So I was sitting in a landscape architecture design class a few years ago, when the Professor asked us to reflect on the deeper aesthetic, and perhaps collectively human, significance of the number twelve. At his invitation students began to offer up examples - twelve months in a year and twelve signs of the Zodiac - twelve tribes of Israel and twelve disciples - twelve hours of the day, points on a color wheel, eggs in a dozen....you get the idea...twelve has ageless cultural meaning. In China, where numbers are weighty and well-loved, twelve is huge. In the Middle East the Shi'ia are right now waiting for the messianic Twelfth Iman. Designers and stone masons world over use twelve as a centrally organizing feature in their work.
"And there are twelve orifices in the human body," announced our diminutive professor, over the sensitive, clip-on microphone that was positioned too closely to his voice box.
My classmates and peers were startled, but quickly began touching their eyes, nostrils, and ear canals... clothing rustled as hands checked bodies (belly button? nipples?), and everywhere people counted their orifices. But I was distracted by a thought.
"What about the ladies?" I demanded, shrill, but unheard. I knew I had one more orifice than had my male (if manicured) professor, as I had had entire human beings emerge through it.
This episode provoked me, and since that day I have nurtured a fascination with the number thirteen. I had, of course, always been aware of the unluckiness of number thirteen, and the unluckiest day of all - Friday the 13th. I had never, however, associated my femininity with lucky number seven's metaphysical opposite. After the way that professor had snubbed my vagina (mine and every woman's in the class as if men and their design-inspiring number of orifices were the fucking standard and women the deviation) I began to associate my "extra" orifice with that unlucky number.
Thirteen teased at the edges of my mind, so that when I heard revisionist explanations for Mary Magdalene’s role in Jesus' posse, I immediately thought in terms of thirteen. Well, not quite immediately - first I was pissed. To think of all of the shame and pity I had felt for Mary Magdalene, the whore who had to wash Jesus' feet with her hair, and escape stoning through undeserved grace! And all along it was some misogynistic sermon from the Middle Ages that conflated Mary with other subaltern women in order to erase memory of her as major player in Christ's revolution. Better to have her legacy be one of a marginalized slutty woman alone and vulnerable than a woman with power. If Mary Magdalene wasn't a hooker with a heart of gold, but instead a church leader at the center of the savior’s cell - then wouldn't that make her the thirteenth disciple?
A year or two later, I heard of Ophiuchus, the thirteenth Zodiac constellation. Familiar to astrologers as the serpent-holder, Ophiuchus doesn’t look super feminine in any of the websites that discuss the forgotten sign, and I guess I can’t make a convoluted argument about how the holder of the serpent would be more likely to be a woman. But a thirteenth zodiac sign? An extra constellation and all those hippies in my mom’s commune never knew? Really? Is thirteen really so messy? Hotels skip the thirteenth floor, as if they could alter numerical order and change luck by avoiding a word. Poor thirteen. Why all the hatred? I like how it’s prime, but perhaps that’s what makes it somehow inconvenient. Like vaginas.
A friend asked me once why I thought men feared women so much that they had to construct hierarchies and power relations that ensured male domination. We talked about how domestic violence, misogynistic pornography, sexual violence, and even state sponsored, militarized rape in countries like Peru in the 1980s, the Balkins in the 1990s, and the Congo present-day, secured the patriarchy. But secured it from what? Their mommies?
A few months ago I was at a bar, shooting pool. In the ladies room someone had written: “13 is the power number”. Amen sister. Sure it leaves us vulnerable and prone to childbirth, but the womb, and the vaginal exit therefrom, may be the truest creation story we humans have. And that’s mad power.