Birth, for both the woman giving it and the child experiencing it, is a messy process. It is bloody, rhythmically painful, exhilarating, and frightening. A mother cannot be who she was before she gave birth—she can retain who she was and augment her understanding of self, but she cannot be exactly as she was. She has entered into a lifelong dance with the child she has birthed, and the child must learn to grow within this dance. Rebirth—which is by definition metaphysical and metaphorical rather than physical and literal—shares these characteristics. And like birth, rebirth is facilitated by a feminine presence, a divine energy that enters into a lifelong dance with the new self.
Here is something I love about today: lots of women are sitting on the steps of the capitol building in Richmond, Virginia and breastfeeding their babies. I love this for so many reasons: because it is Richmond, and the capital building (the site of recent protests against Virginia’s restrictive laws about women’s reproductive health and choices), because it is a public display of breasts feeding children instead of breasts selling things, and because it promotes breastfeeding—and just as importantly, support for breastfeeding. While breastfeeding is wonderful for both mother and child, it isn’t always easy, especially at first. It can hurt when you’re learning to latch your baby on, and it can be exhausting, so you have to take really good care of yourself. Women who can’t breastfeed or who choose not to because of lack of support, pain, and time constraints are often shamed while other women who are breastfeeding are shamed for doing so in public. So I believe we need all the public displays of affection between baby and breast that we can get.
A few weeks ago, I talked to a group of students and faculty at Longwood University, where I teach, about public misperceptions of feminism and how we can use social media to change them. The day before my talk, Beyonce (who seems decidedly feminist to me) reluctantly admitted to being a feminist: “The word can be very extreme…but I guess I am a modern-day feminist. I do believe in equality.” Many people who wrote about this statement—and the statements from famous women who disavow feminism—say they don’t care if people identify as feminist or not, as long as they work toward equality. I agree with that sentiment if the person in question identifies as a Womanist or Mujerista or feminist ally, but those terms aren’t even in the mainstream conversation. In the popular media, quoting women who disavow feminism serves to keep the conversation about equality on the sidelines.
It is not an easy thing, being a writer in this world. You must learn to hold just the right amount of darkness and just the right amount of light in the palms of your cupped hands, releasing each in equal measure, so as not to fall off balance. Not to get caught off guard. While doing this—because you must, because it is how you were made—you must also survive in the ferocious, ordinary world, which is largely indifferent to artistry. It helps—immensely, in ways both conscious and unconscious—to have a guide along the way. Someone who recognizes you for you, and tells you so. Karen Diehl Evans was such a guide for me: she encouraged me as a writer my entire life, from the time I was in high school right up through the creation of this blog. Karen, who was a beautiful writer, died on Saturday night, after a long period of losing her light to her darkness.
I’d been anticipating this past Saturday evening for weeks, as I would get to dance the night away in semi-formal glory. I’d found the perfect dress, in an awesome color. I choose shoes to kick off and a matching bag, and I spent some time getting all gussied up. I felt like a million bucks, and I was ready to par-tay. Imagine my shock and dismay when, just as the party was warming up, another woman arrived in a dress that was very similar to mine. Her dress had so many of the qualities I thought were unique to my own—style, classiness, and a je ne sais quoi that I can only describe as a radiant badassery. How could this have happened?