In ancient Greek mythology Cassandra was cursed by the god of reason and logic, Apollo, to always speak the truth and never be believed. She represents intuition, and her myth reflects western society’s devaluation of divine feminine knowledge.
The CASSANDRA Project is intended as a space for Cassandras in our community to speak their truth. It’s a space for female-identifying myth-busters to speak out and up for women, LGBTQ, and other marginalized peoples. While there are many columns and blogs that focus on women whose success is defined by the patriarchal values of wealth, power and prestige within the system, this column is dedicated to celebrating women for just being, a political act in and of itself in today’s world. It is a space to share the ways in which female-identifying people have maintained their relationship to the divine feminine forces of intuition and creativity outside the status quo, and in spite of male dominated industries and patriarchal systems.
This column is about, for and dedicated to all of the daughters of the witches you didn’t burn.
CASSANDRA#1: Maja Holzinger
Maja is a filmmaker hailing from Sopot, Poland. She has directed several short films and is currently working on her first feature #streetpunxofyangon.
Astrological Sign: Taurus sun. Scorpio moon.
Favorite time of day: Mornings.
Natural Habitat: The seaside
Most easily elicited emotion: Excitement and Fear.
Favorite Potion: Vodka.
Q: What is your connection to your ancestry or a woman in your life whom you’ve gained a lot of wisdom from?
MH: My natural inclination to trust people comes from an incredible amount of love my grandma gave me when I was a child. She had a very tough life, survived World War II, was shot, and lost her leg when she was 18.
When my mom was young she didn’t have such a strong connection with her mom. It was communist Poland. People worked long hours in offices. However, when my grandma retired and I was born we had a very special bond. That kind of trust – when someone gives you unconditional love and is absolutely convinced you are of a pure heart – gives you unbelievable strength.
I think a lot of anxiety comes through my genetics. Polish people tend to worry. To be perpetually in survival mode. Yet, my grandma and I would find moments of pleasurable connection. We would stroll down the promenade really slowly. She had severe emphysema from chain smoking, and an artificial leg. We would get ice cream, sit, and cherish those moments together. She was a source of boundless love that I feel long after she has gone.
Even though I didn’t have as strong of a connection with my other grandmother, I appreciate her commitment to painting and devotion to her beautiful garden with strawberries and zucchinis. These ancestral lines feed my imagination.
Here in New Orleans, I have an incredible chosen family that is mostly (not exclusively) women. We help each other through love and support, exploring shared wisdom, and working through problems while having unbelievable fun together. I’ve never felt happier, more protected, and free to explore and take risks.
Q: Many women I have spoken to feel a pressure to wear many hats and juggle many identities; wife, mother, caretaker, career woman, shoulder to lean on, etc. From movies, to literature, to our grammar, society instills that women exist in relation to others. How do you connect with the idea that you are allowed to just BE? That living and honoring your inner truth is a political act?
MH: That is a phenomenal question. It speaks about all the nuances of feminism. Women are often conditioned through culture to watch out for other people, make sure everyone is ok, and nurture relationships. It could be seen as an obstacle to pursuing dreams and careers, but it can also be seen as a strength because women tend to foster the ability to collaborate with the world around them.
From a feminist perspective it is a political act that a woman can give herself the right these days to just focus on who she is as an artist and her identity. The movie I am currently directing is about this emerging right and possibility. It’s about a woman whose biggest struggle, quest, and psychological need is her desire to discover who she is as an artist and the story she needs to tell. There is no romantic relationship drama. There are no family ties. There are no kids. There are no responsibilities but that one. It is a character whose sole purpose is to figure out her own identity and path.
That could be enough to call it a feminist film. She’s just like any other male character could be in a film. However, there are more layers to exploring the feminist aspects of my work. I feel as a woman when you do set out on this quest you are navigating through a world that is filled with men who want to see you a certain way and who often try and take over. In a collaborative art like film, I work with men, and therefore have to be aware of their egos. The male ego in western culture has been conditioned to be prioritized. There is a very clear and obvious dynamic on set when there is a male director. Everyone’s priority is the project and there is rarely time and space for defensiveness.
This is not always the case when a woman is in charge. One of the challenges I face is navigating how to honor my vulnerability and sensitivity as an artist and preserve my own vision which comes from a deep connection to my intuition, while simultaneously maintaining an open dialogue with my male collaborators. This is tricky because often in order to access innate skills, talents and emotional sensibilities from collaborators, you have to appease egos. It’s a constant struggle and challenge to navigate the dense dynamics of traditional male/ female roles in addition to the end goal – making the movie- which should be the priority.
At the same time it’s a very generative experience to work with the male ego in a way that is both compassionate and firm. Sometimes women directors choose to become hard and take strong leadership. In the process one’s vulnerability and sensitivity can get lost. Artistic instincts are supposed to have vulnerability. That’s where the practice comes in. Honing how to stay very sensitive and yet not let the sways of the big egos tip you over.
I think that is the more nuanced version of feminism in art. The place to ask questions, and involve the male collaborator in figuring out what the next good decision is, while maintaining artistic leadership. That is the healing place.
This type of feminism is not talked about much because it’s so nuanced. It is not reactionary. It is not about taking over. It is about how we can make it work together. I wish to move toward a more balanced place of dialogue and personal autonomy. This is where I honor my truth as a political act.
Q: How is your body in contact with the world?
MH: It’s in a direct relationship with the world. I can not go on artistically or spiritually without involving the body. It is my key to my psychological and emotional well-being. My body is my biggest teacher. It keeps me in check with my truths. If I lie to myself it will immediately react. I’m incredibly psychosomatic. If I get into close connection with someone or a situation, which is not serving me I get covered in a rash. So, I honor it through a daily yoga practice. I will take time from writing or conceptualizing to take care of my body.
One can heal much through caring for and listening to the body. The physical gives you knots to untie and from there you get to the source – which is always mental/emotional. I believe, especially as woman, step one for any change is connecting to our bodies, and having a wider understanding/honoring of sexual health. Not only as female artists do we deal with male egos, but we are also in a world where female bodies are colonized and violated. Starting from a place of honoring the body is the most important step.
Q: What is your favorite body part and why?
MH: I like hips because I feel like that is where many emotions get stuck. Opening your hips is really about letting go.
Q: If you could say anything about female sexuality what would it be?
MH: Sexuality is the most forceful energy of the universe. It’s creative. Nature is having sex all the time. So to be in tune with one’s sexuality and have complete ownership of it is transformative and necessary.
When women claim this ownership it keeps them connected to their creativity. It allows them to feel the universe flowing through. Sexuality doesn’t exist in conjunction with someone else. It doesn’t necessitate a partner. It’s not limited to a sexual act. It’s energy that carries you through life and is felt deeply whenever one is truly present.