how to be the last girl standing ( + the other meaning of virginity)
Maybe you’re familiar with the idea of The Final Girl.
She’s a recurring character in those slasher films that were so popular before 1990 (and the rise of torture porn).
She’s that girl who watches all her friends get killed, one by one by one, by a maniac in a hockey mask or a scarred boogeyman who reaches out for them in dreams made fatally real.
She’s that girl who fights the monster at the end – and gets away – or kills him dead (at least temporarily, before he rises again for the sequel).
(And then the sequel to the sequel.)
She’s that last girl standing.
The Final Girl is a virgin. Her friends – the ones who get slaughtered – are not. They drink, they have sex, they make merry, they work alone late at night, they flirt with strangers on the telephone, they die in a grotesque variety of ways.
The slasher film can be read as a backlash to the rising power that women were experiencing in the ‘70s and ‘80s: Look what all this autonomy and sexual freedom will get you! You’ll get beheaded!
(Or impaled. Or whatever.)
The only way to survive is to be a virgin, thus morally ‘pure’ and unpunished.
Or maybe there’s another way to look at it.
When you read about the ancient Greek goddesses, you learn that some of them (Athena, Artemis, Hestia) fall into a class known as virgin goddesses.
The word virgin didn’t always refer to the total absence of sexual activity (and the presence of a hymen). Virgin meant a woman free of attachment. No spouse, no kids. She was complete unto herself: whole, autonomous and self-sufficient. This is in sharp contrast to what Jean Shinoda Bolen refers to as the vulnerable goddesses (Hera, Demeter, Persephone), who are defined through their relationships and (at least at some point) subject to exploitation, heartache and abuse.
So whatever the intention of slasher films (conscious or otherwise), whatever cultural anxieties gave them shape and allowed them to rise, maybe it’s this ancient virgin-goddess archetype that manages to find expression in the Final Girl. Maybe that’s a reason why these movies were so popular: because this character has mythic resonance, because on a deeper level she was communicating that the key to survival, unlocking your hidden strength to navigate violence and terror and find ultimate triumph, is a wholeness of self.
When you’re whole, you don’t need another person to complete you. You stand on your own two feet. You fight your own battles.
And when the credits start to roll, you’re free.
Easy to say, but what the hell does it mean to be ‘whole’?
I don’t believe that it’s an either/or situation: either you have relationships, or you have wholeness. We discover who we are, we confront both our unexpected brightness and our smaller, darker selves, we grow, through relationship.
In a recent conversation I had with bestselling author Jennifer Louden for her Shero’s School for Revolutionaries (which premieres Monday, by the way), I talk about the need for a feminine call to greatness. I don’t think this culture delivers it. I define greatness as self-actualization, the identification and cultivation of your gifts and the ability to put them to use in the world. Your dharma. Your Way.
What I didn’t know at the time – because I literally just learned it – is that vocation stems from the Latin word for voice. We think of vocation as something outside of us that we must willfully pursue, the goal that must be reached – or else we risk being losers. But as Parker J Palmer explains in LETTING YOUR LIFE SPEAK, vocation is not the voice you impose upon your life (I should do this, I should be that). Vocation is the voice that struggles to speak through your life. The only question is whether you let it:
“True self, when violated, will always resist us, sometimes at great cost, holding our lives in check until we honor its truth.
…I must listen to my life and try to understand what it is truly about – quite apart from what I would like it to be about – or my life will never represent anything real in the world, no matter how earnest my intentions. ”
What you’re born to do flows naturally out of who you are, your strengths and limitations (since your limitations are the flipside of your strengths). Your vocation = self + service. click to tweet
Athena had a vocation. She was a warrior.
Artemis had a vocation. She was a hunter.
Hestia had a vocation. She was a seer.
When you find your vocation, you find your true self and your place in the world. click to tweet
You can then bring all this richness, this wholeness, into your relationships.
So often what we’re trained to do works the other way round: we search for our greatness in our relationships, which so often translates into living vicariously through other people. It’s not the relationships that render us vulnerable but the way we give away our power (or allow the other person to take that power from us). Life, however, has a way of throwing us into crisis. It probably doesn’t come in the form of a serial killer. But it forces us to dig deep, recover ourselves, and listen to the voices of our lives instead of the voices of others.
It’s never too late to be that last girl standing.