A Message for All Women: Run Free and Wild Like the Wolf

Photo By Michelle Spencer

THE wildness of the wolf is not readily apparent in the easy manner of Clarissa Pinkola Estes, a cheerful, soft-spoken woman who wears a red ribbon in her hair and a medal of the Virgin Mary around her neck.

“Mary is a girl gang leader in Heaven,” said Dr. Estes, who has ordered the lunchtime special of meat loaf and mashed potatoes. “She is fuerte — strong, fierce. We have been given this cleaned-up, Anglicized version of her. But the saints had calluses on their hands.”

It was here in a quiet neighborhood bar and grill that Dr. Estes, a Jungian analyst for 20 years and a consummate cantadora, or storyteller, spent her afternoons writing “Women Who Run With the Wolves,” a book that was scarcely reviewed after publication but has become a best-seller.

In the book, Dr. Estes has interpreted old tales in ways that merge Carlos Castaneda with Bruno Bettelheim, from Bluebeard to the Little Match Girl, that reveal an archetypal wild woman whose qualities she says have today been dangerously tamed by a society that preaches the virtue of being “nice.” Like the wolf, pushed to the brink of extinction, the innate powers of womanhood have been driven deep within, she argues, but they can yet be summoned as tools in a fight for survival.

Dr. Estes found the wolf-woman parallel while studying wildlife biology, especially wolves. “Wolves and women are relational by nature, inquiring, possessed of great endurance and strength,” she writes. “They are deeply intuitive, intensely concerned with their young, their mate and their pack.” She also writes: “Yet both have been hounded, harassed and falsely imputed to be devouring and devious, overly aggressive, of less value than those who are their detractors.” A Savage Creativity

Dr. Estes defined wildness as not uncontrolled behavior but a kind of savage creativity, the instinctual ability to know what tool to use and when to use it.

“All options are available to women,” she said. “Everything from quiescence to camouflaging to pulling back the ears, baring the teeth and lunging for the throat. But going for the kill is something to be used in rare, rare, rare cases.” She smiled and took a sip from a diet soda.

“Women who have always been taught to be nice do not realize they have these options,” she said. “When someone tells them to stay in their place, they sit and stay quiet. But when somebody is cornering you, then the only way out is to come out kicking, to beat the hell out of whatever is in the way.”

While she urges a liberation for women, Dr. Estes cringes at the label of feminist.

“No Latina woman would be called Ms. — that’s an invention of middle-class Anglo women,” said Dr. Estes, who was born to Mexican parents and adopted by immigrants from Hungary in rural Indiana. “Latina women are proud to be called Mrs. That simply means that we have a family.”

She added: “The soul has no gender. I wrote a book about women because I am a woman. If I were a man, I would have written about that.”

The knowledge of the inner self comes mostly from hardship, Dr. Estes said. People with money and privilege have a harder time “making the connection with the natural self,” she said. But Dr. Estes, who is now writing the second volume of a planned “Wolves” trilogy, said she did not believe that her own success would get in the way of personal exploration.

“No chance of that,” she said. “Want to see my scars?”

While in her 20’s, she found herself divorced and struggling to raise three children in poverty. “I would get up at 5 A.M. and go bake bread to get money for my children,” Dr. Estes said. “There wasn’t anything else I could do. But all the time, I was planning my escape.” In “Wolves” she recalls difficult times, referring to “the song of the dark years, hambre del alma, the song of the starved soul.”

She put herself through Loretto Heights College in Denver and later earned a doctorate. Dr. Estes, who works as a psychoanalyst in private practice, has served as the executive director of the C.G. Jung Center here.

When she received the advance for “Women Who Run With Wolves,” one of the first checks she wrote was a donation to Su Teatro, a local Hispanic theater company. She also sent money to a group working with young, poor women and tries to persuade them not to have children until age 25. Another check went to Ms. magazine.

Margaret Maupin, a buyer for the Tattered Cover bookstore here, said “Wolves” has struck a chord among women who want to find more meaning in life. She calls it a self-help book, even though the author dislikes that description.

“People used to grow up in small communities where folk wisdom was passed down,” she said. “But we don’t live there anymore. We can’t go next door to your aunt and ask her for the answers.”

Dr. Estes recently founded a group of writers and artists who speak out against discrimination against homosexuals in a state that recently passed an anti-gay rights law. But she opposes a boycott of the state. Backs Arched

“In general, Colorado is a very tolerant place,” she said. “I think we need to stand up for basic human rights. But the boycott is not the answer.

“You must become an activist if you are going to live the natural life,” she added, referring to being closer to one’s true self.

During the 1991 Senate confirmation hearings on the nomination of Clarence Thomas for the Supreme Court, she said, she looked on angrily at the treatment of Anita Hill, who charged him with sexual harassment.

“The denigrating way that these Anglo men treated her was so familiar to me,” she said. “It was familiar to my mother. It was familiar to my grandmother. It was familiar to my daughters.”

Dr. Estes said the strong, wild nature of women was revealed in the protests that surrounded the hearings. “I remember a photograph of Pat Schroeder and many other women marching to the Senate to tell these men what they thought of all this,” she said. “I saw their backs arched, and their legs climbing the steps. And I thought, ‘Ah, the pack is going after them.’ “

But she did not see any evidence of discrimination against a woman in the recent hearings with Zoe Baird, who withdrew as nominee for Attorney General in the uproar over her hiring illegal immigrants for child care and help at home.

“How foolish for this woman to think she is above the law,” she said. “You know, there isn’t anything better or worse about being a woman. If women were in charge of everything, there would be women tyrants. If black people were in charge, there would be black tyrants. If Hispanics were in charge, then Hispanic tyrants.”

After lunch, Dr. Estes strolled a block and a half down Gaylord Street, exulting in the sunshine on a surprisingly warm winter day.

“Here’s my house,” she said, pointing to a cream-colored brick and stucco home. “You know the best thing about having a house? You get to plant whatever you want in the yard and watch it grow.”

This article was written by Dirk Johnson for the New York Times.

This article was first published here



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