noise you want, baby, be as loud as you can. We’ll make a wall outta sound. She tucks that baby onto one hip with one hand and she puts some fire on a stave with the other and she goes absolutely berserk. All her squallin’ ain’t for nothing; she scares lion-death away acting crazy like that.
And I guess that film left its impression, and I mean more than just for the images I can’t unsee of women hunched over joyless taking it doggy style from the men. I mean I figured as a kid, there’s two options: you lay down, ball up, get real quiet and take it or you bawl til your voice drags you up and out with it, til your voice barrels 12-gauge dead-on, deafening, whatever’s comin’ for you.
Stina French has featured in many venues in Denver and Boulder, Co., and her work has appeared in Heavy Feather Review, Punch Drunk Press, and on the podcast Witchcraftsy. She is scratching at the window of her body, writing poems like passwords to get back in. To get forgived. To get at something like the truth. To get it to go down easy, or at all. She wears welts from the Bible Belt, her mother’s eyes in the red fall. She’s gone, hypergraphic. Writes on mirrors, car windows, shower walls. Buy her a drink or an expo marker. She’s seeking a home for her manuscript, Also Arc, Also Offering, a Southern-queerdo, coming-of-age memoir, in flash non-fiction and verse. She leads somatic (body-based) writing workshops and retreats focused on empowerment through exploring archetype and unearthing the body’s hidden stories.