I am taking steps to improve my life. It is an extraordinary amount of work. My mental and physical health have received so much love and energy from feminists. I feel such a connection and support from other women and it motivates me to keep going. Part of improving my life is carefully considering the foundational assumptions of the culture – and gender – I live in.
Unpacking your cultivated assumptions is difficult, even painful. You may be giving up a lot of cultural capital and privilege that you’ve worked hard to gain access to. Imagine the woman who grew up with corsets, dependent on the instrument that smothers her to hold up her back. Slowly, she loosens her corset bindings; she may even need another woman to help her as the lacings are on her back and out of her own sight. She’s likely mocked by her peers that used to compliment her small waist. She’s told that women need the support and structure of the corset; the argument may even sound convincing as she first begins to use her atrophied back and core muscles. That’s what it’s like. So I would like to acknowledge the work and labor that goes into this unpacking, unwrapping.
Some of the damage can’t be undone. We can’t remove all of our indoctrination and upbringing. The corset can stunt and distort the growth of the ribcage – those bodily effects will remain with the woman even after she gives up the corset’s binding. The effect of this indoctrination of gender is permanently embodied. It’s slow and painful work to accept the distortions and maiming left behind but also to construct new ways of working and living that allow us to do what needs to be done.
Constantly I am asked what I’m doing whenever I talk about feminist issues, especially those of black women – the onus of burden on the resistor.
- What protests did I attend?
- What articles have I written?
- What classes have I taken?
- What sacrifices have I made?
I refuse to answer those questions. I point to the unpacking I have done and that I encourage other women to do. Unpacking myself, educating myself, and creating my own spaces to do so – this is women’s work and women’s work is valuable.
Once and for all I will answer these questions.
Every day of my life is a protest because I am a woman of color from the foster care system who is not in prison or homeless. Every day of my life is a protest against white male power, as I use the resources that my male counter parts greedily take for granted and I refuse to give my time and energy to men. Each time I speak with a woman of color, with lesbian, bisexual, and sexual women, with young women, with frightened women, with poor women – each conversation and encouragement is a protest. Each movement away from violence and destruction is a protest of the instability of patriarchal consumption of women and the world we inhabit.
I have written many articles for many classes. I have been recognized for my academic achievements by the standard bearers of patriarchal regard. I stand on my academic achievements at a premiere university as a student of culture, anthropology, archaeology, and art history. I study hard and take my academic work very seriously. I have for several year now been training in the theory and criticism of structures of society. I have tried to focus my studies on revealing the methods by which these systems convey their ideologies and perpetuate themselves, in art and other aspects of material culture.
I have done years of traditional service. I briefly worked for the Public Service Center at my university. I have hosted events with the Office of Minority Education for students in my dorm, focusing as always on the women I lived with. I have hosted female prospective students; I have given tours to female prospective students; I have served as an advisor to male and female students. I have done (and gratefully received) service through the Children’s Defense Fund including working in their Freedom Schools in a homeless shelter in D.C. Earlier in high school I was involved in many service activities including four years of continuous service and activism for Friends of the Occoquan.
You see – I have considerable capital in the “right ways” to be an activist. I could justify myself by calling on the traditional gate keeping to activism. I could even turn these same questions against the person who seeks to silence me. Because always these questions come up when I stand for women and women of color. But! I do not see the point in pitting women against each other. As Mary Daly insightfully points out, women should not adopt necrophilic behaviors such as self flagellation over who has sacrificed more for the cause. We do not need to starve ourselves to be Mother Teresa in serve to the Patriarch – not only is her life deprived of joy but her activism is hollow of gynocentric life giving energy. My work is not better or worse than other women’s work based on the rubric of fitting these male models. I, biophilic, deserve a right to speak simply because I am alive as a woman. My creative pursuits are valuable and valid. My work must analyzed on the basis of its life giving, its support, its love.