Women and the Need to Know

Needs Blog Graphic

Curiosity killed the cat but satisfaction brought it back.

It’s funny how often the second part of that cliché is dropped from the narrative.

Because we believe that stories are a basic human necessity, the Loft is currently exploring the theme of NEEDS, in which we try to identify the ways stories get us out of bed in the morning, and more importantly, what they reveal about us. Humans are curious by nature, and stories are often driven by a need to know, to learn, to solve. This need intensifies when a protagonist finds herself in a position of powerlessness.

I wonder if the women so often punished for curiosity in stories would say it was worth it, in the end. Bluebeard’s wife probably would, depending on the version of the story you’re reading. Not even given a name, she joins the army of women who find themselves married to an rich older man with little choice in the matter of how they got there. No woman would willingly marry someone whose previous wives have a habit of vanishing mysteriously, while forbidding her to go into the basement of her own house.

Well, who can blame her for taking a look? It almost killed the cat, but not quite.

In every story, curiosity itself is not the problem. The problem is that curiosity is tied to a woman disobeying a man, making all these tales a warning to woman who dare to know. All humans have a desire to explore, to learn, to know, yet these stories seek to punish the young woman who questions, instead of acknowledging that yes, it is highly suspicious if your husband keeps the basement locked at all times and won’t tell you what’s in there.

Seriously, you probably should question that.

Pandora, too, is somehow responsible for the grim state we find ourselves in, having let every demon and foul thing out of the box in which they were being kept. She was just curious after all, wondering what was in the box her husband had brought home from work, even though he told her not to open it.

My question is, why couldn’t he tell her what was in the box? If it’s that important, surely a label that says “DANGER” would be helpful. Obviously, she wouldn’t have opened it if she knew what was inside, so why did it need to be a secret? Furthermore, if you bring home a box that contains disease, war, anger, despair, et cetera, why in the world would you bring it home and leave it lying around? Pandora aside, what if the cat knocked it over?

Oh honey, we have to be careful not to bump that box while we’re cleaning the living room, because there are a few million LITERAL DEMONS in it. How was your day?

If anything, that’s Epimetheus’s fault.

Grecian Psyche is tortured, forced to sort an entire barn of wheat, barely, and other grains, harvest the fleece of violent sheep, and even go to the Underworld and back, because of her curiosity. What crime did she commit? She wanted to know what her husband looked like.

That’s it. That’s the whole thing.

Psyche looked at her husband while he was sleeping, which she had previously been forbidden to do, and suddenly her husband is whisked away. She literally goes to Hell and back to find him again, which is pretty impressive. But why couldn’t she simply see her husband? It doesn’t seem like an unreasonable thing to ask.

These stories involve women being punished for learning, often learning something that’s extremely important to their survival. The need to know overpowers the command to blindly obey, so maybe the moral of the story isn’t that female curiosity is bad. Maybe it’s that women deserve to be let in on the secret.


Originally from Minnesota, Ellen Ray recently graduated from Boston College with a degree in English concentrating in creative writing. Amidst four years of writing workshops and analyzing independent films, she spent a semester wandering around New Zealand, including a night spent in a cave with local penguins. She has written for The Laughing Medusa, an all-female literary journal, as well as various nonprofit organizations. After various internships and an attempt at freelance writing, she found herself the Communications and Marketing intern at The Loft.