Because Misogyny

Because Misogyny


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.


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.

A Review of Rachael Lyon’s The Normal Heart and How It Works

Lyon_The Normal Heart_Poetry

A Review of Rachael Lyon’s The Normal Heart and How It Works

By Kirsten Clodfelter

Beyond the page in human form, Rachael Lyon is petite and funny and kind. She speaks patiently and with near-constant laughter. She is bright, warm-spirited, the pet mother of a small, adorable pup named Thomas. She writes thoughtful letters—a better penpal than most of us. She is the sort of person who asks meaningful questions of both close friends and strangers, the sort of person who asks these questions and then really listens as she’s given the answers so that these answers can form the next questions.

Her generosity is so marked that she is the kind of person about whom we might apply the cliché but well-fitting platitude: A beautiful heart. And it is beautiful in the way Lyon’s warmth overflows from it, in the way being around her will put a person almost instantly at ease, but the truth is, since birth, Lyon’s beautiful heart was imperfect. “It’s not that it’s a bad heart,” she explains in “Transplant No. 2,” her tone edged with apology, her voice rushed to explain the defect as something that doesn’t have to define her, “The heart has a bad valve, not a bad valve but a small one. Too small.”

The same pragmatic earnestness that fills her letters and that make her a great conversationalist can be found in the poems of The Normal Heart and How It Works, her first chapbook. Her language, these fragmented moments she offers to the reader, are a type of gentle carrying: “It’s just that mothers sometimes think / of things the way they should be.” But there is a deep, unmistakable power in her writing too, an honesty that does not falter or even blink, and this we can credit to Lyon’s earnestness as well.

In “Moving,” Lyon recounts as she (or an imagined version of her) and her sister, as children, climb through the frame of an unfinished house that will soon be their new home, finally giving into temptation and breaking their “no-touch rule” to mark the territory as their own. And later, after the house in finished and the move is complete, Lyon admits as if in a conspiratorial whisper:

In the summer when I put my face

against the wall, next to the light

switch, I can smell bubbleyum

and sour jealously and something else:

a kind of craving for this place,

or for being pushed beyond it.

That is a craving nearly all of us know. Relating to Lyon comes quickly, easily, and this is true whether she’s discussing something as universal as moving or the complicated relationships between siblings or the specific, unique fears that belong to someone with a congenital heart defect. In deceptively light, conversational language, Lyon brings us right into her body to experience with her the physical and psychological effects of the too-small valve in her heart, the danger that has been hers to dismantle since birth, the “process of becoming a more perfect self,” as she writes in the collection’s introduction.

Five beautiful and haunting poems interspersed throughout this slim book, each titled “Transplant,” thread together her work as skillfully and carefully as the surgeon’s stitch. Just over a year ago, a cardiovascular team at Mayo Clinic fixed Lyon’s leaking tricuspid valve and nursed her back to health after open-heart surgery. Nine months later, she successfully ran her first 5K, with a heart that no longer “beats faster, beats faster longer than other hearts.” But even in light of this transformation, the writing in Lyon’s 2010 collection is no less urgent, no less terrifying. As we read, we are right there with her, nodding in agreement when she tells us in “The Trouble with Glass”:

My fears are numerous.

Rotund and pushing

from my chest:

ribs are cagey

sometimes they let the bad stuff through[.]

Because no matter how perfect or imperfect our hearts, we too have fears, and, like Lyon’s, they are numerous.

Rachael Lyon, The Normal Heart and How It Works, White Eagle Coffee Store Press, 2010: $5


Kirsten Clodfelter holds an MFA from George Mason University. She has contributed writing to The Iowa ReviewBrevityNarrative Magazine, Green Mountains Review, and The Good Men Project, 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 writes and lives in Southern Indiana with her partner and their awesome, hilarious daughter.