Beyond The Body: Women Just Want The Patriarchy

LOL. No they don’t.

Ya’ll. I’ve received so much encouragement and support from so many women and men about my Beyond The Body book series. It really has been an honor to talk about feminism here in this space and on Facebook with you all. Several of you have messaged me with gratitude and thanks for expressing things that you have been unable to express or illuminating something you’ve never thought before and I am just so glad to open up this conversation with you and be an encouragement to you. Feminism really is an amazing movement to help bond women and men together and dismantle systems of oppression. So, THANK YOU for reading!

But then sometimes I get other types of messages from (mostly) men complaining about my feminism. I received one such email from a guy who I’m not close with or who I even respect, but with whom I’ve known for a few years. It went something to the effect of “blah, blah, blah, your feminist blog really has me concerned. Please read this article because it really seems as though you’re villainizing patriarchy.” LOL. Silly. I AM villainizing patriarchy. I will also add that this man copied my husband on the email to make sure that we’re all on the same page and to make known that he is talking to me with my husband’s knowledge and approval.

No, I’m not even kidding. Can we all talk about this article? It’s from The Federalist, which should tip us off that this should be really good, and it is titled “What Women Really Want Is The Patriarchy.” LOL. Every time I write it I laugh. Maybe to keep from throwing up, but really because it is just that funny. It is so antiquated, foolish, and just plain old wrong that I’m not going to entertain this article with any in-depth intellectual criticism. It just doesn’t deserve it. Where I’d like to pause and focus is on its author. Nicole Russell. This poor woman has lost all of herself to this deeply harmful and oppressive system and she has no idea which way is up.  She believes that what women want are rough around the edges macho men who don’t believe that rape is really a thing and who take what’s theres and don’t ask questions. Well, Nicole, you can thank a feminist who worked and fought really hard for you to get your words published in the male dominated media. It wasn’t very long ago that even your flattering words about patriarchy weren’t worth anything and were scoffed at as being a trifle and a menial frivolity that wasted your mind. You know, thinking was once a man’s thing. Lastly, I’d like to point out that contrary to Nicole’s argument I am married to a feminist husband and we have a wonderful, loving, respectful, and existing marriage. Every time he denies himself to support and lift me up I want to jump his sexy bones. And when I see him with our daughter showing her how to love and be loved by men in a way that doesn’t oppress or suppress her I am so proud and full of respect for him. That’s the world that we are creating for our children. One that frees women and men from oppressive and harmful stereotypes and roles. One that helps to preserve marriages and families.

I don’t have much else to say about her or her article or even the man who sent it me. But this is my answer. My very public answer that I didn’t ask my husband’s permission to write or publish.


A Day At Home In Norfolk

In the morning I will sit here
in my dinning room
next to my lukewarm cup of coffee
reading news of more shootings
and violence in my city gone mad with
gun lust and apartheid.
I am at home.
In the labor of my garden that will last
longer than the lives of our youth,
I will go on a harvest plucking
fruit from the vine to ripen in
the poisoned air. We will feast
while the rest starve.
Needing entertainment, I will pack up
my children and drive them through
the city’s labyrinth of our self-esteem
passing coffee and biscuit shops, sold out
for a higher economy of redevelopment,
while avoiding those streets where poverty
is laid to rest. God rest their souls.
In the evening, the Lafayette will be calm and wide
with bridges stretching their arms as friends
in a close embrace, hiding crabbers on her banks.
They will laugh and tell stories with fish guts under
their nails next to no fishing, crabbing, or loitering signs
as I pass over them on my way home to
tuck in my children and kiss them good night
before more gunshots ring out putting us
to sleep safe in our beds, bodies in the street.
I am at home.

An Uncontrollable Life

Walking to the bus stop yesterday morning with all three of my children we talked about bugs and the blooming hibiscus that Myles described as looking like purple plums with tongues. He has a burgeoning love for poetry and I just love looking at and describing the world in creative and beautiful ways with him. It’s the last week of school and we’re all anxious for it to be over, so we walked slow to the bus stop through the thick humid air. None of the children have their book bags with them anymore. They’re just going to school to watch Disney movies for a few hours, run around on the playground equipment while their teachers fan themselves in the shade, and spend their last days joking around with their friends.

We arrived to the bus stop at the same moment as Xavier and his mom. Xavier is a little kindergartener, the same as my Owen, who lives 2 blocks away from us and he ran in circles and smiled with the other kids, oblivious to his mom’s crying. I asked her if she was okay and she said “No. I’m really down this morning. My little nephew was killed last night in a shooting.” My first response was oh my god. i’m so sorry. This isn’t news that I hear in my circle of neighbors and friends very often. The last time I received this kind of news was two years ago when a woman in my church shot and killed her 7 year old daughter and then herself at their home while her husband was at work and her older daughter was at summer camp. It rattled our community to the core.

But the gun violence that found its way into my neighbor’s life is something very, very different. When I asked her how old he was his life flooded out from inside of her:

He was 17 but he lived an uncontrollable life. He wouldn’t listen to us and there was nothing we could do. He was just out of control and we’re all just so sad. We saw this happening but I just still can’t believe it.

When the bus pulled up all of the little kids lined up and piled up the steps. Xavier was full of smiles and waved back to his mom and she just stood there staring at him. Her eyebrows furrowed and new tears filled her eyes and she watched him. On the bus, the kids poked their heads out of the windows and waved their goodbyes and there she stood. Eyes staring. Tears streaming. Watching her 5 year old drive away from her.

Her watchful, crying eyes haunt me this morning. I keep picturing her happy, smiling son waving at her. And she stands there. Tall. Strong. Staring. Crying. There was so much worry, fear and sadness locked on her face. There is a knowing in the creases of her eyes that I don’t have. Her understanding of our city, our people, and our communities are etched much more sharply and deeply into her body than mine, and so she looks at her son in a way that I will never be able to or have to look at my own. When she sees her son, does she see the statistics? Does she see the images of her nephew holding guns? Does she see handcuffs, crime tape, and police cars?  Does she see the bullet holes in cars and hats laying in the street? What does she see? Because I see a smiling, waving child. When I look at my sons I see them making silly, innocent poems and chasing fireflies. And then I feel almost foolish. The lens and view that I have of my city is so small and so naive. I read the posts on NextDoor by my neighbors about black boys on bikes that might be casing the neighborhood, car break-ins, burglaries, muggings, and people feeding raccoons and they are just like me. They see our city from a vantage point that doesn’t see their sons and daughters as a statistic. Our special little children write poems and go to swim lessons and we never worry that one day they might have a gun in their pocket and end up as a hat in the street. We worry that those are the kids that will harm us and ours.

And I cry. Because I’m so naive. Because my city is not how I know it and see it. Because there are mothers who can’t wave back at their children. Because how do we control uncontrollable lives? I’m sitting here in my whiteness, the skin that I was born in, the skin that protects me and my children from statistics and crime tape, and I want to help, I want to say and do anything to help Xavier’s mom wave at him. To keep him innocent and smiling. To keep the guns out of his pocket. To keep him writing poetry about the blooming hibiscus. And still I cry because I can’t. I can only hug his mom. I can only cry with her and walk next to her. Invite them over for dinner. Be their neighbor. What else can I do?  This city is not mine. It is ours. And our city needs us to not be afraid of our black children and their parents and their schools. It needs to us sit with them and eat with them and learn with them and not be afraid of the guns. It needs us to love each other and talk to each other. And so, I’ll write. I’m writing to you. How will you love our city and the people in it?

These are images of my kids, Don Demetrius Jr., the 17 year old shot and killed on Sunday night, children at the PB Young school garden, and our city where we all live. So many images of hopes, dreams, and violence that shape our communities in so many different ways. How do we confront them in meaningful and purposeful ways? How do we live together in love and not in fear? They’re all our children.

Living Minimally: What’s The Point?

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Have you all heard of the minimalist movement? The tiny house movement?  They’re both so interesting and appealing to me. When I see people living so simply, minimally, so tiny, it reminds me of when I was a kid playing with my Polly Pocket dolls and how everything miniature just felt so much more magical, sentimental and inviting. I really admire people who can give up so much and be so happy (if not cramped)!

In 2012, my husband and I bought our first house. It’s nearly a hundred years old and has so much charm and character. When we first saw it and walked through its halls we knew we would put in an offer. It was advertised as being 1900 square feet but when we moved in, our furniture did not fit. We had to give away quite a few pieces. It wasn’t until we installed our HVAC system that we figured out that it was actually 1500 square feet. In 1920, when the house was built, they included the unfinished basement in the square footage. Well, we don’t live down there so we don’t include that as living space in 2016. Anyways, boring house details aside, when we bought this house, we immediately had to downsize and realized that we weren’t going to grow into this house. We would have to shrink into it. With 5 people living in 1500 square feet, we have about 300 sq. ft. per person. For upper middle-class American standards, that’s pretty small.

But that brings me to my point. Upper middle-class American standards.

Most of the world lives in very small, minimalist spaces, and usually not by choice. Right here in my own city, the average house price is $140,000. But that’s on the side of town that I wouldn’t choose to live in. The houses are sometimes very small, in disrepair, and the schools and neighborhoods are often unsafe and violent. Many of these “tiny houses” are public, low income townhouses. The families that live in these “tiny houses” may not be able to afford closets full of clothes, the newest technologies, and rooms full of toys for their kids. And so they live minimally. They live tiny. Sometimes hungry. But more often than not, they are still  happy. But I can guarantee that this is not the minimal, tiny living that the movement had in mind.

My family chose to live across town for $100,000 more. We can afford a safe neighborhood. My children are surrounded by books, technologies, and resources to help them succeed in school. They have parents (me and Jason) who read to them, do their homework with them, volunteer at their school, spend quality time with them; all things that cultivate and help ensure academic success. All because we can afford to. And we can afford to choose to live minimally if we want. We can choose to downsize. To not spend money on cable, food, toys, clothes, and activities. And we have access to resources that teach us and encourage us to spend quality time with our children. We don’t live in a generational cycle of forced “tiny living.” We live in a generational cycle of economic health, education, and choices. That’s what the minimalist and tiny house movement misses. It misses the choices that people  who are privileged have.

My question to minimalists and people who live and aspire to live tiny is this: What is the point? I would like to aspire to have less things, to teach my children to live counter culturally by not wanting more for the sake of having more. But to what end? I think that the minimalist and tiny house movements are on to something. I think that it is a worthwhile cause. Upper middle class American culture does live too big and consume too much. But when we work to give up so much, what do we exchange? What do we do with the extra money? The extra time? Do we then spend it with the poor? Do we help those who have no choice but to live minimally and tiny?

Tiny living can be something amazing. It can free us up to give hugely. To make new friendships. To spread out our resources. Otherwise, what’s the point?

My Son’s Hair

There is nothing more interesting than watching an adult squirm uncomfortably around a little boy with hair below his years.

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I’m not sure when or how it happened, but sometime over the last year Myles decided that he wants to grow his hair long. Maybe because we are terrible at keeping hair cut schedules around here that my seven year old decided to just go with it and embrace the hair over his eyes. It really has been a non-event. He’s happy. We’re happy. It just hasn’t been that big of a deal.

But once it started to creep over his ears and lay across his forehead I was astonished at the amount of attention he started to get over it.

“When are you going to cut your hair?”
“Isn’t he going to get hot?!”
“But, Myles, it flips out like a girl’s!”

I was initially worried that kids at school would poke fun at him. But that hasn’t been the case. All of the comments and concerns have come from people over 30. And it’s almost always a comment or concern about his gender. That shouldn’t be surprising but isn’t it interesting?  I really do love this youngest generation of children. I love watching them grow up around adults who are struggling to understand the fluidity of race, gender, class, and sexuality. Many of the children that I come into contact with really do seem to have a better time understanding and expressing their gender and race in non-conforming ways than a lot of adults. I’d like to think that we can give credit to the adults who have worked hard to present the world in ways that challenge expressions of gender and race. Of course, my experience is just a small little piece of the world. Our little bubble here in Norfolk. My hope is to help free my children from a lot of our culture’s pressures to conform and give them grace upon grace.

To your relief and my surprise, I really don’t have much else to say about it beyond that. Maybe I just don’t care much what other people think about my son’s hair and I try to instill that into my kids. “If you want your hair long, grow it,” I tell him. “If it gets hot, we’ll pull it back with a hair tie.” I say. And then we crack a few jokes about the people who are so worried about his hair, as if there isn’t more to care about in this world.

Beyond The Body: My Trouble With Abortion

Feminism is for Everbody
bell hooks

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I have to be upfront and honest with you. Abortion is the issue in feminism that I struggle with the most and it’s very difficult to have a conversation about it in our social climate. Either you are a baby murderer if you sympathize with the pro-choice crowd or you are a fundamentalist anti-feminist Christian if you sympathize with the anti-choice crowd.  The binary is blinding and makes me run from confrontation and avoid the conversation all together. Which just isn’t productive or helpful. There’s room for me at this table. From the outset of this conversation I will reject extreme binaries; I do not believe that this issue should be as polarizing as it is and that it has several answers, but even more importantly, it often has no answers. Where there is no room at this table are for people who will not entertain that perhaps they are wrong and will not consider other’s opinions, experiences, or answers. I haven’t brewed enough coffee for you and quite honestly, I have no desire to hear what you think of my uterus, my sex, or my babies. For the sake of transparency I will say from the outset that I am pro-choice. I know that claiming that identity immediately isolates many of you in this conversation, however I think that owning our beliefs and opinions and pinpointing their existence on the spectrum of identity is important. So, with that, onward.

bell hooks is extremely helpful in her chapter “Our Bodies, Ourselves: Reproductive Rights.” She explains that abortion rights were never meant to be front and center in the feminist movement: reproductive rights were. As she explains in the first chapters, the mass media has had a tremendous negative affect on feminism. It is not in any way intellectual nor does it seek to understand what feminism is or believes. Because it is historically very conservative, anti-intellectual, and dominated by white conservative males, the mass media has latched on to abortion as the sole reproductive issue for the feminist movement, and it simply is not. Radical feminism, again, does not simply want to change the patriarchal system, it wants to completely get rid of it. That means that abortion cannot be at the center of the reproductive rights conversation. It means that access to preventative health care, safe contraceptives, menstrual hygiene products, sex education, and knowledge about the risk of unnecessary cesarean sections and hysterectomies are the bread and butter of reproductive rights. When radical feminism is actually allowed to speak, all of these issues then become centralized in the conversation about women’s reproductive rights, women take control of their bodies from the male dominated media and healthcare field, and lo and behold the need for abortions would diminish. Isn’t that something?   That’s why the attacks on Planned Parenthood infuriate me. Abortions are such a small percentage of what their clinics do. They provide necessary services, often for free, to women who lack the class privileges to gain access to them. In this radical feminist paradigm of reproductive rights, women have so many choices concerning their bodies. It’s rarely a choice between receiving an abortion or not. But that’s where the media, the church, and conservative feminist thinkers have latched on.

So then, where do I struggle with abortion? I struggle with its violence. I struggle with its marginalization of children. I struggle with understanding why we scientifically frame this conversation around the conception of life’s beginnings. I believe that it is manipulative and violent to frame the conversation around if life takes place at conception or birth. Is it a baby or a fetus? Does it deserve rights or not? And if it does have rights, do they trump the rights of the mother? What rights do we have over our own bodies? What rights do we have over other’s bodies, both a woman’s and a fetus’s? See how complicated it gets? See how choosing a concrete answer can be manipulative and harmful either way? Because here’s the rub: I don’t believe there is an answer. I don’t know if life begins at the moment of conception. I don’t know if we have a moral responsibility to protect unborn babies or fetuses. I simply don’t know.  But what I do know is that men have historically attempted to control women’s bodies and sexuality and we must frame the conversation around that truth. This is about life but it is also about control. Pushing aside the concerns that women, like me, have about the violence of abortions, concerns about safety and invasiveness, concerns about marginalizing and framing pregnancies and children as being “unwanted” are dangerous as well.

Toni Morrison has said that, “everywhere, everywhere, children are the scorned people of the earth.” And we must be careful how we talk about children and pregnancies. As many unwanted pregnancies there are, there are even more unwanted children. We cannot divorce children and pregnancies. We cannot divorce humanity and life from conception. When women are shamed for being sexual and becoming pregnant, that’s when children become so unwanted and scorned. In that way, we cannot divorce patriarchy’s affects on violence against children.  Children are so unwanted and scorned because patriarchy has shamed women’s sexuality and bodies that create children. Because women’s sex and pregnancy often are shamed, so too are the birthed children. That’s why I believe that abortion is a violent and defensive reaction against patriarchy. Patriarchy says that sex, pregnancy, and children are shameful, are less than, and unwanted and abortion is then the answer to that shame. We see this most apparently in cases of pregnancy in rape. The violence of rape is a direct result and symptom of patriarchy and abortion is then the response to that patriarchy. It is simply not enough to defensively react against rape with abortion; we must actively work against violence against women, rape culture, and patriarchy. Abortion should absolutely be a right for women who want to have control over their own bodies, however I believe that answering patriarchy’s imposed shame on women should be a call do what radical feminism has always done: to dismantle patriarchy, not simply react against it.

I’ll close by saying that feminism has worked to help oppressed children since it inception. Patriarchy has worked to harm children. Patriarchy works to control women, their bodies and children. It says that the sole purpose of a woman is to make and have babies, only under male control. Materially disadvantaged women and their children are hurt most in patriarchy. When organizations like Planned Parenthood are banned, the women are not given access to necessary reproductive services and healthcare and the resulting children are born into a cycle of having limited or no access to social mobility. That’s what patriarchy does and what it is responsible for. That’s why we must not simply react against it but actively work to dismantle it. So, yes. I’m pro-choice. But I’m more importantly anti-patriarchy. That’s how it will be dismantled.




Orlando Rising

In the garden, I sit and watch my hens peck and scratch at the dirt looking for worms and bugs. A breakfast to turn their yolks a bright rich orange. Leaning against a fence post, the leaves in the tree above shade my face. A cool shadow protecting against sun rays and heat. Cucumber vines curl as tendrils around wire and wood, climbing up a ladder of grace, yellow flowers opening up to bees. Deathly is the bloom that pushes out fruit toward ripening in time, falling to the ground alone, rotting, nourishing its grave. A staccato of rain on the earth, bullets piercing the ground, into a stream of blood of homage and sorrow. Surrounded by sleep, the earth is a tomb but cannot keep bones resting. The motion of earth’s turn toward blooming and dying, heavy seeds sit as headstones marking resurrection, moving death towards new life in the sun’s heat. I imagine you free of weapons and hates and the enmity of beasts where mortality does not weigh heavy on your blood-soaked roots and men renew their abuse with their bullets and fears. Birth of rising, the morning lights a brightness on the world perfect as breath. A luminous gathering. Newly risen, a green vine, a yellow flower, in the sun. Grown out of death’s deep darkness from brown earth, in a lighted country, waking to a new freedom that cannot be taken by man.

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