The Gilded Cage
Gabriel had to take a deep breath at the sight of Sky standing beside the stage. She was watching the crowd, mostly composed of women and girls. With his mind’s eye he summoned her attention, and as her eyes met his gaze, he bowed with gratitude. If the fire in her eyes could kill, he would be long gone; dead; fulminated where he stood; reduced to a pile of scorching ashes by the thunder in her gaze.
The picnic blankets spread around the pasture created a colourful patchwork quilt across the oval. Everyone sat, eating their snacks and enjoying a mild Autumn afternoon tempered by the gold blooms of the sun.
“Let’s play a game,” Morgan spoke to the thousands of smiling faces in the crowd. “Stand up if, today, someone has called you pretty, cute, handsome or beautiful.” About half of the girls in the audience stood up with wide, bright smiles. Some women joined them.
“Okay! Please stay standing. Now stand up if, today, someone you know has made an observation about what you are wearing, the shape or size of your body, or about your hair.” About a third of the girls in the audience stood up together, mostly women and a few boys.
”All right! Please stay standing. Now stand up if, today, you’ve listened or read someone’s comment about a woman’s looks, either in person or the media.” Almost everyone was on their feet.
“Please have a look around you and pause to reflect on the crystal clear message we give to our kids and each other about what we value most. And please, no guilt. As you can see, we are all in this together. We all share the same toxic culture.
“Now only stay standing if someone today has complimented you on your achievements; on how much you have learned; how far you have walked or run; how strong your body is; on the positive impact you’ve had in the world.
“Stay standing if, today, someone asked you about the books you’ve read, the meals you cooked or your preferred disciplines at school.
“Stay standing if someone asked you for your opinion about a movie, book or the news.
“Stay standing if, today, someone celebrated the progress you made on something you are working hard to achieve.”
Most of the people, maybe around seventy percent of the thousands of people in the audience slowly sat down in a disheartened, introspective silence.
“Everyone, please have a seat. Thank you.”
Morgan reached for her purse, laying on the floor next to the microphone. She took out a book, opening on a page marked with a crescent moon divider. She read, “Taught from infancy that beauty is woman’s sceptre, the mind shapes itself to the body, and roaming round its gilt cage, only seeks to adorn its prison.
“This is a very old quote from a book written in 1792 by Mary Wollstonecraft; I would like to invite some of you to tell me what this quote means. Raise your hands.” Morgan scanned the audience and pointed to two girls that had quickly stood up with their hands up. “Come up girls,” Morgan repeated the passage as the girls made their way to the stage.
An African American girl in her teens approached the microphone. She carried herself with confidence, raising her head and clearing her voice before she spoke. “It means girls are taught from childhood that their value comes from their looks.”
“Yeah, it’s all about the makeup and the shoes and the dresses. Always trying to look prettier than others,” said the youngest girl, who was on her tip toes trying to reach the microphone.
“Why is this a prison?” asked Morgan, lowering the mic. “And please tell us your names.”
“My name is Anita,” said the eldest, adjusting the retro frames of her eyeglasses. She wore a t-shirt portraying the face of Ada Lovelace four times. The print borrowed Andy Warhol’s pop art colours and style. Morgan smiled, predicting a clever answer. “Girls become really unhappy because they can’t look like the women in the magazines. That’s all they think about. They starve themselves and feel ashamed of their bodies.”
The youngest approached the mic and spoke with a slight lisp. “Yeah, my mum told me they’re fake. Those girls in Vogue, I mean. That the people use the computer to make the photos prettier. Like, It’s all about selling stuff, creams and makeup, and sparkling nail polish, it’s very bad for the fish in the sea. Like, I do like the nail polish, though, but my mum doesn’t let me. Dad says she hugs trees or something,” she giggled. “I like trees too, but I also like—” The audience laughed at the energetic youngster. She played with her dark braid as and her pitched increased with her excitement.
“What’s your name?”
“Jacinta Melody Jackson, but, you can call me Jax.” She smiled widely, revealing a missing front tooth. A second later, she frowned, placed her hand in front of her mouth and squeezed her lips.
“Tell me, Jax, you are clearly a young lady full of girl power, how do you feel about your body?”
“It’s strong and healthy. I go to classes—ballet and gymnastics. I’m one of the best in my class.”
“Wow, that’s brilliant. You look healthy, flexible and strong. But, tell me, do you sometimes have bad days?”
“My mum told me we need to love our bodies.”
“I think your mum is right, but we all have bad days, don’t we?” Jax scanned the audience with her eyes. She was met by the waving hand of a very tall woman, who nodded at Jax, encouraging her to respond.
“Yeah, I mean, sometimes it’s hard. I’m missing my tooth, and I have to wear glasses at school, and my hair is curly, and I want it straight like my friend Nat. Nat is so pretty.”
“Thank you for sharing, Jax.”
“I wish I had better genes.”
“You know, your genes make you unique.”
“Sure, but, like, I don’t want curly hair, and my mum doesn’t let me straighten it. And I want to be a ballerina, but I’m probably going to be too tall, like my mum. And I suck at math, like, you know?” Her eyes rolled, and her eyebrows tensed.
“Genes control a tiny portion of your natural ability. There are plenty of tall ballerinas, and to be good at maths all you have to do is believe in yourself, work hard and never ever give up trying. Genes are not destiny. They may define some of your physical features and give you a tiny head start on some things, but your lifestyle, your beliefs, and your hard work are much more important. Don’t be a slave to your genes Jax.”
Gabriel felt the sting of Morgan’s words. He looked at Sky, who turned her attention to Morgan, raising one eyebrow.
“I know I shouldn’t feel this way. I’m sorry.” The girl was morose.
“You feel what you feel. No one but you can legislate your feelings. Give me a hug.” Morgan extended her arms and embraced both girls. “Thank you both for your contributions.” She spoke a few more words to each of them away from the mic and the girls left the stage smiling.
Morgan turned her head to face Gabriel. She vacillated, hugging her book, taking a deep breath and closing her eyes for a moment. Then, she faced the audience and spoke. “For many years, I've been reminding the women in the community, that they are role models. That they should model self-esteem; that they should stop commenting on other women's appearance and throw the beauty mags in the trash. As I do, I must admit that I sometimes feel like a fraud, because on occasions I’m paralysed by a tremendous lack of physical self-worth. So today, I want to acknowledge that we are all works in progress. I want you to know that sometimes it’s important to share, to look at the monster in the face, to acknowledge its existence. That hiding what we are and projecting what we should be does not always keep the monster at bay.
“Together, we are stronger. We work to overcome our upbringings; to outgrow the damaging fairy tales of our youth; to ignore the pressure from entire industries whose profits rely on our self-hate.
“And when you see the monster, remember to look it in the eyes and tell it that every second you lose worrying about your looks is a second you are not learning; is a second you are not experiencing the world; is a second you are not contributing to your communities in a positive way.
"When you don't go to the park or to the beach because you are ashamed of how you look, remember the girls and boys that live in war torn countries that are not allowed the joys of outdoors fun.
"In moments where you focus on your appearance, remember the girls that are kidnapped from their schools in countries where women are denied an education.
“Every moment you are unhappy with your shape or size, remember those who are paralysed, unable to walk, jump, or dance.
“When you starve yourself to reach unattainable standards of beauty artificially constructed by businesses, you are weakening your body and your mind. You are wasting away the precious moments you have and you are giving up your power.
"The obsession with beauty is death by a thousand cuts. Every micro decision is guided by meaningless worry that limits your future, your opportunities and your ability to experience the joys of pleasure.
"Because when you kiss your first boy or girl, you don't want to be so caught up in your lack of self-worth that you forget to enjoy the kiss, that you forget that you deserve the pleasure of that moment. You don't want to be so caught up in your lack of self-worth that you become an object of his or her desire, a grateful unworthy slave to his or her attention.
"Who you are has little to do with how you look. You are what you know, what you can do, the impact you have delivered, the collection of experiences in your meaningful life.
"More than ever, this world needs your intellect, your cleverness, your resourcefulness, and your passion for making the world a better place for those who are less privileged than you.
"More than ever, this planet needs your kindness and your generosity. It needs those who reject the 'I' and celebrate the 'we'. Those who reject hate, violence, and destruction for the sake of power and financial gain.
"You are the most powerful army in the world; you are the future of this planet. You cannot, you will not spend one more minute of your time looking in a mirror wishing you looked different. And if and when you do, you will have compassion and love for the monster; the victim in the mirror, the helpless slave to upbringing, culture and media. You will be kind to her, and then you will be brave, you will reject the victim, and become the fearless hero this world deserves. And you will reject it again and again and again until the voice inside your head that stands between you and your bright future can no longer be heard.
“Sometimes I need to remind myself that I am not my reflection in someone’s eyes. That what is important; what is truly essential; what really matters about me is invisible to the eye.
“In those days I have to remind myself to live, to love, to laugh, to learn, and to lead.
“In those days remind yourself to live, to love, to laugh, to learn, and to lead.
The audience cheered, mothers and daughters hugged each other with emotion. A man with a young girl on his shoulders held up the flag of Rosie the Riveter and waved it in the air.
Gabriel struggled to take his eyes off Morgan. Her grace, her softness, and her strength all came back. Her magic was back—the ability to move, inspire, educate, and lead people into action. She did not need to speak loudly because her voice came straight from her heart and her soul. Her eyes sparkled as she talked, and her face was full of expression and empathy. This was the woman who had moved him to tears three years ago when he had first seen her speak on TV. Morgan was a light worker, and on that day, he had promised himself to protect her and support her.
As he scanned the audience, looking for danger, all he could see were the happy faces of girls and parents immersed in her words. They adored her. Even the mighty Sky had fallen under her spell. His cousin’s eyes were locked on Morgan, her stance more relaxed, and her face had dropped the unyielding shield it usually wore. He looked at his cousin’s face and knew Morgan had won her allegiance. He allowed himself a moment of happiness; he could not have wished for a bigger blessing.
Morgan continued to speak passionately, sharing stories of young girls that were driving positive change in the world through their innovation, leadership, and activism. She talked about the challenges that girls faced in developing nations and how, together, they could make a difference. The audience connected with her passion and candour, clapping enthusiastically as Morgan finished her speech.
“Cause if you're little, you can do a lot, you mustn't let a little thing like 'little' stop you. Nobody but me is gonna change my story. Sometimes you have to be a little bit naughty.”
A big line of parents and girls formed to speak to her. Morgan sat on the stage to be closer to them. She answered questions and posed for photos with her audience.
Suddenly, a big man broke the line and rushed in Morgan’s direction. He moved decisively as he reached for something in the pocket of his jacket. Morgan jumped, stood up, and walked backwards as he moved forwards. The crowd was surprised by Morgan’s reaction; she had dropped their gifts and the book she was signing in her rush to escape.
Some girls screamed, reacting to her panic. Parents pulled the girls away as they searched for the cause of Morgan’s anxiety. Sky and Bastian raced in from opposite side of the stage towards the crowd as Gabriel ran to reach Morgan.
Do you have someone in your life that should read Morgan's words of empowerment and body acceptance? What are you waiting for? Share away! Thank you, J.
Competition – Bring Ahe’ey to Life
Calling All Visual Artists!
I want to bring Ahe’ey to life using illustration, comic strip, painting, mixed media, photography, film, or any other creative craft. Choose a character or a scene and use your creative superpowers to make Ahe'ey come alive in your unique style. I'm delighted with the talented artists that are already participating in this challenge.
Use the tag bringaheeytolife to participate in the competition. You can submit your work until the 29th of September. Check out the current competition entries here.
Illustration, painting, comics, film, photography, or mix media that depict the characters, places or scenes of Ahe’ey.
100% of the author’s payout earned by posts by Jamie Le Fay tagged bringaheeytolife. Bounty excludes Steem Power and curators’ payout.
Bounty #1 (Author's payout from the competition announcement: 355 SD.
1st and 2nd prizes will receive 177.5 SD each.
Bounty #2 (Author's payout from the 1st competition update: 175 SD.
3rd and 4th prizes will receive 87.5 SD each.
It should not be a surprise that I am the devoted guardian of the world of Ahe’ey and the final decision maker. I will take into account the votes and comments from the community, but in the end, the winning submissions must reflect the spirit and vision of my story.
Competition entries will be accepted until the 29th of September. The winners will be announced on the 30th of September.
6. Announcements and Communications
I will post updates often, sharing some of the submissions and linking to the creatives. I will also provide ongoing feedback on any works that have potential, and keep you updated on the size of the bounty.
7. Commission and Grant of Rights
The winners will license the work to Jamie.
Have you missed previous chapters of Ahe'ey?
You can catch up here on Steemit or any of the channels bellow. New episodes are released here on Steemit first. Once a full chapter is released here on Steemit it is published in Amazon, IBooks and Smashwords for your reading convenience. You can also listen to Ahe’ey on Alexandria, iTunes podcast, Stitcher podcast and Soundcloud.
Listen to Ahe'ey
Connect with Jamie
Chapter 1 - Beginnings
1 - Sky Falling: Read or listen.
2 - A Surprising Reception: Read or listen.
3 - I Will Find You: Read or listen.
4 - The Interview: Read or listen.
5 - Royal Orphans: Read or listen.
6 - Breakfast with a View: Read or listen.
7 - Water Angels: Read or listen.
8 - Perfection: Read.
9 - Alone: Read.
Chapter 2 - Gravitational Pull
Chapter 3 - Disillusion
18 - Allegiance: Read.
19 - The Revelation: Read.
20 - Playing by Her Rules: Read.
21 - The Request: Read.
22 - Diversion: Read.
23 - Greek Gods and Amazon Warriors: Read.
24 - Naughty: Read.
25 - The Gilded Cage
- Ada Lovelace, Andy Warhol pop at style. Own work.
- The Gilded Cage, 1908 oil painting by Saint George Hare. Public domain.
- "We Can Do It!" poster for Westinghouse, closely associated with Rosie the Riveter. Public domain.
©Jamie Le Fay, 2016. Reproduction is strictly prohibited.