"Just because she carries it well doesn't mean it isn't heavy (Love and Rage)" - Noelle Mirabella Photography
This showed up in my facebook feed and I reposted before I processed the contents of her load. I might have let it roll off the feed if I'd looked a little closer, but it's up now and people seem to be moved. I understand. I am also moved. My heart hurts, skips a beat or two, then jumps right into the fire. My opinions on the subject aren't particularly popular in the current era, but that doesn't make them any less relevant; perhaps more so.
If I could say just one thing to that girl before my mouth sealed forever, it would be this:
Stand up. Stand up and unstrap that thing. Drop it. Drop it and walk away because no one is going to take it from you. You will not be freed, unshackled, or worst of all, rescued. And stop wearing Me Too like a badge of honor, because it is not; it is simply, and horribly a fact of life. It will remain a fact of life until YOU do something about it.
But there's so much more, isn't there? Of my more left leaning friends and acquaintances, I notice a swell of deep incongruity. The message is brutal, devoid of hope, and I'd lay it at the feet of men, but it is women who choose to pick up and wear the mantle of damage. The sort that cannot be undone. When a woman was/is assaulted, the correct behavior is to protect her. To protect her from what, exactly? The deep rumble of the TRIGGER WARNING and the ME TOO shout, assault the general populace in perfect harmony. How is that not a contraindication? I understand the premise of turning back and placing the burden of change into the hands of men. After all, why should we carry this any longer than we already have?
I know. I am angry too. I am full of rage, and fear, and frustration. I am mortally exhausted and it has become difficult to process.
The woman in the photograph is not angry, she is unaware. Look at her face. Look at her body language and the way she holds her child. Her body says the load is not heavy at all; in fact, it barely registers. It touches her back from stem to stern, but it appears to weigh nothing. I wonder if that child is grasping the strap that binds the bag. Is the child absorbing the weight? To some extent, yes. That bag is an inheritance. The contents of the bag are legacy. Is this really who we want to be? Is it the intention to pass to our children? Not just our daughters, maybe more so, our sons. That's a hard pill to swallow.
I have another story. You'll have to turn away from the current era, but you can always turn back. That bag isn't going anywhere, trust me; but see if you can't set it down a moment.
Burn the Witch!
The law of Conservation of Mass implies that mass cannot be created or destroyed. Mass is a Truth. It can be redistributed, rearranged, relocated, and given a new flavor or texture. This is a gross oversimplification, but it's easier swallowed than this version of the Truth:
A life for a life:
In order for one thing to become, another must un-become. In simplest terms, because there is only so much Mass to go around, when a child is born, something is altered elsewhere. Dark magic demands a life for a life. I want to save something that shouldn't be saved. To do so, something else must die. We hear that as a lie. Our culture and myth support the belief that the witch who grants the life is directly responsible for taking the other. The witch extracts payment out of greed or spite leaving us with no culpability whatsoever.
And thine eye shall not pity; but life shall go for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot. Matthew 18:21
Maybe that doesn't mean what I thought it meant. Vengeance is mine, so sayeth the Lord? I think Matthew tells a parable and we might have missed the point. In any event, it is the same message over and over again. To take a thing, you must give a thing. Stop being so literal, Matthew 18:21 is the bedrock that supports and defends capital punishment in the United States. It simply means that if you do something, even the act of inhaling and exhaling, there will be a chain reaction that changes something else in the universe. Using the law of Conservation of Mass to justify death row is preposterous. So sayeth the Lord.
The Witch Burning Part:
Oh, my daughters, let me show you legacy. Some of you picked it up and put it on. You continued to effect change. You rode on the back of equations, written in dusty chalk and dark rooms well before your time. You did not have to start with a blank slate, although many of you think you did, or do. This is not true.
Some of you picked it up, threw it in a bag and allowed that bag to be labeled victim. The bag belongs to you.
Some of you rejected the work of your ancestors, or picked the parts you liked and left the rest on the floor. But here's the catch, for everything you put down, you must pick up something of equal weight. For those of you who picked up the thread where your mother's left off, with each new thing you add to your basket, you must put another down. You cannot carry it all and the fact that you expect it of yourself is, quite honestly, a cop out. You cannot blame this on any gender but your own. Technically, each of us own our individual circumstances.
I am most guilty of pride. That's how I got where I am today, furious and exhausted. Just look, it's written on my bag in super sized Helvetica. Damn, that's heavy.
The Part That Gets Me Drawn and Quartered Before the Public Burning:
In the name of the children, we packed up our education, our journals, our pasts, our dreams, and our individual beliefs. In the name of the children, what is best for the children, we magically turned back the clock and became breeders. We raise boys and girls for different purposes. Boys go to the fields and girls remove their shoes and quietly nurse their babies. Boys provide for the life brought forth by the girls, who eventually, barefoot, chain themselves to the bedpost.
The story we tell ourselves is this:
Mother and breast are best. Before our children slip or struggle from the womb, they are the center of our universe. Our collective belief is this is the biggest social obligation we will ever fulfill. Our collective belief tells us the life of the babe far outweighs the value and life of the mother. Our collective belief tells us our hormones make us do it, right? How can a mother, hardwired to drop everything but the babe, make any other reasonable choice? Nobody said it was easy, Loves.
There's a bracelet on the market today which states: blah blah blah, dear girl, you are capable of doing hard things.
and there it is.
And when our children leave our hearths, we are empty, wombs barren, breasts dry. The box that held our social and professional networks yields a crumbling stack of dried husks. Pick one up and it becomes a cloud of dust motes. THIS is a thing you have to start over if you start over at all.
- Sexual Assault
- Sexual Harassment
- Workplace Harassment
- Physical Violence
- Uncomfortable and Unwanted Advances
Men are not going to fix this. They cannot. They lack the power to control the population and they most certainly lack the motivation to change the law. They have way too much to lose. The best they can do is be a damn good example.
Protecting a woman from her feelings is another form of rape. I know that's hard to hear, but consider this:
When you wrap a woman in your protective cloak, you remove her power. When you insist on trigger warnings so that your princess (yup, that's what you're doing) can avert her eyes and think nothing of it, you have ripped the power right from her heart. You have stripped her of any sort of defense. When you tell her, it's ok not to talk about it or report it because it will hurt just as much if not more, you have caged her. You have reduced her to an infantile state and called it good.
You have made her yours.
I mean, what is rape, after all? It is the most intimate violation I know of. It is a bold and violent assertion of ownership. Some women never get past that. Some women tell themselves they can leave it behind. The truth is that any form of violence alters a person indelibly. I remember lying in the tub after returning from the hospital. I was seventeen and there was just one thing that kept going through my head. Over and over like some horrible mantra:
I cannot undo this. This can never be not so. This is for always. I cannot make this not have been. This will never be not so.
It took me years to work out what I was doing. I was looking for a pocket in which to tuck it away. I was looking for the salve and bandage that would heal the wound leaving nothing but a hairline scar. Liked a skinned knee, or even a broken bone, I wanted to make it not so. I wanted to make it small and minimal and easily forgotten.
You cannot undo this. It will never be not so.
So why on earth would we cover ourselves up? This covering is what stops us from passing the laws that would change our place in the world. This covering up, this buying into the life altering damage, is what stops us from standing up and saying:
It is not so! This way we are. It does not need to be. I do not care for the contents of that bag. If I take the things I don't want out of the bag, I can pick up some other things. I can pick up those things I told myself I couldn't have. Never mind what men or other women told you. It has always been your choice. And YES, for the love of God, it is scary as shit. Probably scarier then anything you have ever done. Not just hard, FUCKING SCARY AS SHIT. Do it anyway.
The thing is, change generally requires a fight. Nobody likes change, too much unknown and our old brains tell us that the unknown is dangerous as hell.
Put the bag down. Turn around and have a look at what you carry. If you take out that broom, you will have to pick up something else. Maybe the huntsman's axe. It's your choice. Waiting for a man to swap it out for you, or give you permission is an absolute abdication of your power.
No one ever said it was easy. As a matter of fact: here there be dragons and certainly serpents. Your choice, sweet girl. Your choice, sweet boy. If you open your eyes, you might notice you are not alone.