Out of the limelight

Summerly’s bed is pushed up against a wall directly beneath a bank of windows spanning its entire length, from pillows to footboard. We always used to close her curtains to prevent sunlight from keeping her awake or rousing her too early, but in the fall she started wanting to sleep with the curtains open so she could see the stars. On the night of Halloween, however, that Blue Moon was so big and bright and shining directly through her window that she opted to close her curtains to sleep, asking me as I drew them against the lunar glare, “Can it hurt your eyes to look at the moon?”

I explained that the moon doesn’t produce any light of its own, that the brightness we see is merely a reflection of sunlight that bounces off its surface, making it visible to us, and that because the moon isn’t the actual source of the light, it’s not bright enough to hurt our eyes like the sun. It was late, so I pretty much left the explanation at that for the moment, but as I blew her a kiss, wished her happy dreams, and closed the door, I had a thought that I’m surprised hadn’t occurred to me before then.

In this country, at least, we generally associate the sun with the masculine and the moon with the feminine. We’re taught about the Greek god of the sun, Helios, and goddess of the moon, Selene. We have the Latin words for sun (sol, solis, masculine) and moon (luna, lunae, feminine), and plenty of derivative English vocabulary. We have the association of the lunar cycle with menstruation. The English words “sun” and “son” are homophones, which I realize is a coincidence, but it’s still something. Recently I read the myth of Chang’e, the Chinese goddess of the moon, to the kids so they could put into context the storyline of the movie “Over the Moon”. In some cultures, there are different associations regarding celestial bodies and gender, but I’d be surprised if many people living in this country would ascribe masculinity to the moon or femininity to the sun. Think about Jupiter, too: it’s named for the god of the sky, and its moons are named for his lovers, which were almost exclusively female. All of his conquests, revolving around him, caught in his gravitational grip.

Meanwhile our moon produces no light of its own, borrowing its glow from a more powerful body, one with the most gravity of all, and can only show Earth its luminescent full face about a dozen times a year, the rest of the time only sparing us crescent or gibbous glimpses, gifts of partial exposure to the sun. The rest of the time the moon is veiled in visual obscurity, its image only accessible to the naked eye by virtue of how much the sun affords light unto it. The moon can only claim secondary energy; it owes its outline to the sun.

Is claiming masculinity for the sun and bestowing femininity upon the moon an intentional overture on behalf of a patriarchy so ancient and entrenched that it embeds in our language, our folklore, manifesting itself in ways both egregious and so subtle that we don’t even think to notice? Is this a symptom of a societal disease root-bound in a mass of money and power, a sun so strong it juggles the entire solar system in ceaseless circles around it and bequeaths budgeted light on loan, only in controlled allowances?

No, my child, the light of the moon won’t hurt your eyes. It’s harmless because the light isn’t its own; that power is only a reflection. It’s just putting a shine on. But the moon is a ball of rock, and we need not associate ourselves with far-flung inanimate matter, capable neither of creating nor supporting life, which are skills that we happen to be biologically programmed to favor. There’s a whole lot of power there, maybe the most power there is, and it comes from within. That light is ours because we generate it in and of ourselves. We don’t need to see ourselves as illuminated by anything other than the light we create and emanate. Look at the moon, baby, and remember: that’s one beautiful ball of rock. But we are women. We are radiant. And we will not be eclipsed.

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