I’ve been crafting this blog post for weeks. This blog is a look at feminism and male accountability. Then the day I was set to post it, the Orlando shootings happened in Florida. Which was one day after I did a ceremony at gates pass, under a double rainbow for all displaced people suffering from violence. I read today, that the woman married to the Orlando gunman was a woman who actually knew about the gunman’s plans and said nothing. So here I am, getting ready to speak at a TUSD school board meeting, where a measure is set to go to vote for comprehensive sexual education, in a state that has a law that forbids homosexuality to be taught as a positive life style choice. And I am lit up thinking about male violence and women who stand behind men, terrified to say anything, while men enact violence and abuses. I see this kind of silent agreement everyday with almost every woman I know. Women sitting by keeping “the peace” while their partners act out in abusive, sexist, bigoted, dogmatic ways and are not held accountable. In writing this blog and doing this work for social justice and positive reform, I pray that if nothing else, at least it starts a dialogue. There should be no taboo subjects. We need now more than ever to examine ourselves and work daily to shed light on why hatred, bigotry and abuse are thriving in our world. That said, here is the blog.
My girl-child Anastacia is becoming a woman. She’s in the magic in-between place where I am no longer her god. She’s calling me out, questioning me, deciding for herself how she wants to conduct her own life. I remember my twelve year old self well. It was when I still believed in my mother’s way, while simultaneously watching it become more and more transparent. I began to see through my mother, her religion, the lies she told herself, as well as the church which perpetuated these lies. Twelve was the last year of my childhood and the beginning of my personal journey to reclaim my power from an abusive step father, from patriarchy and from history.
In the car, Anastacia and Riley wear bathing suits and shorts on the way to the pool. But when we arrive the pool is closed.
“Do you want to go see a movie?”
“Sure, ” they respond in unison.
Riley says, ” but I don’t have a shirt to put on over my suit.”
“I’m sure it’s fine, it’s summer.” I say.
Riley says,“I would never be allowed to wear this to school. They would send me home and I would be suspended if I wore this.” She adjusts her straps on the suit and I can tell she’s nervous. Granted, it is a one piece bathing suit and cut off shorts but it isn’t that reveling or see through.
Anastacia says, “Why do they have a dress code anyway? Who cares, boys can wear whatever they want but girls can’t.”
We turn onto a busy road and I say,” The school rules are just trying to protect girls and boys from being inappropriate.” I try to sound reasonable as they banter back and forth about the injustices of being a girl in middle school.
“Boys can get away with so much more, who cares what girls wear, why should it even matter.” Riley says and I agree. Why should it even matter? We live in the desert and its a million degrees outside and every store in every mall sells clothes in styles that are backless, short, spaghetti strapped, and there are some definite mixed signals going on, with pop icons selling sexuality, at the same time as religious extremists are preaching abstinence only education.
8 year old Brenna
I recognize this conversation as an opportune teaching moment, “I saw a meme on the internet, it said, Why is it we live in a society where we send girls home from getting an education for wearing something deemed inappropriate? Why don’t we teach boys to not sexualize girls for what they wear. ” I say, “I don’t agree with the strict dress code rules but I do understand why its an issue. You know, we have come a long way as women. It wasn’t that long ago it was legal for men to beat their wives and it was almost impossible for a woman to get a job. Women weren’t even allowed to wear pants.” Riley adjusts her straps again as I continue talking, “It really wasn’t that long ago. My grandma lived it. My mother lived it. I’ve dealt with sexism my whole life, it’s a long road to equality and you girls are going to have learn how to deal with sexism as well.”
I try to explain feminism to them and how it has been but a brief blink in history since women had any rights to their own bodies at all. I search for the words to help them understand this concept, to become little feminists themselves. I don’t have the right words. I barely have words at all and I get tongue-tied in the process of the telling. They didn’t teach feminism in school. As a college student, I attempted to sign up for a woman’s studies course but there are none at Pima Community College where I attend, no courses specifically about women and women’s issues. I don’t know how girls are supposed to learn when there are no teachers. I am working with planned parenthood to attempt to change this in part, to make comprehensive sexual education a standard for T.U.S.D schools. Currently, there is a policy of abstinence only education that does not cover or prepare young people for the choices they are soon to face in regards to their sexuality. Which is unacceptable, because being the daughter of a teenage mother, I know christian rhetoric is not effective birth control.
My mother was seventeen when she got pregnant with me. I was told as a twelve-year-old that it was my duty to be a ‘helpmate,’ subservient to my someday Mormon husband and that the ‘right way’ was to wait until marriage to have sex. There are whole nations that are convinced it’s God’s will for women to be servants to their husbands. Although, I believe the conception in America is that women are liberated, I question this assumption. I have spent a lifetime unraveling the indoctrination force-fed into my being and in doing so encountered the demons of fear that keep us all locked into the story of thousands of years of male domination.
My so-called radical outspoken ideas as a feminist, as a sex worker, and as a mother committed to social justice have stirred the pot in my life and I have encountered resistance, from my family, men I date, my ex-husband, his family, from schools, in churches, in the art and music scene, pretty much everywhere everyday. Because these ideas challenge the men’s club mentality that keeps female oppression alive. Feminism is a bad word. It’s somehow now uncool if women even talk about it, there are memes all over the internet where young girls are saying, I love my boyfriend, I’m not a feminist. No wonder, in a world created by men for men, women don’t even have the language to speak for our liberation.
Most women know some language about sexuality. Terrifying words, such as sexual predator, jealousy, control, blame, incest, rape, shame, abuse, slut, whore, sleazy, loose, bitch. I personally know them too well because I lived in a cloud of these experiences attempting to free myself from a rigid, Christian, brainwashed place. These words are not words I want to use to describe the glorious beauty and power behind true sexuality. You know the words I don’t hear much and barely know at all? Consent, empowerment, choice. I want the girls to be free not fear, I want for them empowerment not powerlessness, I want them to understand that their turf is their body and it is absolutely OK to consent to its truth. Whatever that is.
Personally, I believe in deconstructing modesty. Obviously I have lived my life as a nudist and half the world has seen me in various states of undress. I’m pretty certain all my boyfriends, husband, and mother have cringed a little (or a lot) in my open defiance of what is deemed appropriate. When I was thirteen I chose to destroy my boundaries. In fact I threw a grenade in the middle of myself and exploded the inner patriarch that was telling me to diminish myself to helpmate and in doing so I have made people uncomfortable as well as question their own boundaries. I made a choice to be a stripper for thirteen years, I did a trapeze act completely nude, I streaked down Congress street and proceeded to undress fully in every bar and dance on the tables. I am a breathing manifestation of feminism in action. A woman in her power. A legend in my own mind.
Now, I am a mother of two and gone are the days where I could get away with my debauchery dance. Not that it was good for me anyway. It was a tool in the process of my unfolding. It was a big middle finger to all the fuckers who told me I was in dress code violation. I now find myself changing, so not to embarrass my soon to be teen. Society expects mothers to be self-sacrificing, modest, examples of women. So I change a little, but I don’t like it. I don’t want to. I want to be naked. I want my beautiful muscular brown body shining in all its ALIVE glory. Despite what anyone thinks I should do or be. I am ALIVE dammit and that is truly a glorious thing. I don’t know how long my soul waited to get in this perfect beautiful incarnation but I tell you, I don’t take it lightly. My soul is dancing in here, dancing and dazzling so overwhelmed with JOY glittering just bursting with gratitude for it all. Women have been told for so long to dim their soul light and they have covered in shame, hiding for fear their men will get jealous and yield their power in abusive ways. Giving up their soul path to please and appease a judgmental, angry, male God.
Feminism has come a long way and women are more empowered yet equally confused about what happens next. And yes, we have gained some rights, and in a way it looks like we have won. But they don’t like it, the right-wing Christian masses don’t like it and our services are under attack. Planned Parenthood, abortions, and comprehensive sexual education to simply name a few.
This is just one piece of the puzzle, the truth is women’s rights and issues are domestic issues and it begins in the home, within our partnerships and friendship circles, within the patriarchal construct of this ‘one man and one woman’ culture. It’s often subtle, underestimated and regarded as the “boys will be boys” attitude. I see it go unchecked and accepted. Sexually inappropriate remarks dismissed as jokes, with educated men who lack emotional maturity, within the larger communities in which we exist, in the rape culture we live in where rape goes minimally punished. Women are asked to remain silent as to keep the peace and we often do. As many men sit back with their larger paychecks, doors swinging wide open for them saying, what, I don’t see a problem, I don’t have a problem, you must have the problem, why are you so emotional? Are you on your period?
Maya Angelou said, “Each time a woman stands up for herself, without knowing it possibly, without claiming it, she stands up for all women.” I’ve had to stand up many times to male oppression, reclaiming my power. The problem is that men don’t even understand what they are doing entirely because it is systemically woven into the fabric of our culture. That is why, it’s important now more than ever that men and women align with the struggle and truly try to understand it.
It is not ours alone. Together we must fight. Gender inequality, discrimination, sexual harassment, unequal pay is all of our problem, as well as our work. We must educate ourselves, our men must educate themselves. Together, we have to find balance. We have to teach the children balance. We have to be accountable to the future and the past and work very hard to heal. I don’t pretend to know how but I’m trying very hard to learn. I have deep compassion for men’s issues as well, but like all oppression be it gender, race or class oppression, it is up to those in a position of power to acknowledge the injustice and educate themselves so to begin to right, (in the case of women’s issues), thousands of years of patriarchal injustice!
One thing I know for sure, I’m no longer a classic cliche. I’m no longer,a high school drop out, an alcoholic, drug addicted stripper totally caught up in a death trap, telling myself the victim story. Through some real fucked up times, I’ve learned to be a woman. It was hard knocks that got me through, and my children that taught me compassion. Not only for others but also for myself. It’s not our fault but it is our responsibility to help it heal. We’re living under the historical truth, that a fear based culture dominates and oppresses it’s people to advantage its own selfish ends. It has to shift. Because we will no longer accept it. And in that shift, personal responsibility for equality has to become the standard. Through this dialogue, we will rise and stand tall and proud, unashamed of our form, violating dress codes, and creating our own code and language for liberation.