Reclaiming Women’s Place in the Forest
Women have historically been powerful guardians of the trees, while nature is a powerful tool for women’s emancipation.
When I was growing up my mother warned me about forests. She told me I shouldn’t go there alone, not playing or walking or jogging. Scary men might be lurking amongst the trees. Murderers, perverts, rapists. I was taught to see forests as hostile territory, the geographical manifestation of the risks of being a woman. The spectre of bad men peeks out from behind every tree just as it hides around every corner of everyday life. Our fairy tales gave us fair warning: forests were a place where magic happened but where women met misfortune. Little Red Riding Hood always runs into a wolf.
Despite this, I always felt — and still feel — so safe in a forest. I feel wholly myself, free from society. Until a twig cracks, I spin round and I know that I would far rather see an angry boar than a strange man. Women feel vulnerable in a place that could make them powerful.
As a teenager, naturally, I didn’t listen to my mother. There was a huge forest next to my boarding school, and several times a week I would go for long runs in the dark trees. It was always empty and beautiful. I especially loved going early in the morning, when there would be rabbits jumping around the dewy lawns. Back in the times of French royalty, noblemen of the court would gather in the King’s bedchamber first thing in the morning, to seem him awaken. That is how I felt in those early mornings, like I was one of a select group of persons privileged enough to be present as nature opened its eyes and stretched.
That is when I fell in love with the forest for the first time, but I encountered its dangers too. Not predators or thorny, venomous plants, but a leering, creepy guy whose path I crossed several times. He was a runner too. He followed me every time he saw me, and started talking to me, and then stood in front of me so I had to stop running and engage with him. He never did anything to me, although he did insist on hugging me and squeezing my arm and teaching me yoga postures. It was creepy and weird, and I was 15 and not entirely sure about what was weird or not, nor where I was allowed to set my limits. Looking back…