Resurrecting the Wild Woman
What does it mean to be a “wild woman?” If you’re visualizing someone baring her chest at Mardi Gras in exchange for beads, that’s not what I’m talking about. A wild woman is someone who has a keen sense of intuition, follows her instincts, feels empowered to protect herself and her pack, and has the confidence to pursue what she desires—and not the things that society tells her she should want. I’m talking about the desires she can feel in her bones.
This version of a wild woman has been drastically domesticated. And it’s time to let her out of the cage.
In the women’s book club I’ve been hosting, we’re currently reading Women Who Run With the Wolves by Clarissa Pinkola Estés. It’s a classic piece of literature that reflects on the wild woman archetype through a collection of stories. These stories prompt the reader to consider what it means to be a woman, and how to reclaim a sense of sovereignty that many feel has been lost.
We decided to read it in my Facebook group, and when I opened it up to others, more than 700 women joined. Far fewer appear to be actively reading, but the fact that more than 700 had intended to read a book with women across the world is telling. These women can feel that something is missing. It’s their connection to the wild — and they want it back.
Estés explains what she means by the word “wild”:
So, the word wild here is not used in its modern pejorative sense, meaning out of control, but in its original sense, which means to live a natural life, one in which the criatura, creature, has innate integrity and healthy boundaries. These words, wild and woman, cause women to remember who they are and what they are about.
She points out that even if our wild, instinctual self seems like a long-gone relative, she is not dead. She is in our bones. We can call her back by “collecting the bones” and “singing over them.” In practical terms, this means getting in touch with our desires, pursuing the things that light us up, learning to trust our instincts, and living in harmony with nature. Thank goddess, there is a path home.
But how did we lose this wild self?
Many of us have been brought up to be people-pleasers. We’ve learned that it’s best to be agreeable, even if it means we prioritize other people’s desires over our own. We’ve learned not to listen to our intuition. Even when we’ve tried, we were often pet on the head and told, “Don’t worry about it,” or “It’s not that bad.”
I clearly remember trying to navigate a fraught relationship with my father as a child. Even though he would tease and belittle me, my mother would shrug it off and tell me, “You know your father loves you.” As you might guess, that skewed my interpretation of love for many relationships to come and has taken almost all my life to unravel. Only recently have I been able to raise the bar on how I want to love and be loved.
Women have also been told that we can and should have it all. This is often defined as a great romantic relationship, perfect children, and a successful career. But we never stopped to consider whether those were the things we truly desired. We just plowed ahead, checking off milestones: married by 30. Kids by 35. Executive by 40.
For some of us, instead of leaning in, we should have been leaning out.
We don’t need a big house, a fancy job title, or a perfect facade — we need to be free.
I was stuck in an uninspiring job for years because it was safe and secure. I could feel my creativity drying up — despite being in a “creative” profession. I finally decided to leave the security of a well-paying job to pursue my passions. Now I am overflowing with inspiration. Sometimes I still miss the stability of a weekly paycheck and clearly defined deliverables. The corporate world was safe, but there isn’t always growth in safety.
And of course, our culture hasn’t encouraged us to be comfortable in our own skin. Youth is valued to an extreme — especially for women. As we age, many of us fear becoming invisible unless we can maintain a particular aesthetic or body shape. Rather than celebrate our unique beauty and a body that creates life, we’ve tried to change, manipulate, and freeze it.
In my late thirties, I became hyperfocused on my looks. My marriage was ending, and I wanted to make sure that I was still desirable to men. I worked hard and spent a lot of money on crafting an aesthetic. Interestingly, I never felt less confident and further away from myself. I still spend more time on my appearance than I care to admit, but I try to do so as a way of celebrating it — not wishing it were different. I feel better than ever.
People-pleasing, chasing things we don’t actually want, and letting society dictate how we feel about ourselves have all contributed to severing our connection to our inner wild. Estés tells us that we can call her back. And truthfully, when we get still and turn inward, we can feel the wild woman: She is in our bones.
We don’t need a big house, a fancy job title, or a perfect facade — we need to be free. We need to know ourselves intimately and have others see us for who we really are.
In Women Who Run With the Wolves, Estés talks about the duality of the feminine psyche. There is the practical persona that we exhibit to the outside world. Then there is the wild persona — the one who lives underneath. She’s the sometimes loud, messy, creative spirit that we’re afraid to unleash. We need both personas to get along in the world and feel true to ourselves. If we favor one side over the other, we create an imbalance, and we can’t fully tap into our feminine power.
We need to be fully seen for who we are, not just the nice, pretty parts we choose to reveal.
For me, that duality was more of a pendulum. I could be structured and focused for some time. I’d fix everything exactly the way I thought it should be, only to find that I’d created a perfect jail cell for myself. Then I would blow it up so I could run wild and amok. And then I would discover that I wanted more structure. The cycle repeated. There wasn’t balance — only chaos. Now, I am trying to unite these forces within me. It’s not a tug-of-war. It’s a collaboration.
It’s not only vital that we recognize the duality in ourselves, but our partners need to recognize it too. We need to be fully seen for who we are, not just the nice, pretty parts we choose to reveal. I remember how often I used to keep my anxieties, fears, and anger hidden in relationships. I didn’t want to rock the boat. These emotions would simmer under a tight lid until they eventually bubbled over, resulting in epic meltdowns.
As wild women, we can help our partners genuinely get to know us. We can communicate our feelings and desires and tell them what we need to feel better. We can choose mates who aren’t scared of the wild woman but want to nourish her.
My partner can sense when I’m feeling out of sorts, and he will say: “Tell me what you need.” I’d never expressed my needs outright in previous relationships. What if my partner chose not to meet them? I would wonder. It seemed too risky. It was better to fulfill my own needs than risk the inevitable disappointment that was sure to follow by exposing them. I suppressed the wild woman with her fears, anxieties, and desires. I chose to wear a mask, pretending everything was fine—well, for a little while anyway. Eventually, I became resentful of keeping that ridiculous mask on. I’d end the relationship as the pendulum swung back to wild.
Now, I have a partner who is in touch with his wild side and appreciates mine. Even when I let my emotions get the best of me, and I am less than constructive in communicating my feelings, he doesn’t run like the others. He stands firm, witnessing all aspects of my nature without turning away.
We don’t need a partner in order to be wild. But if we have one, they must nurture this side of us. Estés writes:
A lover and friends who support the criatura in you… these are the people you are looking for. They will be the friends of your soul for life. Mindful choosing of friends and lovers, not to mention teachers, is critical to remaining conscious, remaining intuitive, remaining in charge of the fiery light that sees and knows.
Much of Estés’ wisdom we intuitively know, but we’ve forgotten it. Or maybe we thought life would be easier if we looked away. Like me, many people are remembering their wild woman and calling her back. She is being resurrected.
If you hear howling late at night, don’t worry — it’s just your sisters. We’re coming home.
Join me in my private Facebook group, Goddess Wisdom for Modern Women, to continue this conversation.