A note from Series Editor Sarah Marcus: Born from a powerful in-class discussion that we had about gender, race, and the role of masculinity in rape culture, “Be A Man/Be A Woman” 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 Resistance Writing class whose work I found to be brave, fearless, and progressive. Please help me support their crucial and influential voices.
Johnny Ward is a senior in my Resistance Writing class. His life is music. He enjoys working out and good food. He follows sports and the news, and he constantly sends me relevant and funny BuzzFeed lists and videos. He says that our class has opened his eyes to what feminism actually meant. “I thought it meant you were feminine, or a lesbian, or pro-women to the point that you were anti-men. Now, I know it means standing up for women’s rights and being conscious to the fact that lack of equality is a problem and that anyone can be a feminist.” His advice to young writers is to practice, have confidence, practice, and perform.
I especially love this poem for its insistent and aggressive repetition. Johnny maintains a sturdy rhythm that serves to highlight the contradictory messages we send young men. He writes about the struggle to come out of the cold and embrace connection. This poem commands our respect on many levels.
I’m young but
I feel so old
If I may be so bold let me say
It’s more than just cold out here
It’s more than just cold out here
You need more than just a coat out here
You need coats out here
They coming for your throats out here
But be a man
Tell me what are tears?
I ain’t been able to cry since… eh, can’t remember
I’m seventeen, look at me
Still manhood’s a puzzle
I carry a whole household on my back with back trouble
and still going through black struggles
But anyway be a man
Showing emotion is weak
or it’s how you show it
If so, then please explain that to me
Like what do I do whenever I see
My friend going through it?
Walk up and just give her a hug then leave?
I wasn’t taught to console nor to be consoled
It took Jesus 16 years to even reach my soul
Pardon my rude mouth he forgave it already
I’m making the change
I prayed it already
Wish I could forgive but I hold grudges
Like that one time One time said “your father was a joke n****, you the punch line!”
Life ain’t easy it’s full of opinions
“You ain’t a man until you first had sex”
“You ain’t a man until you gotcha first check”
“You ain’t a man till you known through respect”
“You ain’t a man till you build intellect”
“You ain’t a man till you made yo first band”
“Think you a man with that gun in yo hand?”
“You ain’t a man till yo words ain’t see through”
“You ain’t a man till we believe you”
“You ain’t a man till yo actions speak for you”
“You ain’t a man till these women adore you”
“You ain’t nothing till you love yourself”
“Aye you a man, man why you need help?!”
We what we want we just got to connect
We’ll be alright we just need to respect
We what we want we just got to connect
We’ll be alright we just need to respect.
A note from Series Editor Sarah Marcus:Born from a powerful in-class discussion that we had about gender, race, and the role of masculinity in rape culture, “Be A Man/Be A Woman” 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 Resistance Writing class whose work I found to be brave, fearless, and progressive. Please help me support their crucial and influential voices.
DeJuan Brooks is a senior writer in my Resistance Writing Class. His work has previously appeared in As It Ought To Be as part of a collective response to the prompt “We Can’t Breathe.” He enjoys good music, playing sports, and writing. His favorite author is Alex Haley. DeJuan is committed to bettering his Cleveland community. He says, “A lot of people don’t want to change anything. They get complacent with the way things are. If no one’s going to help, I might as well try.” In the following poem, I most admire his careful attention to rhyme and the natural rhythm that highlights and reinforces the idea that we are trapped in an insidious cycle of repressed emotion and stereotypes. This poem was the poem that inspired this series. I am consistently impressed by DeJuan’s persistence, poise, and maturity. I hope you enjoy this work as much as I do.
The face of a young black man in the inner city. The growing pains that make him “strong.”
The fights, the bruises, the cuts, the scrapes. The tears that came and were told to go away.
We internalize pain for an image we portray. Cuz we all know if you emotional as a girl
your dad gets ashamed. People may think that’s crazy, he just a baby,
but we all know that boy in the 4th or 5th grade who at recess played patty cake
or double dutched way too much. So your dad gives you that look to stay away,
cuz he knows what you don’t, and he’s keeping you “safe.”
And we don’t try to even exercise our free right and go over there and play,
cuz we supposed to be growing to be men, and not that way. Cuz the way we raised,
boys don’t cry, boys don’t walk that way, boys stay strong, boys portray men who are
messed up themselves, cuz that’s how we was raised.
Your dad gets more proud when you fight, then when you tell em’ bout your pain.
When you fall down, you stand up. You crying, then man up. We release pain on others,
we’re supposed to be brothers, but I gotta figure out how to release this some other way.
They say fight like a man, but what people don’t understand is if you’ve never seen
my mom throw hands, you’ll never understand what a real fight is.
A whole theory deferred.
I know men, women, even children who would kill to have as much pride as her.
I lived my whole life knowing my worth, so when they tell me to man up,
like men set the precedent of the world, like this woman who brought me into the world
isn’t stronger than any man or boy. I was raised as a boy and I turned into a man,
but when they tell me I’m acting like a girl, I think of the fight my mom endured.
So, when they say I’m acting like a girl, I feel like I’m the strongest man in the world.
“Miriam the prophetess” by Anselm Feuerbach. Public Domain image.
“Miriam the prophetess… took the tambourine in her hand; and all the women followed her with tambourines and dances. And Miriam called to them: Sing…” (Exodus 15:20-21)
Editor’s Note: The most important thing that has happened to Passover this year is the Notorious RBG’s decree that when we remember the Exodus, we need to remember the women. First and foremost among them, for me, is Miriam. The unsung hero of what is usually thought of as “Moses’ story,” Miriam is responsible for everything from Moses’ birth to his survival to providing water for the Israelites throughout their forty-year-sovereign in the desert. The first person in the Bible to be called a prophet, Miriam was beloved by her people but less-loved by her creator, who struck her down with leprosy to teach her the consequences of a woman voicing her opinion.
Song is one of the oldest forms of poetry, and the poetry of the Bible is one of the oldest written records of poetry we have. Sadly, all that remains of Miriam’s song in the Bible is a call to action: “And Miriam called to them: Sing…”
We are lucky, therefore, that Debbie Friedman (1951-2011) picked up this mantle. In “Miriam’s Song” she joins her voice with a new generation of women to remember and celebrate the heroine of the Passover story, responding to the prophetess’ call to action: “Sing.” Beloved by women and men alike all the world over, Debbie Friedman and “Miriam’s Song” are the kinds of modern Passover traditions we need. Inclusive and powerful, shedding new light on ancient traditions. For, as Debbie Friedman reminds us, “The more our voices are heard in song, the more we become our lyrics, our prayers, and our convictions.”
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.
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.
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.
An Interview with Luna Luna Magazine Editor Lisa Marie Basile
by Sarah Marcus
This interview originally appeared as part of Gazing Grain Press’s feminist-author interview series by co-editor Sarah Marcus and is reprinted here with permission.
Sarah Marcus: You are the editor-in-chief at Luna Luna Magazine, which is self described as “a diary of ideas and a place for dialogue.” From your website, it seems as though this publication encourages a wide range of views and opinions. Although you “do not tolerate sexism, misandry, homophobia, ageism, racism, sizeism, religism, classism or transphobia in comments or in our published work,” you do allow articles from authors and comments from people who openly disagree and may have controversial stances on a variety of issues. How was Luna Luna Magazine founded, and how do you view its role and importance within the greater feminist and literary community?
Lisa Marie Basile: When I started Luna Luna I wanted to create a conversation. We are almost entirely run by women, and that is something I’m very proud of and want to continue. We of course allow voices from everyone, but I have never published anything I consider problematic or hateful.
I allow a very specific level of autonomy with regard to our contributors and staff writers; our disclaimer very clearly says that while we may not all agree with one another, we allow conversation and opinion. I want people to be able to discuss race, society, gender, sexuality and lifestyle in an open way. I will say, though, that I’ve never, ever published anyone who I felt was harmful to the public dialogue. We do publish comments to our articles that may be in opposition to our ideas (unless they’re blatantly rude or disgusting) and even then, sometimes (rarely), comment moderation slips through the cracks.
We do this because it gives our readers a chance to discuss the issue and it gives our writers the opportunity to provide a teaching moment. If I feel that there is ever a exploitative comment or if a commenter gets out of hand I’ll certainly discuss with the author and editors. I firmly believe in the discussion of differing opinions for the health of all – to an extent. We want to provide a platform for idea, and even confession of flawed idea, but I would not allow hate speech. We haven’t even come close, and if we had, our editorial staff would have had a very detailed discussion about it.
As far as feminism is concerned, our feminism is innate. We provide feminism in action. We are written by (mostly) women. We feature, spotlight and promote women. We actively seek diverse opinions on feminist issues, and we actively take a stance against everyday sexism. No opinion or delivery will be perfect for everyone, but we certainly try to at least get people talking about issues that affect them. We’ve had a lot of interaction with (either through content share or cross-promotion) other feminist organizations and magazines, and we’re really proud of that.
I’m not comfortable with labels but I will say our writers are gay, straight, bisexual, transgender, asexual, religious, atheist, parents, soon-to-be parents, and those who don’t want children. We have writers of almost every race, socioeconomic background, and size, and we’re determined to welcome people from every path of life.
In the end, we want to offer opinion of lifestyle, culture and the arts – and we welcome writing in those areas through a variety of lenses.
LMB: I am inundated, but luckily these projects don’t all come to life at once. Patasola is a small press. I publish a handful of chapbooks or books per year and have found it very difficult to do any more than a few. My goal here is to publish beautiful words, because I love the authors I work with.
I curate content from writers in the NY area for The Doctor T.J. Eckleburg Review, which is on break right now. I also teach a class for their workshops. DIORAMA is a poetry and performance event that incorporates the idea of musicality in poetry and live music into one intimate, vulnerable event where the reader and the audience isn’t separated by podium and harsh light. We’re very interested evocation and reading style and sound – how sound affects the listener’s experience. We host this event (myself and co-curate Alyssa Morhart-Goldstein, who runs SOUND Lit Mag, the associated journal of contemporary musico-poetics) every few months. We’re like a live action lit-journal; we select poets and their poems for the event. We also pair them with musicians who set their poems to music. It’s amazing.
I love to support writers and do beautiful things. I’m probably stretched too thin (no, I am), but I work best when busy. I am just lucky to be around the best people.
SM:I am so excited that your first full-length book, APOCRYPHAL, is due out this summer from Noctuary Press. Can you give us a synopsis of this work and tell us what inspired you to write these poems?
LMB: Thank you!!! I am so excited, too. It’s a weird, almost anti-climactic feeling; sort of like a death and a birth at once. I am already well-past the experience of those poems and I moved through a lot when writing it. Now it feels like a world I vaguely remember in a dream, but it’s still a world I know as home.
APOCRYPHAL is sort of set in three parts: a genesis, a world of secrets (apocrypha) and a paradise. For me, these “parts” are fluid; they’re from dreams and realities and half-remembered memories and secrets. Sometimes I don’t know which are which, but I use form and lineation to explore this. The book examines the woman’s relationship to sex and desire and being desired, but I think I try to subvert what we’ve been taught to “be” and “perform” and “look like.” I wanted to create a world that was as superficial and dramatic and broken as I felt and was taught when I was younger, insecure, and frightened. A lot of it deals with my father, who left when I was young and has always been a figure of relative mythology to me: how we talk about fathers, how we let them influence us, how we let them “define” men – these are all topics I encounter. It’s written from not only my perspective but a sort of omnipotent camera. It pulls from my life as an Italian-American in a religious family, and from life on the beach and in cars and from the younger me who connected sex with validation. It’s my way of consoling my younger, more sunless self.
SM:What are you working on next?
LMB:I’m working on a book of fiction-it details the extreme side of friendship: obsession, co-dependence, ownership, lust and manipulation. I’m frightened of how natural it feels. But I’m excited for it to exist.
Lisa Marie Basile in a NYC-based poet. She is also the author of the chapbooks Andalucia(The Poetry Society of NY) and triste (Dancing Girl Press) and the forthcoming full-length APOCRYPHAL. She is the founding editor of Luna Luna, a diary of art, sex and culture, curator for the musicopoetics performance salon, Diorama, and the NY editor and a writing instructor for The Doctor T. J. Eckleburg Review. A graduate of The New School’s MFA program, she has been named a top contemporary NYC poet to read by several publications. She tweets at @lisamariebasile and works as a writer.
As a binge watcher of the television show Mad Men and as a feminist reading through a feminist lens, I was interested to discover the manner in which Leah Umansky would address the main character of this AMC drama, Don Draper, a mysterious and not so mysterious cheating-hero. Umansky accomplishes the difficult task of both honoring this fictional man and exposing his distorted idealism and chauvinism in her compelling work, Don Dreams and I Dream. To begin with the end, in her final poem, “The Times,” Umansky admits, “I thought I’d hate Don, like everyone else, but I don’t. I long/ for him the way kids long for the turning of the Ice Cream Man.” Umansky’s pining for Don is matched by her insight and mastery of language as she navigates the boundaries between a public and private sense of past and present and of intimacy and distance.
While these poems absolutely can and do stand alone without knowledge of the show, the experience of this chapbook of 15 poems is much enhanced by understanding the intricacies of each character and relationship. As I entered the world of poet-advertising, I was most struck by how, at first glance, these poems seem to be concerned with the past but are in fact very much about the future. These poems not only look forward, they often exist in a landscape of fearing things to come. In the TV show and in our current lives, there is an ever-present anxiety that what we do will eventually be considered irrelevant, and that we are, perhaps, living too much in this moment. Much of this work touches the very core of our search for worldly permanence.
Love, although not necessarily romantic, is a strong narrative thread tying together each poem in this collection. In these pages, the reader finds love of work, love of self, love as “an advertisement,” and love as “sold and bought.” While considering the many ways in which love is made visible or tangible, Umansky makes sure to remind the reader that they are not in charge here. For example, in the very first poem, “Simple Enough For a Woman,” as if the title was not enough of an affront, the reader is uncomfortably directed to “be happy.” Here, we are also enabled to consider the notion of value. These poems give life to the decision of who and what is valuable and asks us to determine how value is measured. The model of worth and of knowing what we are worth, and to whom, is the cornerstone, the key, to entering this world of consumerism.
To be your “own engineer” is the goal, and to be able to accomplish this, as seen in the poem, “Days of Sterling/ Days of Yore,” one must “[live] the dream” like Don. In the poem, “In My Next Life, I Want to Be an Ad Man,” we receive another bold direction: “Make me look good; the world is dangerous.” Appearances are of the highest import and looking good is always preferable to safety.
The world is dangerous, but these poems inhabit a world of what feels like distant danger, as if there is an awareness of impending doom, but there is inherent fun to be had within this instability. The dangers include not only the extravagant lifestyles (of women, booze, and parties), but also the rise of physical and emotional manufacturing: the steel machinery and the coolness of selling an idea. Near the end of this manuscript, there is even a poem titled, “Beauty is in the Machinery,” where Umansky writes, “It is easy to get turned or turned on,” as if chaos is necessary to vulnerability and the threat of losing yourself is not only worth the risk but is sexy and desired, even mandatory.
Generous wordplay and insistent internal rhyme contribute to a feeling that these poems are flirtatious and lighthearted despite their focus on identity and personal significance. The reader is reminded in poems like “It’s the Selling,” that “[we] want to be told” what to think, what to do, and how to feel. We are essentially being asked to buy these poems and these ideas. And again, in the poem “How Advertising Works,” we are told to be bold and confident (forceful, even), to “be a stallion.” One cannot walk away from this chapbook without considering what they are selling and what they are being sold.
These poems reveal a meticulous planning and careful stepping, where everything feels on purpose and orchestrated. Perfectly arranged in the poem, “Creation without Design,” Umansky writes, “I want the color/ to repeat itself/ down your neck;/ So you remember/ that lipstick/ wasn’t made for you,/ but for me;/ So that I can remember/ what a man does/ to his woman.” A stunning image, but moreover a statement that a system is already set-up and composed. Something already existed and was done for you and in spite of you.
The manuscript’s final line, “It’s a man’s world, but not for all of us,” references the act of a young woman, one of Don’s protégées, rising in the advertising ranks and accepting a job with a competitor company. She is leaving the nest, so to speak. For her, and for a moment in our solidarity with her (we can taste the us), the world feels wide open and possible—but, it is a man’s world, and Don Draper is the man, and Umansky, like the show’s writers, never lets us forget that we are very much at his patriarchal mercy. This last line of Don Dreams and I Dream reasserts ownership of our delusion in thinking that things could, in fact, ever be different from how they havebeen. We are dared to want this, but as Leah Umansky cautions us in “Don Discovered America,” “wanting and having/ are two different things.”
about their cocks, naming
Ashley—we see these girls
all lined up, waiting to admire
the boys’ cocks. And the boys
talk about size of their cocks,
seven inches becomes ten, then
thirteen. They tell us how
they measured their cocks
after their first wet dream: they
woke up sweaty, quick-covered,
got their cocks hard again, pulled
out the ruler. Boys and cocks
everywhere. A boy shows his
cock to a girl on the playground.
Another boy watches girls from
a parked car while he touches
his cock. On the subway, boys
unzip their pants, put cocks
on display. Baby boys discover
their tiny cocks during every
diaper change. I didn’t see
my own clit was until I was
twenty-three. I had to hold
a mirror just to see it rise
like slow-motion stalagmite.
Had to hold back my own skin
just to show it to myself.
WOMAN AS HUMAN BEING
“Attitudes Toward Sex” was originally published in iARTistas. “The Boys Are Always Talking” was originally published in Muzzle. “Woman as Human Being” was originally published in Toad Journal. These poems appear here today with permission from the poet.
Laura E. Davis is the author of Braiding the Storm (Finishing Line, 2012), founding editor of Weave Magazine, and founder of Submission Bombers. Her poems are featured or forthcoming in Toad, Stirring, Corium Magazine, So to Speak, Muzzle, and others. Laura teaches for Poetry Inside Out, a K-12 a bilingual poetry program in San Francisco, where she lives with her partner, Sal.
Editor’s Note: This week I had the honor of working with an artist to create an artistic response to the Hobby Lobby Supreme Court decision. I have already written an editorial response to the ruling, but I wanted to speak out against this injustice in many ways, through many voices.
Today’s poems speak for womankind. They speak for our bodies, for our vantage point within a man’s world. When read together today, they are meant to be a shout from the rooftops. That no one exercises control over our bodies but ourselves. That we are human beings whose rights are superior to the rights of corporations. Yes, that we are human beings. Beautiful, complex, powerful human beings who are as capable of a battle cry as we are of “a vigorous and radiant sigh.”
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: 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 aworthless 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.
Kirsten Clodfelter holds an MFA from George Mason University. She has contributed writing to The Iowa Review, Brevity, Narrative Magazine, Green Mountains Review, storySouth, 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
If I’m being honest, I probably already knew his response; I just really wanted it to be different, because… I like him. The article is basically about how even though women are generally more successful in school, the same behaviors and tools that helped them to succeed in the academic arena don’t necessarily translate into the workforce. The article gives statistics on the disparity between genders and points out that studies show women in the workplace are criticized more, make less money, and are generally judged more negatively. But the most important piece of this essay, and the part that I am most interested in, deals with the root of the problem:
The university system aside, I suspect there is another, deeply ingrained set of behaviors that also undermine women: the habits they pick up—or don’t pick up—in the dating world. Men learn early that to woo women, they must risk rejection and be persistent. Straight women, for their part, learn from their earliest years that they must wait to be courted. The professional world does not reward the second approach. No one is going to ask someone out professionally if she just makes herself attractive enough. I suspect this is why people who put together discussion panels and solicit op‑eds always tell me the same thing: it’s harder to get women to say yes than men. Well, duh. To be female in our culture is to be trained from puberty in the art of rebuffing—rebuffing gazes, comments, touches, propositions, and proposals.
Bingo. This makes total sense to me. I am a woman. I have all too well mastered the art of rebuffing. It’s March: Women’s History Month. There are signs in stores that are supposed to be “celebrating” women. They read: 60% of our employees are women! But, it’s a party trick. “Hey, look over here!” Because when you look at upper management, it’s only 4% female. Now, Adam’s initial response to this article was to also look at the numbers. He’s very logical. He’s very smart. I like him. He would like to see the holistic ratio of employees in business. He’s had a 50/50 ratio of male to female bosses. Then, he gives me a word problem: If there are 100 employees in the office and 10 are women, and there are 10 spots to move up from that 100, then 1/9 women should be promoted and 9/90 men should be, too. His point being that no one thinks about the actual numbers, they only look straight to the top and see that there are 9 male bosses and 1 female boss. I acknowledge that he is speaking from a place of privilege, and in my mind, this isn’t the problem either.
The problem is much deeper; it’s much bigger. The problem is that there are only 10 women who are employees going after that promotion in the first place. The problem is that we (women) have been taught all of our lives to accept our position, to be submissive, and to self-objectify. These behaviors and states of being are so deeply ingrained that sometimes I’m not even aware that I’m participating in this dynamic. From a very early age, we lose belief in our own political and social efficacy. We learn to see ourselves and value ourselves how the media and the collective consciousness see us.
Still, the real problem is even more insidious and subtly woven into our social makeup. The REAL problem is that we still exist in a time and place that perpetuates an accepted culture of violence against women. At some point in our debate, Adam says that men and women ARE different, right? He brings up the obvious difference: our physical traits. This is the in. Yes, I think, herein lies the issue at the core of our patriarchal power dynamic. Our physical traits have been held against us and kept us repressed since the beginning of time. This is usually where I lose my male readers. They hear sexual assault/domestic violence and distance themselves, because they would never do that, so this part doesn’t apply to them. This is where we’re all wrong. Let me give you a scenario that most of the women in my life can relate to:
I am joking around with my boyfriend. Maybe there’s a mutual nudge or a thrown pillow (all in good fun—remember, we are being hilarious and having a great time). Then, he holds me down by the wrists (not maliciously, still joking around, maybe even in an effort to transition into something more intimate). But, I have a moment of panic. Being held down, in that split second, I am utterly terrified when I realize that I am completely helpless, physically. He is still laughing, and when I suddenly say, “let go,” and he (of course) does, he is caught completely off guard by my reaction. He asks, “What’s wrong?” and says, “I was just joking around.” AND he was just joking around… and he didn’t do anything wrong, but what I realize in that moment is that he will (hopefully) never feel that specific kind of complete helplessness. He doesn’t get it. He doesn’t know what that violation feels like. He doesn’t understand that even the threat, the possibility of violation, is intimidating. He doesn’t know how to empathize. We MUST have these conversations. If we don’t talk about it, if we don’t express the legitimate danger, then people (and men, specifically) simply don’t think about what’s actually at stake here. What feels like small, insignificant attitudes and actions are actually monumental in this way.
Circling back to my debate with Adam, he says, “Women take things more personally than men do.” I have a heart palpitation, and I want to call him out on it, but I make a joke instead. He says, “Women are more sensitive by nature.” I use that 1950s line, and then I urge him to read the fabulous piece on emotional gaslighting by Yashar Ali, “A Message to Women From a Man: You Are Not ‘Crazy’.”
This article essentially explains that “it’s a whole lot easier to emotionally manipulate someone who has been conditioned by our society to accept it. We continue to burden women because they don’t refuse our burdens as easily. It’s the ultimate cowardice.” Ali also argues that he doesn’t “think this idea that women are ‘crazy,’ is based in some sort of massive conspiracy,” but rather that this idea is instead “connected to the slow and steady drumbeat of women being undermined and dismissed, on a daily basis. And gaslighting is one of many reasons why we are dealing with this public construction of women as ‘crazy.’”
He goes on to talk about how men are conditioned to feel uncomfortable with emotional expression, because they are discouraged from emotional expression from an early age. Ali’s conclusion is in the form of a question. He asks: “Isn’t the issue of gaslighting ultimately about whether we are conditioned to believe that women’s opinions don’t hold as much weight as ours? That what women have to say, what they feel, isn’t quite as legitimate?” I think, yes.
Adam reads the article, but I am still met with more defensiveness, and I realize as we go back and forth that we are essentially having two completely different conversations. Adam initially interprets the article as an accusation. When he reads Ali’s plea to stop telling women that they are “crazy” or “too sensitive,” Adam thinks back to that one time with that one woman who said/did that super crazy thing and he “rightly” told her she was acting crazy. He feels like the message is: “Don’t do that. You’re wrong.” I see this interpretation/reaction all the time. My students, my friends, my family, most people do this. I realize then that Ali’s audience is “the choir.” He is essentially speaking to women who can already relate or men who already know not to do this, and this problem doesn’t exist in a vacuum.
As a teacher, a daughter, a friend, and a potential partner, the question for me has now become this: How can we enter into this conversation from a place of empathy? I have this hope that my attitude will inspire empathy in those who have a difficult time relating (coming from a place of privilege, or lack of exposure/experience) to the women who are being gaslighted. How do I talk to Adam?
Firstly, we need to recognize that men and women are taught to act and react differently. It is so important to take these kinds of articles and suggestions seriously, because I believe that this basic common respect, and our ability to value each other as equals, is the only way we will eradicate our culture of violence against women. This is how we stop victim blaming. This is how we end rape culture. This is how we become better humans, partners, family members, etc. We have to teach men not to violate women. We have to unlearn what we already know so well. This, as Adam points out to me, is essentially the Golden Rule: treat others the way you want to be treated. He asks, “What can I do that would be acceptable in the context of this article?” This is exactly what we all should be asking ourselves.
I think about Adam: He is a good human with a good heart… did I mention that I actually like him? So, what do I need to change about the way I am approaching this conversion? It dawns on me that we are all universally connected. We all have mothers, and sisters, and daughters, and friends. We all only have control over one thing in this world: our behavior. I try to shift our conversation towards this focus: “Don’t you want your partner/mother/sister/friend to feel valued? Shouldn’t we all (men and women) strive to put ourselves above emotional manipulation?” And the answer is obviously, yes. But Ali is also pointing out that we even enter this conversation on unequal footing.
“Little boys and little girls, when they’re 7 years old, in equal number want to be president of the United States when they grow up. But then you ask the same question when they’re 15, and you see this massive gap emerging.”
Undeniably, there is a hierarchical structure of power in our society, and women are not at the top.
Our conversation shifts back to us as individuals, and Adam starts to talk about what he can do about the “problem.” So, in the context of raising a family, and in the workplace, and in relationships, he says that he’s been taught, harshly, to take responsibility for his actions, period. That he should own up to his mistakes and not make excuses. He’s been taught (like so many of us) that everyone is the same, and that it’s important to surround yourself with people that make you better regardless of their sex, race, or sexual orientation. He then asks, if he is operating under that fundamental mentality, in the way that he should, then what should he do differently within the context of his everyday life? This is an awesome question; one that I think about constantly.
My response is something that I have to work on every single day of my life. It’s what I am working on in this moment: even when I believe that someone is being too sensitive or emotional, I try to listen with an open heart. Instead of poking holes in a belief or argument, I try to look for ways to be helpful and to empower people who feel as though they have lost efficacy. And then, Adam says something really powerful. He says that “in reality, if someone is being too sensitive, I listen to them, and I ‘empathize’ as you’d say. The only time that I say [the] things [in the article] is when I am at the end of my rope in a relationship and acting out. It’s my actions that cause it; I realize that. The good thing to do would be to cut it off or to not say those things at all.” While what Adam is saying seems so very simple, it is in practice, truly profound. It’s hard to act well, especially when our social instincts feel like they’re being threatened, and when we’re taught that vulnerability is “bad,” it’s no wonder we get so uncomfortable when people express themselves so directly.
All roads lead back to compassion. How do we teach and inspire compassion? I’m not saying that women shouldn’t be angry. I am furious. Everyone should be furious about violence against women. This is an issue that impacts all of us. Most of the men I know seem to be unaware, even, that 1 in 4 women in their lives have been sexually assaulted or an attempted assault has been made on them. Or maybe they (we) hear these numbers but can’t connect them to ourselves?
I imagine that our lack of information is primarily due to the fact that assault is difficult to talk about and difficult to hear about. We don’t really have safe spaces (especially in the public opinion arena) to talk about such things. We tend to retruamatize survivors. I want to know how we can express our anger in a way that doesn’t shut people down.
It is a travesty that there’s so much negativity connected with the Women’s Rights Movement. People are terrified to be a part of the feminist community, to call themselves FEMINISTS. I’m scared, too. I know, it’s hard to believe with my incessant facebook posting and boycotting and protesting that I feel scared, but I am human. I care about being judged just like everyone else. I wonder, because of the negative connotations surrounding the “F” word, whether I will “scare” off a potential partner or friends. I’m afraid it will scare Adam. What will my future employers think? These thoughts are persistent, though I have learned to move past that fear and do what I think is right regardless of how I feel.
Still, it’s important to continue thinking about and asking how feminism and the feminist community can become more inclusive. If a feminist is “anyone who recognizes the equality and full humanity of women and men,” then we should certainly all call ourselves feminists. If not, I think we have a whole lot of explaining to do to our wives, daughters, sisters, and friends.
A version of this article originally appeared in So to Speak. It has been reprinted here with permission from the author.
Where Is the Million Hoodie March for Renisha McBride?
by Zerlina Maxwell
It’s been two weeks since the unnecessary and untimely killing of Renisha McBride. On November 2, the unarmed 19-year-old who was in search for help after a car accident in the Detroit suburb of Dearborn Heightswas shot in the face by Theodore Wafer, whose porch she had walked onto. The parallels between Trayvon Martin’s tragic killing and McBride’s are resonating in a national psyche rife with story after story of Black men and women gunned down as if their Black bodies have little or no value. And while we don’t know what will happen to Wafer as a result of the killing (George Zimmerman, the man who killed Martin, was acquitted) we know this pattern of violence must end.
Reports that have surfaced since the tragic killing note McBride was intoxicated at the time of the incident, implying that somehow she was responsible for her own death. McBride crashed into a parked car and walked a short distance to knock on Wafer’s door for help. Instead of, say,inviting her in to call 9-1-1 to report the car accident, he shot her in the face. Originally, Wafer claimed the shotgun fired accidentally, and he wasn’t arrested immediately after the shooting based on this version of events—reminiscent of the Zimmerman case.
Now that more evidence has surfaced, Wafer is claiming that he shot McBride in self-defense, even though the door to his home was locked and reports show that she was shot through this locked screen door and from a far enough distance that she didn’t pose an immediate threat. On Friday, Wafer was finally charged with second-degree murder and manslaughter and instructed to turn himself into the authorities. Wafer was arraigned, with his bail set at $250,000.
Beyond these facts, it appears McBride was killed in a manner more appropriate for a rabid animal trespassing on someone’s property than a human being with a full cadre of rights. Her life, like so many others in the Black community, was ended prematurely, for inexplicable reasons that defy logic about self-defense, guns, racial discrimination, and the criminalization of Black bodies.
This narrative is all too familiar. Zimmerman made similar claims after the killing of Trayvon Martin in 2011. Zimmerman claimed Martin posed a threat to his community, in part because Martin was wearing a hoodie. Zimmerman claimed that Martin—who was “armed” with Skittles and an iced tea—was a threat because he didn’t respond to being followed by a strange man, with the “yes, sir” head down humility expected by Black people being interrogated by those who believe they are somewhere they are not permitted to be. Martin’s death and the failure to immediately arrest Zimmerman caused the nation to take notice and Million Hoodie marches were organized across the country, garnering national attention. (Even Beyonce and Jay Z attended one in New York City after the verdict.)
So where is the Million Hoodie march for Renisha McBride?
While there are certainly activists organizing vigils across the country for McBride, they are noticeably smaller at this early stage in the case than the ones organized for Martin. Like Martin, McBride was gunned down inexplicably, and then labeled a threat by the shooter to justify the killing.
There is no question that Black men are under attack by a racist criminal justice system and a society that forever suspects them to be criminals. But when a young Black woman suffers the same fate as Trayvon Martin, the outrage appears to be concentrated among Black women, instead of a universal outrage with mass protests. That has got to change. Black women consistently show up for Black men, and yet the opposite is not true when Black women are the victims of injustice.
That Black bodies cannot simply exist and move about unmolested, without the threat of violence for little to no reason, links us back to the Jim Crow South, when Black bodies were labeled threatening and lynched in front of white communities. As Professor Jelani Cobb wrote in the New Yorker, “African-Americans are both the primary victims of violent crime in this country and the primary victims of the fear of that crime.” Both Renisha McBride and Trayvon Martin died as an apparent reaction to this discriminatory—and common—mindset.
There must be justice for Renisha McBride, for her family, and for her community. Black America is in a constant spin cycle of pain. The reasons given to justify the deaths of Black children are steeped in America’s checkered racial history and white supremacy.
The callousness with which Martin and McBride were killed should compel a national dialogue on race, inequality, profiling, and gun safety, but as long as white Americans refuse to acknowledge that Black people are not inherently a threat, and are capable of innocence deserving justice, the pain will continue. For a nation that claims to have a foundation of freedom and liberty, these killings are evidence of a nation lost and in denial, unable to find its way until all Americans can walk up to a home seeking help after an accident, and not receive a fatal shot to the face.
This article originally appeared in RH Reality Check and is reprinted here with permission of the publisher.