The Strenth and Fears of Being a Woman

Bridge of the Gods and the Eagle Creek PCT - Alternate Route, Oregon ...
Bridge of the Gods, Oregon

At last, we have come to the final section of Wild. Cheryl completes her hike through Oregon and finally comes to the Bridge of the Gods which joins the states of Oregon and Washington. In these final chapters of Cheryl’s hike, she deals with the struggles she had with her mother growing up, and a few situations with men she met on her way through the state which highlights the very real fear and danger of rape which women face.

Throughout the story, there is always the theme of the strength of women. In the first section of the novel as Cheryl remembers the time before and shortly after her mother’s death, she talks a lot about how close she and her mother were. Cheryl often describes her mother as being her best and closest friend, and throughout the novel is painted as an almost golden figure whom she absolutely adores. However, in this last section, Cheryl writes about the struggles her mother faced and the things Cheryl hated about her mother.

I passed by high lakes and crossed over blocky volcanic rocks…hiking faster than ever while thinking uncharitable thought about my mother. Dying at forty-five had only been the worst thing she’d done wrong. As I hiked, I made a catalogue of the rest. (Strayed 265)

  1. Smoking pot around her and her siblings when they were growing up
  2. Being left alone in their apartment because their mother couldn’t afford a babysitter
  3. Being spanked with a wooden spoon for misbehaving
  4. Suggesting that they call her Bobbi instead of Mom
  5. Not being particularly close to any friends, believing that ‘blood is thicker than water’, so then when her mother dies, Cheryl is left “in peace in [her] inevitable exile” (Strayed 265)
  6. Being overly optimistic to an unrealistic and “annoying degree” (Strayed 266).
  7. Not helping Cheryl look into or help pay for college, or even suggest to her that she should try applying to Harvard or Yale. (Not believing in her potential and helping her reach her goals and aspirations)

Both Cheryl and her mother Bobbi (chapter 16 is the first time she uses her mother’s name) each face their own share of struggles, including many of the same ones. Bobbi and Cheryl both face the situation of an unplanned pregnancy and deciding whether or not to have an abortion. Bobbi chooses not to, keeps Cheryl’s older sister, Karen, and marries the father. But, having seen the hard and often miserable life her mother had, Cheryl chooses to have an abortion when she becomes pregnant because she doesn’t want to be like her mother. The result of Bobbi marrying Cheryl’s father is that both she and her children suffer at his alcoholic and abusive hands. It is clear that Cheryl’s mother is a strong woman, because despite everything she suffered she still makes the incredibly difficult choice of leaving him and raising three children on her own.

Cheryl’s anger towards her mother for all the reasons listed above is completely understandable; she never had the love of a whole family and a father, or a safe and stable place to call home. However, at the same time, Bobbi’s struggles are equally understandable. She worked and gave her all for her children who she loved unconditionally. “I had plenty of friends who had moms who – no matter how long they lived – would never give them the all-encompassing love that my mother had given me. My mother considered that love her greatest achievement,” (Strayed 268). But at the same time, how can you keep the lives of three other people, as well as your own, together when you never have a chance to figure out who you are? “‘I always did what someone else wanted me to do. I’ve always been someone’s daughter or mother or wife. I’ve never just been me,'”(Strayed 273). While in many ways Bobbi is very independent and self-sufficient, it’s inevitably difficult to raise someone else if you never have the time to grow into yourself as a person and to have a strong foundation of who you are.

Integrity and character are not black-and-white; they’re more like a range of greys. It’s hard to say whether most people are nice, or whether most people are only nice most of the time. As a female, there is always a fear, to a certain degree, of men, and for good reason. While nothing actually happened to Cheryl on her journey (based on the information she provides), there are many times that she feels threatened and in danger when in the company of men. Cheryl isn’t a woman who is uncomfortable around men or overly cautious (there were many parts of the book where I was thinking “WHAT THE HECK IS THIS GIRL DOING??!!”) concerning what men she allows herself to be alone with.

Cheryl Strayed and Joshua (one of the “Three Young Bucks”) in Central Oregon, August 1995.

For the most part, the men Cheryl meets during her months on the trail are kind enough. Many fellow hikers whom she meets along the trail, such as the “Three Young Bucks” who she meets shortly after entering Oregon, are friendly, kind, and welcomed company when at rest places. So many people are kind and helpful to Cheryl, that the Three Young Bucks nickname her “Queen of the PCT”.

However, there are numerous times when her intuition warns her to be cautious. In the beginning of the story when she gets a ride home with Frank (a logger clearing part of a forest in southern California) to have dinner at his house with his wife, Clyde who gives her chewable opium in the back of his truck in Ashland, the hunters she crosses paths with on the trail, and the ranger at Olallie Lake (among many others), the fear Cheryl feels of being around men is completely valid. According to The Huffington Post and The National, 1 in 5 women in the United States will be raped at least once in their lifetime, and that because 54% of all rape incidents are not reported, it is estimated that an incident occurs at least once per minute. And that’s only in one country.

 

The PCT in Oregon, near Timberline Lodge.

The PCT in Oregon, near Timberline Lodge. It’s difficult to understand the mentality of rapists, but easy to understand Cheryl’s fear throughout the novel.

“She’s got a really nice figure, don’t she?…Healthy, with some soft curves. Just the kind I like,” (Strayed 285). “‘I like your pants…They show off your hips and legs,’ ‘Please don’t say that,’ ‘What? I’m complimenting you! Can’t a guy give a girl a compliment anymore? You should be flattered.”  (Strayed 287)

After this interaction with two hunters, while trying to make camp, Cheryl is forced to continue on down the trail even though she knows from her guidebook that the trail ahead is rough and uneven, and doesn’t provide many more campsites, because of how terrified of being alone and helpless. Despite the fact that in your head you feel strong and that you can stand up for and defend yourself when in a situation where a man is trying to overpower you, it’s nearly impossible not to feel weak, defenseless, and terrified.

Cheryl portrays throughout the novel the strength and power of women. A feat such as hiking the PCT as a solo woman radiates strength and power, but she also clearly shows the fear of men which, to a certain degree all women face. The struggles her mother faced help her to find her own strength, determination, and independence. While many of the characters Cheryl crosses paths with throughout her journey are men, her own power, as a woman, shines brighter.

 

 

 

Chemaly, Soraya. “50 Actual Facts About Rape.” The Huffington Post, TheHuffingtonPost.com, 26 Oct. 2012, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/soraya-chemaly/50-facts-rape_b_2019338.html. Accessed 9 May 2017.
“Cheryl Strayed.” WILD – Cheryl Strayed, 5 May 2017, http://www.cherylstrayed.com/wild_108676.htm. Accessed 11 May 2017.
Solnit, Rebecca. “A Rape a Minute, A Thousand Corpses a Year.” The Nation, 29 June 2015, http://www.thenation.com/article/rape-minute-thousand-corpses-year/. Accessed 9 May 2017.
Strayed, Cheryl. Wild: from lost to found on the pacific crest trail. New York, NY, Vintage Books , 2013.
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3 thoughts on “The Strenth and Fears of Being a Woman”

  1. I think that Cheryl is really brave considering all the things she have gone through , as well as her mother (yaaaa girl power). Your demonstrated your perspective on feminism very throughly with you comments on the fear of danger and rape and the struggle she has dealt with in the wild. She definitely represents strength and integrity in this novel from her bravery 🙂 Would you be comfortable with guys commenting to you like that? I don’t know how she handled it! i really enjoyed reading this, good job!

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  2. I really like that you talked about Bobbi’s struggles as a young mother in a difficult situation. My mother had a similar situation in her life. She got pregnant at 19 with me and my father is a (recovering) alcoholic. My mother did the same thing as Bobbi, my parents would separate and then get back together multiple times. My mom wanted me to have my father in my life but living the life we had was not right for anyone. My mom and dad got divorced when I was around 11. I really appreciate that though Bobbi chose to stay in the relationship with Cheryl’s father for as long as she did you still see the strength she had throughout the ordeal; of raising children when she wasn’t done growing up herself, and for leaving Cheryl’s father. I loved your response to this novel.

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  3. I’m so sorry to hear that. It’s something that no one should ever have to go through. But while we’re talking about strength, look at yourself! Though not through personal experience, I know it must be incredibly hard living and dealing with though experiences.

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