I finished reading “The Paris Wife” yesterday and Leo and I talked about the book all night long. We talked about what makes a man, and what un-makes him. How if a women wears the pants in the relationship, then he is less of a man. If he cannot provide for his family, he is less of a man. If a woman corrects him in public, he is less of a man. If he doesn’t or can’t say how he feels, he is less of a man.
If he is reprimanded in front of his colleagues by his boss, why is it different if this boss is a woman? A boss is a boss, and sometimes people need to be reprimanded even if it happens in front of other colleagues. Yet there is something about sexual roles, who should be above and who should be below in the social ladder.
Yet there is no female version to this (other than butch)?
Years ago as I was on a trip to Iqaluit, Nunavut I booked a dog sled ride with Meeka Mike. Meeka was the local entrepreneur. Meeka was known for breading the best dogs. Meeka lived alone with two teenaged boys. Meeka played a key role in the small frozen community of Iqaluit. Meeka was a woman.
She agreed to take me on the trip. It was mid February, probably the coldest time of the year in Nunavut. She warned me of the low temps and agreed to dress me in caribou skin from top to bottom including mitts. We agreed on a day and time. When I showed up as scheduled, she opened her door with a look of shock and bewilderment. “You’re here! Why?” “Did I get our schedule wrong?” “No. But it’s really cold, it’s 50 below, come back in May!”
I shook my head, “No, this is probably the only chance I’ll ever get to do this. Please? Do you not ride when its this cold?” She laughed, “Of course I always go, but you’re white, and a southerner!” I was shocked by her brash honest bluntness. “Yes, I’m white, but what does that have to do with anything? Would it be better if I were Asian?” “Oh no, they’re white too. I mean, you’re not Inu, like me. You’re not even a native!” By this she meant I had zero indian blood running through my veins, maybe there was some but by the time it hit me it was so diluted it didn’t matter anymore.
And yes, I said “indian”. I’m using their language as I’ve met with and spoken with so many natives, this is their term. It only becomes demeaning and slander when used with hatred and ignorance. That’s how words work.
“Normally white people run away from any challenge. But I’ll go if you want to.” on that she let me in while she finished getting ready. I won’t describe the state of her home. Let’s just say trash bins are optional in certain areas. As she prepared our outing we chatted about this and that. That being my work and why I was there. I was speaking to a group of young offenders the next day about life, career, and choices. She decided this was important and valuable work, from then on she looked at me less like a white woman from the South, and more as a peer. An equal to her, almost.
She admitted that because she never believed I’d show up, she left the caribou skins outside. They were too frozen for me to wear so I was dressed in her son’s clothing. Giggling behind my back she lead me to her Jeep.
Her dogs were in the middle of nowhere. She explained to me the lines in the snow, where North was based on the direction in the grooves. She explained how you never know what may happen, and I might have to find my way back. Alone. She then looked up to the sky and told me an ice blizzard was on its way, we needed to hurry. The sky was hazy. At two in the afternoon the sun was already showing signs it was soon going to set.
As she pulled all the harnesses out of the truck, she noticed the main one was missing. Each dog has its own custom made harness. The dogs are on a chain kind of like in a star, they’re all tied from the end. Unlike sleds in the West, these dogs determine their own rank based on their wild laws of who’s the alpha etc. Dogs are like wolves and have their own social stature. The missing harness belonged to the alpha male. This was a problem.
Among the pack, the second in command was already determined. When the alpha would die, he would automatically step up as leader. “I have to go back home and try to find his harness, wait here.” “What? Here? Alone?” “Yeah!” She tossed me a harness and pointed to one of the dogs “He’s the nicest one, get this harness on him nice and tight.”
I glanced towards the dogs. They were tied to a chain with 10 feet separating them. That way they wouldn’t kill each other. On the ground were bones and skulls leftover from last night’s supper – a dozen beavers. She left in her Jeep and I walked towards the nice puppy. He growled as I approached. I cooed and acted like he was a 2-month old golden labrador. I hoped my smooth talking would calm him down. He growled again with a sliver of saliva drooling down his sharp teeth.
I was frightened. Scared shitless to be honest with you! I got down on my knees and refrained from showing my top teeth (I read somewhere top teeth were a sign of aggression in dog-talk). And I held out an open hand (also read somewhere open hands with palm showing were a sign of friendliness, I wanted the puppy to be my friend and not eat me like a beaver).
The trick was to slide the harness over his head then from the side attach the straps as quickly as possible. I talked and talked “Nice puppy! Yes you are, you’re a good boy! Yes, good boy… nice puppy!” I finally got the harness on him, tied it up and jumped back. And waited for Meeka’s return. As I waited I decided I needed to prove to her I wasn’t some silly white woman from the South so I double checked the harness for its tightness.
Her Jeep finally pulled up. She walked out. Looked at the dog. Looked at me. “He’s wearing his harness.” “Well yes, you told me to put it on, so I did!” “How?” “Carefully? What do you mean how?” “I was joking. He could have killed you!”
She was joking? Killed me? “I can no longer call you white, problem is I can’t decide if you’re totally stupid or just plain incredible!” In my head the word stupid repeated itself over and over like a new mantra. She explained how she couldn’t find the harness, but had a replacement. The alpha dog without his custom harness would not be comfortable leading the pack.
She was intrigued over what would happen and which dog would take the lead… As we headed out, the alpha would threaten his 2nd in command if he tried to move forward. The alpha made sure his “girlfriend” took the lead. This was the first time Meeka ever saw a female assume the role of alpha.
Men. They’d rather have a female temporarily take their place then allow another male to step up. As if they assume the female wouldn’t last anyways and couldn’t really be a true threat to taking over as another male could be. Even in the wolf world, wolves are men and men are wolves…