Thank you all for the deluge of beautiful comments, love, and support for my project this week — I cannot count how many times I’ve been moved to tears by your words and the outpouring of emotions that I’ve seen here in the past several days. I even got a FABULOUS award from my lovely friend, the Mad Gay Man, which you can see in my sidebar. I feel utterly honored to have such a vibrant community of men and women who are ready to be open and honest and share laughter and sorrow both. You are all the reason I write this blog, and I look forward to getting to know you all better.
You’re going to hear me sing today. For real. Just…er…be gentle. Please. YouTube is a new arena for me. Eek. Stay tuned, and we’ll get there.
Ever since I was a kid, I’ve tried to break the rules. First the Ninja Turtles. Then I asked my mom if I could marry my best friend Sunny, and she said I could marry whoever I wanted. Legally, she was wrong, but I still remember that conversation. (Note from the future — aka 2015 — I turned out to like boys and girls and those who identify as neither or both, and these days in most states, it’s finally true.) When I was about five, my mom introduced me to an Alaskan Folk Singer named Libby Roderick. I remember going to see her concert in Anchorage, and some of my most clear memories of my early childhood involve her music.
One day I was in my mom’s room singing one of her songs. “If you see a dream, for god’s sake free it. If you have a hope, help it grow. If you can be a hero, for god’s sake be one. If you have a prisoner, let her go…let her go.”
It was at that point that my mom walked in, and I got really embarrassed. Libby’s music stayed with me throughout the years. Her words are simple, powerful poetry. Her song How Could Anyone has been used around the world, and she has been a strong voice in the face of discrimination, racism, and violence. I still have all her CDs, and I encourage you to check out her website and consider purchasing her music (it’s also available on iTunes).
Libby’s music showed me that women can be powerful and strong, and I believe that her lyrics and melodies shaped the child into the woman I am today in many ways. I remember meeting her when I was five or six at that concert. I remember her kindness and gentleness, and that she acknowledged me. She probably doesn’t remember tiny five-year-old Emmie, but twenty-two years later, I remember her.
I needed to see women making history.
As I grew up, I remember the multitude of comments about what girls could and couldn’t do. “Boys are better,” the little boys in my school said. “Boys are smarter and stronger. Girls can’t do that — girls aren’t supposed to fight. Boys are smarter than girls.” This to a straight-A student Emmie who boiled with a child’s rage and restrained herself knowing that if one of them took it too far, she knew to kick him in the nards.
When I started learning history, I remember learning about Amelia Earhart. This woman shucked off the naysayers and did her dream. She went soaring away in her tiny plane — she may not have returned, but she left a legacy that spanned that ocean.
Harriet Tubman, who risked her life and every ounce of her safety and being to lead hundreds of human beings to the North, away from the people who made them slaves. Hundreds of people were freed by her courageousness, a bravery fought for not only against the slave owners and enforcers, but against her own body which suffered seizures and narcoleptic attacks after a savage beating by her former master. Any person strong enough to do that, any person strong enough to fight that hard was a hero in my eyes. And this was a woman who started out a girl like me.
As I grew up, I remember the names of women. Maya Angelou, Helen Keller, Winnie Mandela, Rosa Parks, Hillary Clinton — women who denied the validity of a system that called them inferior. Women who overcame obstacles and criticism. Women who pressed on in spite of the spiteful and needling labels that so many strong, beautiful women have been plastered with over the years. Bitch. Harpy. Frigid. Ice Queen. Pretender. These women weren’t trying to be men — these women were being women. This is the mettle of the double X chromosome, and it’s every bit as capable and valid as the XY. (Note from the future — this last sentence is an artifact. I have a better, albeit still imperfect and evolving, understanding of sex and gender these days in 2015.)
We women need a new mythology.
Growing up, little girls are inundated with tales that make us dependent. Dependent on a prince on a white horse. Dependent on society. Dependent on others.
And yet throughout history there are thousands — millions — of women who have carved out their places and shown the world a glimpse of what things could be. Women like Cleopatra and Joan of Arc. I’m willing to bet that the ancient gods and goddesses were based on stories and legends that were in turn based on real women. Aphrodite and Athena, Hera and Artemis and Demeter. Women have wisdom, strength, sensuality, and the ability to provide.
I was in college when I first heard of The Vagina Monologues. It made quite a splash at the time, and I remember a friend of mine named Keith getting in trouble at our Christian university for wearing a shirt that had the word vagina on it. He was infuriated, so he began to talk about the monologues to whoever would listen. A Marine and a feminist, this guy got my attention. I read the monologues. And they introduced me to the woman who has become my real life hero.
Eve Ensler is a survivor. She is a playwright and a wordsmith. Her words have touched millions around the world. Her words touched me, and they drew me into knowledge that has changed my outlook on life, helped me cope with my rape, and ultimately inspired this week of blog posts.
Several years ago now, I read an article in Glamour. I urge you to read it. It’s not an easy read. Truth seldom is. The first line of the article is, “I have just returned from hell.”
Eve had gone to the Democratic Republic of the Congo to visit the Panzi hospital, run by a man named Dr. Denis Mukwege. This hospital is a trauma center for women who have been the victims of the most brutal and atrocious forms of rape. A hush enters my mind as I write this. I’ve read the article several times, and still the tears prick my eyes like burning needles. Still the images sear my mind as I can’t help but picture the reality of Dr. Mukwege’s work. I write this now with my eyes closed, hoping you’ll read it too, hoping you’ll be willing to put yourself through this to understand, to know that women are still in danger all over the world. To know that that even in the darkest pits of the human psyche, the survivors of these attacks still sing. To hope that you will feel, like I did, the fiery need to make this known and to help in whatever way you can.
Eve has raised over $85 million dollars to stop violence against women. She has helped found a city. A city where women can go to be safe and heal and learn. It’s called the City of Joy. It’s located in Bukavu, DRC, and its first class has just graduated last week. Those women will go out into their communities and make change happen.
These women are the reason I am who I am today. They’re the reason my friend the Mad Gay Man thinks I’m fabulous. Anything good and true in me is something I’ve learned, something reflected from those who came before me, and the women before them, and the women before them, and back and back and back into the sleepy folds of time. My mother nurtured my drive and my need for female heroes. She raised me alone for the first many years of my life after two abusive marriages, through poverty and several states. When I looked around to see what the future had in store for me, my mother always said I could be whoever I wanted to be.
I challenge you all to ask yourself what it is that you really want. Who do you want to be? Whether you’re a man or a woman or neither or both — who do you want to be?
I’ve never watched myself singing before…do be gentle. :/
Used with permission. Words and music by Libby Roderick
C Libby Roderick Music 1986 BMI All rights reserved
From the recording “If You See a Dream”
Turtle Island Records Anchorage Alaska
www.libbyroderick.com firstname.lastname@example.org 907/278-6817
- Until the Violence Stops, I Shall Raise My Voice (emmiemears.com)
- Empowering The Female Gender – Eve Ensler Encourages Individuals to Embrace Their Inner Girl (TrendHunter.com) (trendhunter.com)
- Eve Ensler Calls for a Billion Women to Strike Against Sexual Violence (alternet.org)
- She’s a Hero: Writing Female Characters (emmiemears.com)
- Top 10 inspiring women in the world (revolutionizingawareness.com)