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Since childhood, I wanted to be this monster

Ivana Sajko an Stella Gaitano

E-Mail vom 8. April 2021

Dear Stella,

It took me some time to answer you, but I did meditate on your thoughts, making close comparisons with my life, with my own doubts and struggles, with my motherhood and life as a divorced woman, and, finally, with my defiant migration. I was talking with you in my mind, late at night, after I tucked my son into bed and had a last walk with our dog. And I was wondering how come - although we are so far apart, and although we grew up in different cultures and on different continents - we still can connect through our experiences as women?  I don't actually believe in inherent sisterhood among women, just as I do not believe in a mythical clash between sexes. I know too many women who undermine the female struggle or find pride in their own domestic slavery. I am also aware of many women in high positions in different populist and homophobic movements or in the conservative and religious parties. Finally, I have met many men who had to fight against imposed gender roles, cultural and social expectations (just like women do), and who then suffered, thinking they failed to become “real” men. In this sense, connection between women does not come to me naturally, but only as the result of a certain personal difference, of a certain opposition to the “natural” - thus, of a certain monstrosity.  I found this monstrosity heroic and I guess that, since childhood, I wanted to be this monster. Monster who does not settle down, monster who wants to change her self over and over again, monster who wants to risk, monster who wants to try out things differently, monster who is prepared to bear the consequences. What is really awkward in all these is that my childhood imagination of heroes was closely related to the images of male heroes. There was not one female character from a book, story or movie that I could relate to (except Pippi Longstocking, maybe). Female characters were deeply dependent on the mercy of men, their strength and loyalty (especially in Disney cartoons which were blockbusters in the cinemas of former Yugoslavia), so wishing to be partly man was a normal path towards growing into the skin of the hero monster. During my adolescence I had my head regularly shaved and afterwards, in my early twenties, when I started to study at the Academy for Theatre and Film in Zagreb, I stopped eating. I was keeping myself on the edge of starvation, and I was so thin that my body looked completely androgynous. I lost my period for years to come, and I felt very much (and very wrongly) liberated. Some friends would say that I want to look like a model, but I actually wanted to look like a man. By escaping womanhood, I was escaping an imposed life sentence, the custody which would partly be spent in the kitchen. Even now, when my father calls from the South, he does not ask me how I am, instead he asks: “Do you eat?”

Conversation about food is never benign when women speak.

 

Yours,

Ivana

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