I have been writing about social justice issues for over four years now. When I began, I was a mother of a five-year-old son and an eight-year-old daughter, a wife and stay-at-home mother, a former technical writer and current part-time professor making a fraction of what I used to make. I was also a former girl and young woman with plenty of personal experience with sexism, but none with racism or classism. I hadn’t thought much about being white, aside from the fact that my whiteness made me feel guilty and uncomfortable and I didn’t want to think about it much—and I took being middle-class absolutely for granted. I identified myself as female and heterosexual, and I knew I wanted to be a writer, but mostly I thought of myself as a mother. The identity of mother had been so all-consuming and overwhelming that I’d lost self to it, and I wanted the self back. I’d lived in four states in ten years, had health issues in the last three years, had written five drafts of a novel over a period of six years, and was exhausted. It felt like a time to end—which meant, of course, that it was time to begin.
Trista Hendren, author of The Girl God and Mother Earth, has invited me to join the #mywritingprocess blog tour, a great opportunity for writers to discuss their work and connect with one another, and for readers to take a peek behind the scenes. Here are my answers to four questions about my writing process:
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.