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?
In the movie The Guardians, Jack Frost has to figure out what’s at his core before he can save the day. Santa Claus explains to Jack that his own core is wonder; his awe at the magic of toys, and play, is what motivates all that he does. Jack is confused—he’s not sure what’s at his core, and he’s not sure if he should be a guardian of children. After all, they can’t even see him. By the end of the movie, Jack figures out what centers him, and when he does, he is able to do and be so much more. He becomes his full self. I’ve been thinking about this definition of core as the new year begins, and I work to strengthen my own core.