Leave me alone!: women and solitude

As I sat in one of the sessions at the Aspen Ideas Festival last week, listening to William Powers talk about the importance of solitude in our increasingly connected age, I couldn’t help but put a gender lens on it. All of those he was quoting and invoking as models of solitude, whether self-imposed or imposed by external constraints, were men: Thomas Merton, Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela.

Most of the women I could think of, who might be considered models of protecting and cultivating their own solitude, didn’t exactly have happy endings: Sylvia Plath, Virginia Woolf etc. It doesn’t take a highly sophisticated mind to figure this one out. Women have largely been responsible for the kind of care taking that makes solitude a pipe dream.

So it was with great interest and excitement that I read this obituary in Sunday’s Times (weird, as that sounds). An excerpt:

The gratifying struggle for Anne LaBastille was how to balance her yearning for the serenity of solitude in the wilderness with her mission to let the world know, as best she could, that it must preserve wilderness. Preservation could not be accomplished from the tiny log cabin that she built and lived in by a remote lake in the Adirondacks, far from even an unpaved road. And so, time and again over more than 40 years, she set aside her hermitlike existence and traveled around the world to document the fate of endangered species, to help create preserves and to raise her voice against environmental degradation.

I love that her struggle was characterized as “gratifying” and that a woman was described as “hermitlike.” This kind of complexity rarely shows up in the mainstream media, as far as I can tell, when it comes to women and their quest for the meaningful life. LaBastille seems like an amazing woman, and one that I will conjure up when I’m trying to carve out critical space for my own precious solitude.

Please add your own heroines of solitude in comments!

Join the Conversation

  • http://feministing.com/members/ravensee/ Jacqueline Valencia

    My mother always stressed how important it was for her not to have anyone in the kitchen while she was cooking. This was the same person who found it odd that I enjoyed playing in my room on my own and in the playground. I’m an introvert by nature, but my South American surrounded me with social activity with the family because that’s the way it was supposed to be.

    They gave up forced sociability, eventually, and gave in leaving me alone with my books to escape to. Flash forward years later and I had to force myself to socialize to help my autistic children socialize better.

    Now I long for a room of my own, space of my own and that’s why I love my time alone when I run. It’s my space out there with my brain and my body. I crave that solitude and need it because it is gratifying to me.

    My mom still lords over her kitchen, but I am more tuned into why. It’s her time and she enjoys it. I realized this last time I was at her place and she came out of the kitchen and said, “I was just thinking….” I just realized that she always came out with interesting thoughts after cooking.

  • http://feministing.com/members/feministhomemaker/ monica vaughan

    Elizabeth Cady Stanton gave an incredible speech on solitude–basically observing that we all have to die ourselves, face death alone since we don’t cross over that barrier with any companion or protector. We do it in solitude no matter who sits with us in life in the moments before death. Therefore she reasoned that women deserve the same dignity, respect in life as men since we face the same terror at its end–alone. I discovered this speech from the history film produced by Ken Burns, who described it as one of the great speeches ever written by an American, ever, yet it is not taught in any classroom that he can think of. I certainly never learned of it in any of my educational pursuits through bachelors, masters and law degrees.

  • http://feministing.com/members/publius/ Hal Wing

    The truth is that, despite my love of Merton, two women taught me the value of seeking solitude and of learning to slow down. One is a former student, the other is a debate coach and teacher who was extraordinarily patient with me. I no longer fear being alone but, instead, embrace those moments and realize that these two women likely have extended my lifespan.

  • http://feministing.com/members/amazingsusan/ Susan Macaulay

    Nice post. I struggle constantly with deep loneliness, as well as the conflicting/complementary yearnings for solitude and connection.

    With respect to the quotes, it’s hardly surprising that the majority of those quoted in your session were men. Men are quoted 85% of the time in virtually everywhere. That’s why I’ve started a Twitter account and Facebook page that quote women exclusively. See here: http://twitter.com/SheQuotesNow and here http://www.facebook.com/SheQuotes

    Susan :)