Kimberly and Jane find a real heroine for girls in a dedicated chimp lover who trailblazed her own way to live fully and wild.
I’ve been looking for a real female heroine for our girls for some time. In my search, I realized that what that meant for me was finding someone whose little girl dreams maintained themselves strongly enough in the soul so that they could come to full fruition in adulthood. I’ve been trying to reconnect to my own little girl inside and remember who she was, what she liked to do, and getting back in touch with that spirit of possibility inside her that manifested in young playtime when the word was her oyster. Who knew that I would find this role model in a woman from 1957? In the movie Jane, about Jane Goodall’s life, I found myself re-inspired with the hope that girls can do whatever it is they dream.
What a lovely movie. It truly celebrates an absence of fear living in nature with wild animals and crawly insects! Watching Jane walk around in the Gombe African jungle as a young twenty-something woman in shorts with her bare legs exposed was a living image of her being at peace, loving every moment of her life there!
Yes, Jane’s unerring loyalty to her own dreams, even in the widely patriarchal world of her time, was a fire that burned its way into a life crafted by her own hands. Here she was, a young woman who had a passion for animals and solitude, who spent her childhood in the fields around her home celebrating her uniqueness. She had no desire to walk a traditional road, had no desire for marriage and children, and she knew this deep inside from a very young time. How are many “odd” non-conventional children are left to play so unfettered and free? Yet in Jane’s life, a mother in a fatherless home nurtured her, a mother who celebrated her daughter’s uniqueness, who never once questioned the interests her daughter held.
I was taken by her comments that, as a child, she dreamed like a man about who and what she wanted to be when she grew up. From the age of eight, she wanted to go to Africa and live in the wild with the animals without regard for what anyone thought about that as an inappropriate dream for a girl. I remember growing up always wanting to do what the boys were doing and go where the boys went but I never thought of that as dreaming like a man. I actively included in my dreams being a mom and having fun with the guys. I was lucky, of course, to catch the wave of feminism and have more than a mom to support my dreams.
The dreaming like a man comment touched me as well. For Jane to know she was thinking like a man, and boldly feeling just right with that, is extraordinary. It speaks largely to the role a mother plays in a young girl’s life. When a child is fostered in a way that encourages their own true nature, when a parent doesn’t try to manipulate, mold, or shape a child according to society’s endeavors but instead nurtures their uniqueness, an extraordinary individual is born. Can you imagine what the world would be like if we held this kind of space for all our young women?
Yes, Jane’s mom was truly revolutionary in this way. By the way, Jane’s mom going with her to Gombe was a completely new fact to me. The footage of her mom in the film is terrific. She’s right there, walking in the creeks and pushing back branches to make her way through the jungle. And she’s smiling all the way. There isn’t much about the camp where they stayed but it’s pretty primitive and dependent on natives bringing supplies by canoe. Like Jane, her mom had a lot of stamina and a quiet determination to stay the course. Later she takes Jane’s son to live with her in England while Jane continues her work with the chimps. Jane credits her mom for boosting her self- esteem and always being supportive. In our general knowledge of Jane, it’s something that, I believe, should be more well known, documented. Jane talks about how her mom who never, as others did, discourage her dream because she was a girl. Behind many great women are great moms. (This takes me back to our Lady Bird discussion where I felt that she floundered because she didn’t have her mother’s support when she really needed it – when she found herself alone in NY – and, in fact, fulfilled her mother’s vision of failure.)
I hadn’t originally agreed with you about Ladybird’s ending. I felt that Ladybird came to a pitying realization about whom her mother was but would still go on to fly. You felt that she was intrinsically tied to her mother’s poison and that it would go on to affect her success. Now I see that a mother’s effect on the soul can either stultify or sail a child. Jane is an example of what happens when you have the good mother. Jane had no qualms or issues around reaching for her dreams like Ladybird did—there was no passive-aggressive sulking guilt. Jane found herself working for paleontologist Louis Leakey in 1957. He wanted to study primates to see what they had to demonstrate about early man. Here was this gorgeous blonde secretary who expressed a love for animals but had no degree or scientific training. But Leakey recognized an opportunity. He didn’t want anyone with preconceived notions to do this research – only someone who loved the wild and had an incredible amount of patience. That he believed in this young girl is remarkable. He was truly ahead of his time as well. Being in touch with her true nature and acting as a living embodiment of her truths won her the prize. What a wonderful example for girls!
One of the things I liked about the documentary was the way the film carried the dreamlike quality that Jane, herself, had about the work she was doing. Even when the chimps got aggressive and difficult, Jane’s attitude holds. They set up feeding stations for the chimps to control their violent, destructive behavior instead of closing down and leaving (or worse, retaliating). The chimps coming into camp is like dream come true for Jane. Even though it was obvious the chimps knew they were stealing and being bad, that was not the behavior Jane focused on. She kept her eye on being able to observe them up close and in detail.
There is a connection for me in this solid, silent, patient way that Jane was with the chimps and our ability to stay connected with our spiritual core. When Jane was thrown into this wild world with the primates, she wasn’t even scared! She says that she had no prior information about the wild, so the ability to be scared didn’t exist in her. All she had was her lifelong connection to solitude and being outdoors. She was comfortable there because she was never told not to be. This speaks powerfully to me about our own societal disconnect with nature. It is man’s most inherent home and there is a natural harmony that exists there yet we box ourselves away from it and live in fear of it. But this woman who never lost touch with her own feral comfort in the world managed to dive right in. Being comfortable and unafraid is what inevitably allowed the chimps to accept her.
When Jane looked into the eyes of a chimp, a huge hulking black-haired male, she says she saw a thinking, feeling personality looking back. She named all the chimpanzees and tended to project the possibilities of them being like us, like her, onto them as she watched. It was the discovery of them making and using tools that startled the world, added legitimacy to her studies and won her a place in history. After this discovery, she got funding and support and a photographer who brought personal love into her life. Hugo van Lawick became an integral part of Jane’s life and brought the conflicts of relationship with him. As women, we didn’t really need to be told that she would begin to feel “less than” him as wife and mother to their son, Grub and that, at some point, she’d have to choose to live her husband’s life or her own. But her telling her thoughts out loud is an important part of the movie. She shows us a highly unusual acceptance of living with personal as well as animal events as they present themselves.
This present way of organically living your life as it unfolds was very powerful to me personally. Jane’s observation of the chimps allowed her to understand something very poignant about life. Life is something that unfolds organically in the present and it is unpredictable. But she honored that unpredictability. Instead of living life in fear or from a place of needing future guarantees, or in comparison to the way others might live, she stayed in the wild way of being present to what is right before one. Her decisions were based on the graceful honesty of that space. Even though she didn’t imagine herself married, she allowed herself to let in love when she felt it. Even though she loved Hugo, she recognized the moment when she had to let him go and choose her true life’s work over that love. Even though she loved her son deeply, she recognized the point when he needed to go live with her mom to find his education. These are all not easy, or conventional decisions, and they speak boldly to the fact that we have only one life to live and we better make it our true one. Because she was this way, in a healthy rather than dysfunctional fashion, she remained close with her husband and son. She was a role model. I recall when my daughter was in her early twenties and on mother’s day she told me that the best thing about me as a mother, while she was growing up, was that I always did what I wanted to do. She grew thinking she could, too. This is a powerful thing, to be able to walk that line where you don’t sacrifice your dreams for the expectations of other people.
And she became the focus for an amazing groundswell of global interest in nature and wildlife. I give her a lot of credit for knowing the role she was playing even as she was deeply absorbed in work she loved. She was an early advocate for the preservation of wildlife in Africa and went on to use her popularity to warn against extinction amidst an increasing worldwide exploitation of jungle resources that encouraged lucrative poaching by locals and promoted recreational hunting.
She continues today as a heroic feminine presence that walks her talk of valuing the lives of animals as she values her own. Early on, when Jane named rather than numbered the chimps she studied according to their characteristics and interactions with their group, she was ahead of her time. With no restrictions imposed on her by previous scientific methods, she naturally used relations-based observations to study the chimps. This was especially interesting to me. Jane, naturally following her instincts, was paralleling Bowlby’s breakthrough attachment theory that was creating a major change in psychology. Infants were beginning to be better understood in terms of the characteristics of their relationship with parents and others than by developmental milestones. Emotional IQ was taking its place next to intelligence!
Yes, what a powerful lesson in following one’s instincts. Like Carl Jung championed this idea of living one’s life from the inside out rather than the outside in. Following one’s instincts, listening to the messages from dreams and intuition, being directed by our internal symbols and signals toward finding a life that is uniquely ours, the one we are most meant to live. This is where breakthroughs occur, this is where progress and discovery lives. This is what births the new. And we need the new.