We have to talk about liberating minds as well as liberating society. – Angela Davis
I’ve been spending my time these few weeks immersed in reading; poetry, essays, books, articles, mostly written by black women. This is the process of liberating my mind. Expanding my borders. Everywhere we look our world is on fire and I don’t want my mind to go up in a blaze with it. So I read. And I read what isn’t instant. Online writing has become largely a space of immediate gratification and self aggrandizement, not often a space for contemplation or intellectual exercise. And I do realize that my writing on this blog places itself in that discourse. Though, I hope in some small way that it contributes to deeper thought and contemplations. To read words that have been carefully crafted, thought over, and critically created in the context of other similarly thoughtful writing is the work of actively liberating your mind. The distress that I see over the Presidential election has naturally captured my attention and I can’t help but wonder if we are enslaving ourselves with continual, non-stop streams of immediate information. In the furor of news articles, cable news programs, live streams, blog entries, memes, and tweets filling our consciousnesses, the discipline of being still and contemplating our own thoughts, reactions, and understandings become chained to what flashes in front of us. We then begin filtering buzz words through value systems that aren’t actually our own, but rather through what is new and current. Voices get lost. And they are usually the ones that have sat and read and thought critically, having not yet moved on to the most current news cycle. I’m also considering how I contribute to and participate in this cycle of enslavement on social media and on this blog. How do I latch onto what is inflammatory and immediate? Or how do I reinforce binaries of liberal/conservative, democrat/republican, racist/anti-racist, christian/non-christian, American/non-American? That’s what I find that online writing and information sharing typically works to do and how it enslaves: it works to reinforce binaries. Having spent some time reading Angela Davis, I am considering her philosophy of not endorsing politicians, but rather engaging in independent politics that places pressure on candidates by engaging them in difficult conversations, pressing them on their weaknesses, flaws, voting records, and platforms, and is not interested in electing specific parties. I want to be much more intentional and conscious of how I help to dismantle a political system of binaries instead of reinforcing it. And I am aware of how this sentiment is scoffed at. The current political system that we have constructed and reinforce is a binary that I am constantly uncomfortable with. As Davis suggests, there is no party that is rooted in labor or has the vocabulary or the desire to effectively address sexism, homophobia, transphobia, or racism. The current system works by pandering to those issues in return for votes; eventually progressive work does slowly get done, but only as a result of political pandering, not active resistance. What I find most disturbing in this election cycle is the broad dismissal of cries for a third party candidate (who are not the ineffective Green Party or Libertarian party), specifically the dismissal of women and people of color who are not satisfied with the current parties or candidates. We must remember that this current binary political system works to organize people into systems of oppression. Nowhere in this system is there an adequate place for issues that concern the labor class, people of color, women, queer, trans, or the disabled and dismissing those who are dissatisfied with the current system and how it oppresses is not only harmful but an oppressive act itself. I find that the same people who get uncomfortable when black feminists begin to organize and suggest that white feminism has worked to oppress them for decades, are the same people who get uncomfortable when liberals and democrats are also criticized for oppressing women and people of color. When a black woman expresses her concern for both a Trump and a Clinton presidency, we cannot dismiss that concern. Her mind and body has been oppressed by both political parties and it is not a simple matter of choosing the worse of two candidates. Arguing that she choose between two candidates in a system that has actively worked against her for generations is itself an oppressive act. We must realize that the experiences and voices of those who have suffered most need to be considered and we must work to create a political system, from the local to the national, that rejects binaries and encourages independent politics. Because what I have seen a lot of on the internet, that immediate and quick information stream, are white, middle class people who are scared of a Trump presidency deriding women and people of color for not accepting Hillary Clinton. These people who are not willing to support Clinton are then assigned the responsibility of avoiding a Trump presidency. That is not anti-oppression. That is not liberation. That is not anti-sexism or anti-racism. That is oppressive and enslaved politics. We must recognize how our democracy and two party system is oppressive in that way and reject it. Even at the risk of a Trump presidency. What is most striking is that for the first time in a long time, we see white people scared of an oppressive power from above. We are scared of how a Trump presidency will not only hurt minorities, but us as well. We then turn to those who have been systematically oppressed by our government for generations and tell them to choose someone else who they are equally afraid of and tell them that it’s the lesser oppressor. That’s privilege and arrogance if I ever saw it. And it’s what I’m concerned that I’ve engaged in and am reinforcing. That’s what I’m trying to liberate myself from and research how to support and implement governing systems that reject systems of oppression. However, that’s a slow process and it is a process that may risk a Trump presidency and that scares the crap out of liberal white people. Including me.
Hey, when you gon’ wake up and take care of your kids?
There’s a thankless day woke and waiting for you
And nobody cares you can’t lift open your lids
Sleep ain’t nothing but a dream that’s gone off and hid
In another house where diapers and debt don’t accrue
Girl, you can’t undo what you already did
You turn on the sprinkler to ignore the kids
So you can spend some time with only just you
But certain days you wish that you hadn’t done did
Today you’ll try to do something like work amid
Their fighting, and whining, and crying at you
When you look back at the days that can’t be redid
Maybe regret itself is kinda like a kid
Leaving of trail of things that you only half knew
After you wanted to do what you didn’t done did
But really, if only that sperm had just hid
When we did the thing that we do that created you
Though, it is fun, doing that thing that we did
And that’s what happens when you have too many kids.
Deaf and blind, we cannot see or hear the breeze
from the dead who run past and collapse as
a spattered breath on the ground.
When I close my eyes I see blood and bullets.
But it’s not my blood. And they are my bullets.
Black skin and kinky hair lay on pavement
and over leather car seats with nothing left to give
but raised hands, clenched teeth, and the sways
and hums of chained ancestors from hidden burial mounds.
Our ears are ringing from the pounding bullets leaving
chambers and ripping through skin and bones that we
can’t hear the moaning and the crying from the grave,
families left to release their relatives’ spirits to be with the
generations of ancestors entombed in the ground of our
forefathers who separated and divided the liberties of men.
So, we listen with our blood. Lift our spirits to the sky.
Gather at the city’s farthest edge. Remember history
that began before the beginning of every moment
and reclaim what is ours, the blood of our people.
This morning I wanted to write about The Camp. But how can I? All I can think about are the children that I played with and hugged and cared for and that 1 out of 3 of them will end up in prison. How many more of them will be shot or will shoot? All I can see are the videos of men shot and killed by police.
We must rethink how we see ourselves, our people, our history. We must see our people as precious, beloved, full of dignity. We must see our history as working to deprive our people from what is theirs, their divine images. Their beautiful bodies. Their eternal spirits.
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.
There is nothing more interesting than watching an adult squirm uncomfortably around a little boy with hair below his years.
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.
Feminism is for Everbody
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.