On Being a Banshee




noun: banshee; plural noun: banshees

1. (in Irish legend) a female spirit whose wailing warns of an impending death in a house.

Originlate 17th century: from Irish bean sídhe, from Old Irish ben síde ‘woman of the fairies.’"

It all started one Halloween, many years back. Jenna was hosting a party at the infamous La Luz house, and she, Mandy, and Meagan, dressed up as banshees. In this seemingly insignificant decision, we find the core of bansheeism. They could have been something cuter, softer, sexier, more pleasant; they chose to be banshees. Pictures from that night show three hilarious, joyful, terrifying, beautiful banshees, screaming and yelling into the night. 

I don't think they could have possibly known the catalyst they created that Halloween night. From that event sprung a tight knit group of women that have loved and supported me since I was inducted into their sisterhood; it was during my second year in college when Jenna and I took an American Literature course together. I hadn't really known Jenna up to that point - I'd known of her, mostly through my best friend Natalie, who had been best friends with Jenna's sister and fellow banshee Mandy during their high school days together. I was drawn to her most likely out of familiarity at first - I didn't know anyone else in that class and it felt good to recognize a face. Jenna and I eventually became closer, and halfway through the semester, Meagan late-added the class, and the friendship organically grew. 

This is how Liz and Natalie became banshees, too - through our individual friendships we became a unit, a group, a sisterhood. 

What makes this group of women different for me? What makes us banshees, and why is that important? Allow me to illuminate: 

In our society where women are socialized to be kind, quiet, and nurturing figures, banshees find reprieve from all that noise. We are loud, emphatic, and boisterous - we curse worse than any sailor, and when we laugh it's loud and from the belly. Our joy unsettles those around us. When the six of us are together we take up space, we fill  the air with a cacophony of sounds, we gesture wildly, we consume alcohol freely, and we love each other immensely. And that can be threatening to some people. You see, there is something unnerving, to some, about a group of women so clearly taking pleasure in each other. Our refusal to act appropriately or be lady-like (seriously though, what does that even mean?) rebukes social expectations and breaks down 'norms' associated with femininity and being a women or girl.

I remember when I was still a very new banshee, and Meagan hit me. Not in the face, and it wasn't violent, she just hit me. In the arm - we had been laughing about something. I was shocked, and I reacted with shock; a quick inhalation of my breath and a wide eyed look told Meagan I'd never had such an interaction, and it sent her and Jenna into a fit of laughter. My initial reaction was to be a baby about it: "ow! why did you hit me?" To which I was greeted by more pleats of laughter. It took a minute to understand, but when I finally did, it was kind of revelatory. Girls aren't taught to interact with other girls this way, or with others in general this way. This was an act of play - a play I'd seen performed by boys and men a hundred times over. In this small act of play there is a defiance and a rebuttal: no we will not be soft and play nice. 

Banshees celebrate one another, and make each other feel comfortable in our own skin; we honor what makes us different from one another and coalesce through our similiarties. My life would be significantly different if on that Halloween night Jenna, Mandy and Meagan had decided to dress up as anything other than banshees. Banshees have been one of the strongest and most important influences in my life. These are strong, smart, willful, purposeful women who inspire me everyday with their brilliance and big hearts. We all live scattered across the nation, from coast to coast and in border towns. We make a point of seeing each other annually, and even when we don't talk for stretches of time, I always feel their love and support. My victories are their victories, their accomplishments are my accomplishments: that is sisterhood. It is sharing in the joy and spreading it around. 

Erin E BarrioComment