Words and Women
“These are of course strange times in which to be the inhabitant of a female body.”
It seems I went to sleep one day, and woke up the next in a world that had pre-labeled me a bigot (for believing in same-sex spaces), cissexist (for speaking about my body without a string of qualifiers), and maybe a host of other nefarious things like femmephobic, transmisogynist, TERF-y, SWERF-y, and sex negative (if I could figure out precisely what these mean).
Like most women, I have never been accused of holding so much power, and the allegation is dizzying. It seems we small, endangered species of radical feminists—who live mostly on the fringes of society without resources or recognition—somehow hold the fate and wellbeing of all trans individuals in our hands. The men who actually harass, threaten, and physically attack the vulnerable are not the focus, only we women who “violently misgender” in our heads, and are “irrationally” concerned about penises entering our restrooms and changing rooms.
In this brave new world physical sex is a dowdy construction, and gender an innate, liberatory force, too vast and meaningful to ever be bothered with defining itself. (A neat inversion of the traditional feminist theory of sex and gender.) Also overnight conservatives became sort of concerned about male violence (so long as it occurs in public), sexuality turned into a bewildering and yet definitive catalogue of preferences, and everyone who ever spent an hour on tumblr was rendered an avowed expert on feminist theory.
In this world that is increasingly a simulacrum of meanings “without origin or reality”(1) I find refuge, as always, in the words of women. Through ages of assault and erasure, women have patiently, fastidiously woven and rewoven the stories of our lives. Whether we are accused of colluding with the devil or “sex essentialism,” whether the going word is witch or bitch or swerf, the cord of this lineage is forever wavering and yet unbroken. Buoyant in the web of women’s words, I am reminded feminist writing is always the most lucid, most evocative, most discomfiting, most thoughtful, most raw, most honest, and most hilarious.
And last night, somewhere in my orbit through the interweb, I found this heroine standing in the halo of her own courage:
I fell asleep with her words a tangle around my head, haunted by the verses:
“Because that part of me that is a wild and free woman has gone. And that was my assumption, that it was still here somewhere, just hiding out of sight, ready to come back in and save us all. No, that assumption is wrong because that thing is successfully destroyed. Dead and rotted. No fairytale endings here, just the crows to pluck and the wind to suck.”
And so I considered the parameters of my own domestication. I found within myself the “wild and free woman” is still here, if underfed and hoarse from shouting. But she does not live alone, for out of my own consciousness patriarchy has crafted a watchman for her, who is large and cruel and always awake … And questioning if I am the wild woman or her keeper anymore, I know only one is never far from the other.
It is no coincidence that the response to radical feminist theory is not a different theory, not an invigorating debate or a fresh exploration of words and possibilities. For there is no need to engage women when it is so much easier to silence them. And these silencing methods have been perfected over thousands of years: The biggest threaten death and rape, and then a million smaller voices suggest we are overreacting, mistaken and confused, and (ultimate horror) hurtful and selfish. At these words the watcher in my head grows fat and satisfied. No further pressure need be applied: I will continue to silence myself with murderous fervor, provided the alternative is to be the horror of a publicly ridiculed woman, not womanly at all in her grotesque need to speak and the insistence that her unpleasant truths be heard.
Except it doesn’t always work that way: I find the web of women’s words has just the necessary nutrients to feed my wild woman and soothe her throat. Word by word, thread by thread, I learn the pattern and join in the creation of my own liberation.
It is a given I will never feel safe in this world, not for a day or even an hour. And I will never fully grasp the death machine of patriarchy, even while I struggle to subsist within it. Still somewhere there is always another woman, weaving the words, retelling the story, embedding her laugh into the thread, reimagining the pattern. We have no land of our own, no publishing houses or governments, perhaps no longer any spaces we can claim as our own. But somehow this planet is still my home, because somewhere there is always another woman, likely crazed and bruised, hopefully well fed and fierce, but regardless retelling our story, patiently reweaving the threads that become bloodied but never broken.
Footnote 1. Baudrillard, Jean. (1983). Simulations. New York: Semiotexte/Smart Art.