Here is an article I have been toting around in my bag for about 10 years and I still love it. It reminds me of the difference of being good and nice, of following your dreams verses rolling with the status quo.
With thanks to Jane Russell Simins the original author, I have added a few of my own nuances to her thoughts about the BVM. Enjoy.
My fave goddess is pretty traditional: the Blessed Virgin Mary a.k.a, the BVM for short. She gets a bad rap - spokesgirl for virginity, posterchild for Catholic boy madonna/whore mindgames - but I think of her as a mystical, pro-choice bad-ass, and one of my best buddies. Even if you're not religious (or even if your anti-religious), her story can be seen as being about trusting yourself, and it's one of the best fiesty girl stories of all time.
I first heard of the BVM in church, Baptist church and to Baptists she is known more simply as The Virgin Mary, although they didn't explain what "virgin" means to little kids. To me she was immediately suspicious, because everybody knows Catholics worship Mary and thus have a good shot at going to hell. (those Madonna and Child stamps at christmas always drew little "hmphs" from my grandmother). But here she was right in Luke, Chapter 2, so they had to talk about her in church.
My next context for the BVM and Catholics (I didn't actually meet a Catholic until I was 10 - welcome to the south) was in Little Women,where Amy has to stay with Aunt Mary Wickes and meets their French maid. Now, there are alot of things young Amy could have learned from a French maid, but what she did learn was Catholicism,devotion and piety. Thus began my secret pre-adolescent fantasies of repeated prayers and beads and confession. It seemed to me that catholics got to be assured over and over again that they where good, and if they weren't good they got to tell someone in secret and it would be all better. This sounded alright to me, because my chief concern was weather or not I was good enough.
I didn't think too much more about the BVM until I met this awesome Catholic guy (no mind games here, thank you). One night I made him whip out the rosary and give me the low-down, and when he got to the last two glorious mysteries - Mary is bodily assumed into heaven and Mary is crowned Queen of Heaven - I laughed out loud. "those aren't in the Bible" I hooted "No" he said, "I guess not". Next came my honeymoon in Italy with this same cute Catholic, where I got completely obsessed with 14th century paintings of The Annunciation, the scene where an angel comes to ask Mary if she is willing to get knocked up for God (this is the pro-choice part: Mary gets to say yes or no!). in those paintings the question came out of the angel's mouth in arcs of golden words. I was hooked. The paintings where beautiful, and they where intimate, just Mary and her fate having a little chat. I tracked them down everywhere, wasn't that hard. I brought some postcards of the paintings and taped them up with all the Frida Kahlo postcards and the Manolo Blahnik ad at my desk back home.
The BVM was brought to the forefront of my mind again in 1993, when Liz Phair sang "Help Me Mary". My squeeze didn't get what Mary was doing in the song, but I knew Liz's heroine had no where else to turn. "Help Me Mary, please/I've lost my home to thieves" Liz sang. "They bully the stereo and drink/They leave suspicious things in the sink". Now any girl worth her salt knows what Liz means. It's that feeling that you have betrayed yourself, that Wrong Element is in your house and running things. I'd felt that way for a long time, still wondering when and if I'd ever be really good. The Wrong Element had made me nice and pliant and completely unsure of myself. I thought I was too ugly, too fat, too sarcastic, too selfish, and too immoral to be fit company for anybody. Except the Catholic husband, and some cool girlfriends. And, finally the BVM.
Last summer I got really curious about the BVM, mainly because I felt she was talking to me, (not out loud, thank God.) I wanted to learn a bit more about her, and how Catholics think about her, since they've sort of cornered the market on Mary. Her story's really simple: she risked complete ostracism to do what she felt (and what God via Gabriel told her) was the right thing to do. It was not the nice thing, the acceptable thing, or the correct thing. the story of the BVM divorces goodness from niceness forever, which was just what I needed to do at the time, and is probably why she and I started holding all those conversations.
My image of Mary is very personal. Sometimes she's like Marmie from Little Women: she can see into my heart and help me be true to my own nature. Sometimes she's like Samantha from Bewitched, distracting people who are dangers to me, like helping the swervy driver in front of me onto an exit ramp. Sometimes she's Jackie Onassis, dressed to kill and drawing too much attention, like when she showed up at Lourdes and got Bernadette in big trouble. (If Manolo Blahnik designed something like those rose-feet Mary wore at Lourdes they'd be sold out until the second coming.) She was a hussy (getting to tell her fiance she was pregnant before he even got a peek at her), a nag ("Jesus, these people are at a wedding! Whip up some wine!") and a renegade, giving birth in the barn and aiding and abetting her son, an enemy of the government. But best of all, she listened to those golden words and said YES.
When you're busy being nice and docile, like I was, you can't hear anything but whether or not your good behaviour is earning you points. If Mary had been a good girl she wouldn't have had the guts to say "yes' to the golden words. She would have been afraid Joseph would leave her, or that her family would disown her. To me that's what liberation is all about: giving yourself permission to figure out what your calling is, instead of obeying everyone who wants to decide it for you.
I champion Mary as an early riot grrrl, believing in women priests and birth control, it takes all kinds. The BVM helps girls follow their hearts and turn into amazing women. Into goddesses even!"