High School Poetry Series: Gender, Identity, & Race — Naudia Loftis

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A note from Series Editor Sarah Marcus: Born from a powerful in-class discussion we had about gender, race, and the role of masculinity in rape culture, these poems are an analysis of gendered personal experience and a study of our intersectionality. This poetry series was inspired by a HuffPost essay I wrote called, “Why I Teach Feminism at an Urban High School.” The poets featured here are students from my 12th Grade Creative Writing class whose work I found to be brave, fearless, and progressive. Please help me support their crucial and influential voices.

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Naudia Loftis is a senior poet in my Creative Writing class and the Vice President of our high school’s Poetry Club. Her passions include writing, high stepping, and helping others. She recently organized a local anti-violence Cleveland youth rally.

Loftis’s poem addresses the inescapable topic of gun violence. Cleveland has had a deadly year. In recent months, we have seen indiscriminate shootings take the lives of at least three children. Loftis explains: “It is important for me to be an anti-violence activist in my community because I am a part of the next generation that will soon run the world, and I feel it is my responsibility to help move my community on a better path. I believe in change, which is not common in my neighborhood. So if it takes me saying something, I will.”

I chose this poem for its beautiful awareness of breaking. Loftis’s careful consideration of line breaks, her masterful rhyme, and her ability to capture Cleveland’s grief is surely worthy of much more than our attention and reflection. In this midst of this holiday season, I am reminded of how grateful I am to have the opportunity to work with such talented young poets. 

 

A Dead City

On September 23, 2009, my cousin, Reginald Fain, was shot a week before his 26th birthday by a boy he grew up with (and on the street they grew up on). It’s hard to imagine such tragedies happening so close to you, but this is our reality in Cleveland.

I’ve seen baby boys in gangs, sagging, cussing in slang
Following role models who show them which way to bang
Mommas crying in shame, media ripping their names
And after they get locked up, the hood is taking the blame
Nobody wants to speak up, but everybody wants change
I’ve watched my city die
Cause of street signs that we claim
The knife is in our heart
While the blood is leaving stains
And we’re witnessing bodies drop like we’re stuck in a Hellraid
My summer filled with gang shootings
Police sirens in the breeze
Holding hands like precious pearls
Not knowing who’s next to leave
‘Cause shooters just want the praise
And I’m stuck out in the rain
Contemplating the beast the city needs me to tame
Shards ripping our fabric smiles
And looping us on a chain
Holding us tied together and leaving our bodies slain
It’s hard for me to be sane
In a land that’s acting strange
Moving beyond murders and savages playing games
I’m pushing in hope to gain people who are brave
To help reclaim our city
‘Cause we’re the ones who remain.

 

 

 

Gayle King Is Wrong: Street Harassment Is Not a Compliment

Gayle King Is Wrong: Street Harassment Is Not a Compliment

By Leslie Maxwell

 

By now you’ve likely seen the video released recently by Hollaback!, a campaign to end street harassment, in which a woman walking around New York is harassed more than 100 times over a 10-hour period. (If you haven’t, it’s worth watching.)

Men of all ages harass her. White men and black men harass her. Men shout “Smile!” and “Damn!” and say, “Hey, beautiful!” A man walks alongside her, pestering her to talk to him, asking if he can give her his number. Perhaps most frighteningly, a man walks next to her silently for five minutes.

This woman’s experience is significant because it’s not unique. Women experience street harassment every day. I have my stories, and so do most women: getting honked at by passing cars, being followed for few feet or even a block or two, being yelled at by passing car. I’ve been sung to.

On CBS This Morning, co-anchors Norah O’Donnell and Gayle King discussed the video after watching a short clip of it. O’Donnell said the video resonated with her because she experiences some form of street harassment regularly.

King had a different take:

I’m just sitting here, Norah, going, I’m not going to get upset because somebody said, ‘Hey girl, you look good.’ You know what I say? I twirl and say ‘thank you’. It would be different if they’re, you know, throwing you on the ground and saying ‘Hey, I want to boink your brains out.’ For the most part, some of that stuff was inappropriate, but for the most part, they’re just saying, ‘Smile, you look good.’ But there is a difference between someone that goes over the line and somebody that just says you look great.

O’Donnell responds by explaining, “That’s different when someone says, ‘Hey, you look fabulous.’ It’s different when a guy is catcalling, Gayle, and saying, like, ‘Hey, baby.’ That feels threatening.”

But King remains unconvinced, “I don’t know. I guess it just depends. To me, there’s a line, and you have to know where the line is.”

By the end of the segment, O’Donnell and King agreed that there is indeed a line. But they clearly didn’t agree on where that line is.

The line is not, as King seemed to indicate, when a man throws a woman down and tells her that he wants to “boink her brains out.” The line is way, way, way before that.

These men are not complimenting women. These men are not telling women they look great. Their goal is to get attention from women – and because they are on the street, their goal is to have an audience.

Getting a woman’s attention is about power and control. If a man can get a woman’s attention and there are witnesses to that attention, then he has power over her. If he can get her to smile, it’s power. If he can get her to acknowledge him in any way, it’s power. If he can get her to say “leave me alone,” it’s power. Any response will do when your aim is control.

Street harassment and the desire for control that motivates it is a problem. It perpetuates a centuries-old notion that women exist for men’s pleasure. In the first-year writing course I teach, when we read excerpts from Mary Wollstonecraft’s A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, published in 1792, students are surprised at the limitations women faced in the late 1700s, at the education many were denied. Yet when we get to the part in which Wollstonecraft writes that many men are “anxious” to make women “alluring mistresses,” students make parallels to the way women are still often seen today.

While King may not see anything wrong with a man telling a woman he does not know that she is beautiful, there is something wrong with it. It objectifies her by suggesting that she is nothing more than something to look at. It suggests that her happiness might depend on how a stranger on the street sees her. And any man anxious to make a woman anything other than who she is seeks control.

These desires – for power and control – are why the line is far before we get to knocking a woman to the ground wanting to “boink her brains out.” So no, street harassment is far from “harmless,” and it’s certainly not a compliment. Women are not and should not be seen as “alluring mistresses” – and it’s time we push back against that outdated notion.

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Leslie Maxwell lives, teaches, and writes in Durham, N.C. Read more of her opinions in the News & Observer (Raleigh, N.C) and other writing in The Fourth River and decomP magazinE. Find her online at lesliemaxwell.com.

Because Misogyny

Because Misogyny

By

Kirsten Clodfelter

 

Because misogyny: Elliot Rodger.

Because misogyny: Every man who Elliot Rodger calls to mind. Every man who has let the whistled catcall of hot momma morph in his mouth to stuck-up bitch when that tried-and-true method of objectifying a complete stranger fails to get him laid. Every man who has complained of being friend-zoned as if the act of being decent – as if the act of simply treating a woman like a human being – is all it might take.

Because misogyny: Equality as radical. Empowerment as weapon. Feminist as feminazi. At some point, doesn’t a lifetime of incidents of domestic violence, of rape, of murder, of torture, of withholding count as its own Holocaust? The terror George W. was hunting to finally justify that war?

Because misogyny: Filmmakers Woody Allen and Roman Polanski are lionized as their own type of victims. Misunderstood. Brilliance over ethics. Over empathy. Art as disassociation. As inculpable.  Steubenville mourns ruined football careers. Playboy lauds Neko Case only as a woman in music.

Because misogyny: A talented, well-meaning poet attempts to process trauma through art and gifts a new voice to the wrong protagonist of this story.

Because misogyny: A friend posts an article on Isla Vista, and someone comments, “Come on, ladies, take one for the team,” as if women weren’t just murdered over a man’s sense of entitlement. Have ever been murdered over a man’s sense of entitlement. As if a person’s right to humor obviously trumps a person’s right to safety. To comfort. But actually, not really person. Woman.

Because misogyny: A comedian co-opts #YesAllWomen at our expense without bothering to be subversive or challenging or even funny, and when these jokes fall flat, are returned in echo, these men recoil at the thought of reflection and rush to fill the silence with their own extraordinary reasoning, take solace in the certainty that they are the exception, never the rule.

Because misogyny: An older male colleague whose name I don’t know finds me in an adjunct office one afternoon, my belly ripe and low-hanging and nearly ready for the picking as I organize papers before class. He takes a long look at my ring finger – bare – before he asks, Is the father in the picture? I am too stunned to smile, to extend my hand for a strong shaking, to chirp through my teeth that, where I come from, we usually just start with hello. Instead I nod and choke the yes from my throat to his brightening. That’s good. His approval offered as a talisman, the balloon of relief inflated almost to bursting, as if the whole of my daughter’s personhood, her very legitimacy, is tied to this. As if there is nothing worse he could imagine for my child than the thought of me raising her on my own.

Because misogyny: My kind-hearted, pro-equality father comes to visit and still occasionally says things like, Sometimes you just have to shut up and let a woman pick the curtains, like there is one secret, and this is it. Nevermind that in our cramped apartment, curtains are a luxury. Nevermind that a blanket – gifted to me a decade ago for my high school graduation – hangs covering our daughter’s bedroom window. Nevermind that it’s my partner, the dad, who most often sits with our toddler to fix her hair, who possesses the fashion expertise for best pairing her cute, coordinated outfits, who successfully executes DIY home-décor projects he scores from Pinterest while my own crafting attempts usually disintegrate rapidly into unrecognizable piles of hot glue and yarn.

Because misogyny: That my partner does these things for our daughter, that he makes pancakes good enough to put your favorite hole-in-the-wall diner breakfast to shame, that he doesn’t hesitate to run the vacuum, that he asks my opinion and considers my feelings in front of others – sometimes earns him less-than-favorable labels. Whipped. Weak. Pussy. Because that’s the greatest insult we can think of: To tell a man he’s acting like the lesser sex – like a fucking woman.

Because misogyny: We are asked often if we’re going to try for a boy. Not if we’d like to have more kids, but specifically this, because no matter how hilarious or adorable or delightful our daughter is, no matter how much love we lavish or how big our hearts swell or how soft our voices go when we talk about her, that pronoun must in some way indicate that she might still not be enough for us.

Because misogyny: Men who meet the minimum expectation of how to treat other human beings feel charged to speak up for themselves when these daily injustices finally grow into too heavy a burden for us to carry quietly, as if it’s they who are oppressed, rushing to remind us it’s #NotAllMen, because it’s easier when there’s distance, easier to step back or away than to lean in, easier to act as aggressor than ally.

Because misogyny: I’ve heard, But he was drunk, as if it is an absolution.

Because misogyny: I’ve heard, But she was drunk, as if it is an absolution.

Because misogyny: Before there was a sweet baby or a partner who lifts me up with his kindness, a man who was once my husband felt entitled to hide our car keys or laptop from me during arguments. To throw dishes or destroy my things as if this was a fair compromise for keeping his hands off of me. As if there was still so much for which I should have been grateful. And it was this entitlement that finally called our friends forward to share – with concern, hesitation – that from the mouth of the man who had vowed his love, and always, I was a worthless waste of space, dumb, a child. This entitlement is pervasive, endemic, impossible to escape. It is here, and here, and here, and here, and here, and here, and here. So many heres that there isn’t enough time or space to name even the smallest fraction. So many heres that my own barely make a dent. Are hardly worth blinking an eye over.

Because misogyny: A mutual friend once visited in the middle of the day and told me to pack a bag and come with her, worried that I was no longer safe living with the husband. Of escalation. Days later, she explained that his mother – a woman I both trusted and adored – had heard the charge of verbally and emotionally abusive in my kitchen and waited until I’d left the room to whisper her own solution: I needed to grow up, to stop acting like such a baby. C’mon, ladies. Take one for the team.

But I won’t.

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Kirsten Clodfelter holds an MFA from George Mason University. She has contributed writing to The Iowa ReviewBrevityNarrative MagazineGreen Mountains ReviewstorySouth, and The Good Men Project, among others. Her chapbook of war-impact stories, Casualties, was published last year by RopeWalk Press and is now available for Kindle. Clodfelter writes and lives in Southern Indiana with her partner and their awesome, hilarious daughter. KirstenClodfelter.com@MommaofMimo

An Open Letter to Charlotte Raven about My Footwear and My Feminism

I contain multitudes.

I contain multitudes.

An Open Letter to Charlotte Raven about My Footwear and My Feminism

By Kirsten Clodfelter

Dear Charlotte,

I appreciate that you have words of wisdom to share with the next generation of “hip” young feminists as we get dressed each morning, but the truth is, I don’t want you in my closet any more than I want Republican legislators in my vagina.

Admittedly, I am not exactly the poster girl for “girly.” Aside from the two days a week that I’m on campus to teach, I write from home, where I hang out with an awesome but not quite fashion-adept toddler. (Yes, you read that right. I have a Master’s degree and did not seek full-time employment in order to stay at home with my kid—BY CHOICE!) Most of the time, I live in yoga pants, rarely brush my hair, and sometimes go three entire days without showering—like, in a row. But I do own a pair or four of high heels, and occasionally I even wear them.

As someone who didn’t win the genetic lottery as far as grace and poise are concerned, it is true, as you argue, that I sometimes look silly when I put on said high heels. But no part of that silliness is due to the fact that while wearing them I also identify as a feminist.

I imagine many other women might agree, like, I don’t know, Hillary Clinton. Or Betty Friedan. Or Eve Ensler. Or Anita Hill. If Wendy Davis had rocked pink peep-toed Christian Louboutinis instead of her iconic pink sneaks during that heroic filibuster, she would be no less of a champion for women’s reproductive freedom. And though it might only be the very highest stripper heels causing the self-harm you mention, it seems that the bigger concern is the idea that women wear heels because female sexiness is interpreted—by men and women alike—predominately through an oppressive male gaze.

And I get that. I do. But I also wonder if in many ways that male gaze isn’t already broken by the act of acknowledging it, by a feminist—or anyone—stopping to practice genuine self-awareness when considering what’s attractive or interesting or fulfilling outside of the boundaries established by those patriarchal norms.

In this space, we might find that kick ass, grrl power Doc Martens are sexy or awesome or strong, but so too are pleather high heels. Or crocs. Or whatever. (For the record, Dr. Marten was a nazi before he staked his claim in the footwear market, so I’m just going to stick to my Rocketdogs.)

If you can’t believe this inclusive view of feminism is possible, then I’m curious to know what other behaviors I engage in that would draw criticism or ridicule. The Belle Jar has already come up with a pretty decent list, but I’m still looking for a handbook or something to clarify the following: Is it anti-feminist to tweeze my eyebrows? Wear my hair in a high, tight ponytail? Don pantyhose and pointy-toed flats? Gorge on holiday cookies? Birth a child? Go to the dentist? These intentional actions could be considered forms of self-harm too—they’re at times uncomfortable, restrictive, or bad for our bodies, and some are done solely for aesthetic value. But do you know what seems much sillier than a feminist wearing heels? One who says that other women are less feminist because of how they dress.

I agree, whole-heartedly, that in the context of feminist discourse, asking if a feminist can wear high heels is a tired, trivial question. But rather than dismiss it in the moment with a witty one-liner or, better yet, just ignore it completely in favor of talking about something more meaningful, you dedicated an entire column to parsing what a feminist looks like—to you. Fortunately, many of us already know that feminists can look like a lot of different things.

But what about the people who don’t? By anointing yourself Dress Code Monitor of the entire movement, you give permission to non-feminists to continue to objectify women and to make value judgments based on a person’s attire. These ideas perpetuate the terrible myth that a woman can’t be intelligent or taken seriously (by either gender) if men find her attractive, that the way a woman dresses or behaves makes her responsible for her sexual assault, that we need not look farther than a woman’s ankles to determine her worth. This is irresponsible and dangerous, and it definitely isn’t feminism.

As far as respecting the human body is concerned, there is a pretty significant leap between, say, wearing heels and female genital mutilation (SFW, no photos)—a type of self-harm on which our attention and concern might be better spent. And as someone who was previously married to a verbally and emotionally abusive spouse, let me be very clear in assuring you that there is absolutely no—as in fucking zero—similarity between putting on high heels and regularly being devalued, manipulated, or intimidated by someone who claims to love you.

The most troubling part of your piece, though, comes in the moment that you narrow your definition so that “[f]eminism emphatically isn’t about making women feel comfortable about bad or harmful decisions or choices.” But what you’ve missed is that feminism is emphatically about no longer universally dictating what constitutes a “bad” or “harmful” decision for another woman.

In her book, Gender Communication Theories and Analyses, Charlotte Krolokke elaborates:

Third-wave feminism manifests itself in “grrl” rhetoric, which seeks to overcome the theoretical question of equity or difference and the political question of evolution or revolution, while it challenges the notion of “universal womanhood” and embraces ambiguity, diversity, and multiplicity in its transversal theory and politics.

This is the reason that it isn’t acceptable to revoke Alisa Valdes’ feminist card because it took her awhile to recognize her abusive relationship, why it isn’t acceptable to slut-shame Miley Cyrus or Danica Patrick because of what they are or aren’t wearing, why it isn’t acceptable to make a blanket statement positing that wearing heels is a stupid decision, to offer a battle rally that “fear of seeming judgmental” shouldn’t stand in the way of others being, well, super judgmental about a person’s wardrobe.

Here’s the cool and actually not at all annoying thing about feminism that your piece left out: Women get to practice it wearing whatever the fuck we want. I can identify as a feminist while wearing a flannel button-down or stilettos. I can call myself a feminist with glittered curls or a purple mohawk, while listening to Tori Amos or Taylor Swift or Ke$ha. I can be a feminist with a baby on my hip or while getting cozy in the kitchen baking cupcakes for my feminist boyfriend, and I can do it without narrow, divisive views like yours boxing me in with the static vision of what a “real” feminist looks like.

Love ya like a sister, maybe,

Kirsten

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Kirsten Clodfelter holds an MFA from George Mason University. Her writing has been previously published in The Iowa ReviewBrevity, and Narrative Magazine, among others. A Glimmer Train Honorable Mention and winner of the Dan Rudy Prize, her chapbook of war-impact stories, Casualties, was published this October by RopeWalk Press. Clodfelter teaches in Southern Indiana, where she lives with her partner and their awesome, hilarious daughter. KirstenClodfelter.com@MommaofMimo