The Space Between: The Unglamorous Reality of the After-Victory

I love dystopian novels. There’s a surprising familiarity in them, and when people wonder about my experiences within the IFB, I find it easy to reference dystopian novels as a means of painting a fairly accurate picture. They help me to understand some of the tactics that have been used against me. But more importantly, they give an imaginative out to the tension of having lived through a minor version of that myself.

Classically, most dystopians don’t end well. Back when 1984 was hitting the scenes, it was part of the genre to have a non-victorious ending. But as they’ve taken over the young adult bookshelves recently, authors have pushed those classic boundaries and changed the endings. Thus we get The Hunger Games in which the rebellion, however small, is successful (though the ending doesn’t promise the success is permanent)—or Birthmarked, in which the protagonist at least manages to escape and sets out to find a better society.

Most of these new-ending books and movies reach the victorious point and then stop, because in terms of plot it’s a good stopping point. A few go on to show the “after-victory”—either a glimpse into how the protagonist’s life is going to be now that the oppressor is overthrown or a whole new book on how the new society works.

Few show the after-victory accurately.

We like to think that the hard part of surviving is the actual surviving. In reality, I think the after is far harder to survive. The event may end—in the case of the novel, the abusive rulers may be overthrown—but for the mind and body of someone who’s been through hell, that’s not really the end. Life doesn’t pick up where it left off. Life doesn’t start over anew. There’s so much left over. (To be fair, I actually think Susanne Collins did a pretty good job of showing how surviving trauma affects a person’s ability to carry on with “normal” life, but I’ve heard her criticized for killing the victory high because of that as well.)

It’s not that there isn’t happiness, success, or renewal.

It’s just that it’s a much less glamorous process than novels or movie plots tend to show.

I could go on to try to explain it, but the whole point of this post is that I’ve finally found a song that does that for me!

I already love Emilie Autumn for the raw way she taps into the pain of trauma. There’s no doubt she’s been through some pretty horrendous stuff, and she uses music to document her journey. It’s uncomfortable and shocking in the way that trauma poetry should be (because, let’s face it, there’s nothing pretty or comfortable about trauma, so why should someone diminish that for the sake of an audience?) But I think I fell in love with her just a little bit more when I heard the last song on her new album: “One Foot In Front Of The Other.”

How vividly she captures that space after the victory! The confusion. The sense of being lost. Not knowing what to do next. Not even knowing if you know who you are. The reality that when your whole world becomes the enemy that you have to fight, especially if it’s the only world you’ve ever known, your identity doesn’t get excluded from the destruction.

Sometimes it’s very easy to feel like I’m wasting my life away with this whole healing business. I’m so focused on trying to overcome the past that I wonder when I’m going to get down to the actual business of living. When am I going to be free of the emotional, financial, and practical effects of growing up in a terrorizing religion or attending Bob Jones University? When will my “victories” move from the silent ones like getting rid of nightmares, setting boundaries, neutralizing a trigger, or overcoming the terror of an internalized doctrine to the more visible ones like getting my Master’s, buying a house, publishing a memoir, or starting a support group for other victims? I see people my age, so confident in who they are and what they’re doing, and I wonder how much time I’ve lost and will still lose in trying to find myself amidst the rubble of abuse and mind-control.

Then Emilie, who seriously must be the Goddess of little girls who survived, comes along and reminds me that those invisible successes are just as important as the visible ones. It’s okay to have days where I don’t save the world or even myself. I don’t have to know exactly who I am, where I’m going, or what I’m supposed to do. It’s enough to just keep moving forward a step at a time. One step may not seem like a lot, but it’s the start of every journey and the means to every destination.

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Lincoln: the White Idol of Black History

Last year I had a ton of fun using Women’s History Month (March) to research and learn about some of the people and events that are often conveniently overlooked in conventional education. As a woman, it was incredibly inspiring to see how women had played a significant role in history, despite their relative invisibility.

This year, I decided that I needed to do a similar project for African American History Month. To my shame, I realized that when I thought of African American history, Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King Jr., the Civil War, and Lincoln were the only people/events that came to mind because those were the only ones I ever heard emphasized. Even then, the Civil War and Lincoln held the forefront in my mind. Civil War books abound ad nauseum, and the number of biographies and novels written about Lincoln in the last few years would lead an archeologist to think that he single-handedly won the Civil War.

I wasn’t satisfied with that association of African American history because I knew that, like women’s history, there were many people who were invisible in the shadow of the white, male-dominated story that I had learned.

So I set out to rectify this gap in my knowledge (I know it will take me longer than a month to do that, but hell, I’m trying!). While I intended to learn about the history of a minority group, I found myself shocked to also be learning about my own White privilege.

It didn’t take me long to realize that Lincoln really wasn’t the hero of the Civil War.

Or of African American history in general.

On the one hand, that thought seems obvious now, but it was a huge epiphany a few weeks ago. Did signing a piece of paper that acknowledged what should have been evident from the beginning make him qualified to be the face of freedom?

Well, thinking about the other human rights fights, I would say no. I can’t even remember the name of the Presidents who was in office when women gained most of their rights, or whether various politicians were in favor or against those rights.

For that matter, if Obama signs an executive order declaring that marriage for same-sex couples is legal, he might get credit for being an inclusive President, but he’s certainly not going to be considered the key figure in the fight for gay rights.

African American History Month is supposed to be about bringing awareness to the invisible accomplishments of African Americans, from the man who started the first free black settlement to the first Black President of the United States. It’s about letting a disenfranchised group see what has been written out of history.

Yet the obsession is with a White guy who only came into contact with the plight of slaves when he allowed it to enter his Oval Office. He wasn’t the one risking his life creeping back onto plantations and physically leading hundreds of people through the Underground Railroad. He might have taught himself to read and write, but he certainly wasn’t breaking the law and risking the loss of everything he held dear by doing so.

Where are the bestsellers written by African Americans about their experiences? Where are the movies about those books? Where are the movies and biographies and “vampire hunter” novels about Harriet Tubman or Frederick Douglas or Martin Luther King Jr.?

The reason I think Lincoln dominates the scene is because I think the U.S. is so entrenched in White privilege that, even when we’re talking about Black history, we have to somehow try to make White people look like the heroes.

The reality is too “uncomfortable.”

I know I feel discomfort in my readings! It’s nauseating to read the accounts of Frederick Douglas, Harriet Tubman, or Sojourner Truth and realize the amount of pain that White people—my ancestors—caused. It’s painful to read about real-life discrimination from the perspective of those who experienced it. Fiction is so much easier to put out of mind as “just made up.” Up until now, White privilege buffered me from the horror of White history by downplaying the importance of Black history.

I didn’t choose that buffer. But then again, I didn’t choose any of the privileges I get because of my skin color. That’s what privilege is. I’m given it automatically. And since it doesn’t make me visibly suffer (I say visibly because I think privileged groups do suffer, just not as obviously as the non-privileged groups), I benefit from the privilege of not having to be aware of my privilege.

White privilege is not easy to recognize. Even though I had already gone through a painful awakening to the fact that I have White privilege, I still failed to see how far it extended—even into the very framework of my understanding of history. It’s not just that I don’t know about key African American people and events. I’ve been led to believe that White people, like Lincoln, were also the saviors and that the White account was the important line of history to follow.

White people can never be the saviors in this story though.

Just as straight people cannot be the saviors in the fight for gay rights or men the saviors in the fight for women’s rights.

It’s not heroic to give up power that isn’t yours to begin with. It’s humane.

That’s not saying they can’t be allies, but the heroes—the real heroes—are the ones who lived through the subjugation. In the case of African Americans, the heroes are the people who survived being ripped from their homelands, packed into boats like corpses, and sold on another continent to masters who would strip them of every human right—including the right to life—without repercussions, but who, nonetheless, refused to buy the bullshit that they were less than human.

As a White woman, I don’t even feel like I have that much that I can legitimately say about this topic—especially in my current state of ignorance.

But I’m sick of hearing Lincoln praised to high heaven while it is next to impossible to find a children’s book that features a Black protagonist on the front cover without being about Africa, Civil Rights, or slavery (Seriously, the next time you go into a bookstore, or even go online, see how many books you find with non-white protagonists that stray away from those three “acceptable” topics.) I’m sick of Martin Luther King, Jr., Day going by with barely a sound, but watching grown White men reenact the Civil War every year. I’m ashamed of the fact that a book written by a White woman fictionalizing the way she imagines Black servants were treated (through the eyes of a White protagonist, to boot) makes it onto the bestseller list for almost a year while a biographical book about the exact same topic is ignored. I’m fed up with the way my race still tries to erase Black History by trying to paint themselves as the good guys.

I’m not responsible for the education I received as a child, but I am responsible for my education now. It’s hard learning to admit that I’ve been taught to look down on Black history. Admitted ignorance is vulnerable. And publicly talking about my shame is anything but fun.

Normally when I rant, I rant about something someone else did to provoke my ire. Today, I’m ranting as much at myself as I am at others.

But humility often sets the stage for amazing journeys. By being willing to admit my ignorance and take the steps to be responsible for my adult education, I’m learning about some of the most amazing people I’ve ever read about—people I wish I could have known. I’m learning, for the first time, that Black history is for me too. It includes a history of White shame, but it also includes a history of incredible Americans who overcame staggering odds.

And while my privilege might have taught me that this omitted history wasn’t important but rather superfluous to the history in text books; I have actually learned just the opposite. These are people who, in fighting for their own freedom, fought for the freedom of all because the fight for freedom and equality is the same fight, whether fought over gender, race, religion, sexuality, or socio-economic status. These are heroes and role models that everyone should know about. These are my heroes.

Uterus, Vagina, and Vulva! Oh My Yoni Party!

For the most part, last year I went on a mission to find and celebrate holidays that weren’t tied to my Christian past. However, as the year came back around, I found myself feeling bored with the idea of choosing between Imbolc or Valentine’s Day—neither of which hold much allure for me.

I had also become aware during the last couple of months that my understanding of the female body was severely lacking. Although my introduction to menstruation was certainly better than some, I wouldn’t say that it was the best time of my life. My sex education was almost non-existent. And my anatomy—well let’s just say that my aversion to tampons for the first five years of menstruating stemmed from the fact that I didn’t know where they went.

Obviously, I’ve gained a bit more knowledge about “the facts of life,” but my knowledge still has significant gaps. When I heard about some people who have vagina parties for girls in honor of their first period, I fell in love with the idea. I may be well beyond my first period, but I wanted to have that celebration. I decided that, in honor of a different V-day, this month I would educate myself on my body and host my own version of a yoni celebration.

This post is as much a chronicle of my journey as it is a review of products and a how-to place for others who may feel inspired to honor their bodies in a similar way.

I draw quite a bit of inspiration for my own emotional and psychological cycles from Goddess stories which often place a huge emphasis on the sexual maturation of the Goddess, so right from the start I felt it important to take a spiritual as well as secular approach to my preparation for this holiday I was creating.

I started by writing an ode to my vagina . . . which grew into an ode to the whole feminine system within me. I’ll admit that it was awkward at first trying to find ways to praise my breasts, womb, and vagina, but I’ll never be able to describe how affirming it was to verbally acknowledge the importance of those parts of me to the whole me—that these were parts that were there for me, not just as decoration for sexual partners or as nurturing tools for potential offspring. I had never realized how detached I was from my reproductive system until I went through the process of claiming it as an integral part of me.  And although I don’t want children, I gained a new appreciation for the uterus as a place of creation, not just procreation.

My burst of creativity carried over into other forms of art, starting with a crayon illustration of the Goddess Innana, along with the symbols of her awakening, the snake and tree (yes, they do resemble the Genesis account of the fall of man, but ironically the story of Innana, which views the snake and fruit as symbols of spirituality, existed long before the Genesis story did). A few goddess figurines and clay vagina sculptures later, I was feeling ecstatic about the beauty and intricacy of the female body—my body!

I dedicated my altar to symbols of the goddess without focusing on any particular Goddess and spent the month using my meditation time to honor the various aspects of the goddess within me, connecting the physical to the spiritual. I played mother and child to myself, alternating between visualizing descending into my womb to be nurtured and actively doing the nurturing. I read books, both on the feminine spirituality and on the female body, and I hugged my plush uterus (more on that below).

THE PARTY

Surprisingly, the spirituality part was simple in comparison to the party-planning. I cannot believe how effortless it is to find party decorations, food ideas, and games that pay homage to the penis, but coming up with similar items themed towards the vagina—let’s just say we’ve got a long way to go.

Despite the scarcity of resources, I managed to create quite the themed party. For your own inspiration, I shall include a basic break down of the party. I hope that by documenting what I did here I can save some other poor soul the frustration of trying find information that isn’t readily available.

FOOD:

Food was, by far, the easiest to come up with. A picture of vagina cupcakes has been floating around facebook for well over a year, and I found this awesome video that showed me how to make my own. Tacos were obvious as the main course, and from there it was just a matter of finding fruits and foods associated with women. The sacred yoni ceremony in India that partially inspired me in the first place treats honey, milk, and yogurt as sacred elements. Since raspberries and yogurt actually aid reproductive health, I felt like it was a double win on theme. I ended up making whipped cream in place of milk because, let’s face it, unless you’re ten, alcohol is more fun at a party than milk. The whipped cream went really well with the raspberries. Pomegranate martinis with cherry garnishes were incredibly easy themed drinks to make. And any number of aphrodesiacs could have served as filler foods for a larger party.

GAMES:

The games were much harder. Many shower games are so focused either on giving birth or getting married, but I wanted to honor women without reducing their bodies to relationships, sex, and birth (not that those things are bad, but women are rarely encouraged to celebrate their bodies for their own sake).

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The first game I thought up was “Cramping Uterus.” It was a basic twist on hot potato that used a plush uterus instead of a potato. After I had bought the uterus, I found another variation on the hot potato game called “Pass the Vibrator.” You can even get a special one that has randomized vibrations to make it easier to play if you don’t have someone designated as music master. I liked that idea because I love the way that it acknowledges the sexual drives of women without taking the emphasis off of women as individuals. Perhaps next year I will use that variation.

I also developed my twist on Scattergories, creating my own special list with items like “things that look like vaginas” and “something you buy for your lady bits.” It was such a simple yet fun game and could be tweaked in any number of ways, depending on how political, outlandish, or scandalous you want to get.

After hours of searching online, I finally came across two games that actually had my theme without my needing to convert it in any way. The first was reproductive bingo. I added my own personal touch by turning the free space into a uterus and replacing “bingo” at the top with “vulva.” I used sweet tarts as the pieces and drew words randomly out of a cup. I have to say that out of all of them, this is probably the one that I had the most fun with, both in the practice-play with my partner and later with the group.

Reproductive Bingo

The other game was “Pin the Ovaries on the Uterus.” I came across it on this site actually dedicated to menarche parties. There was no question about buying it, and I can affirm that it is a wonderful game that was well worth the purchase. However, I would caution buyers to make sure they have plenty of time and the willpower to follow through with updates. The game didn’t arrive until the day before my party. Early in the week, I tried to get updates on whether it had been shipped, but the website isn’t well maintained. I found two customer service emails that differed slightly. One didn’t go through; the other I never got a reply from. I was finally able to track down a customer service email address that worked through the transaction detail on my Paypal account. While I am happy with the purchase and don’t think it took too much time to arrive, I also feel it only fair to warn customers of the hiccups of contacting the customer service with questions or concerns.

I actually didn't cut out the ovaries because I wanted to save them for another time. Instead, I cut out cardboard iud's to pin on the uterus.

I actually didn’t cut out the ovaries because I wanted to save them for another time. Instead, I cut out cardboard iud’s to pin on the uterus.

CRAFTS:

I was first introduced to this tampon craft site by a group that was ridiculing the site for being gross. I chose a craft from here out of rebellion to the ludicrous aversion I saw expressed towards cotton with strings as much as out of true admiration for the creativity there. The site is filled with wonderful ideas for every season. For my party, I chose to make the bleeding heart earrings.

The other craft I developed myself because I really couldn’t find anything else. I printed out a large uterus from the web and used it as a stencil to cut out two felt pieces. Using a hot glue gun, I sealed the bottom and sides of the uterus and attached pipe cleaner fallopian tubes. I stuffed the uterus with a bit of cotton (which you can buy or steal from an unwanted stuffed animal) and sealed the top. I glued puff balls to the ends of the fallopian tubes and voila—a stuffed felt uterus. It turned out quite cute, and with the extra felt and pipe cleaner pieces, you can add little decorations and designs to make it as unique as you want.

Stuffed Felt uterus

DECORATIONS:

In addition to littering my apartment with all the goddess crafts I’d made earlier, I also decked it out with origami vaginas. I will warn you that they are hard to make, even for experienced folders. None of mine really came out that great, but I used the ones that looked passible.

I was also blessed by the gift of a milkweed pod vagina.

Milkweed Pod Vagina

It’s beautiful and delicate and totally something I’m going to try to make when I can hunt down milkweed pods. I wish I knew the name of the person who made it, but if you do decide to throw a vagina party, you can probably make your own “nature vaginas.” Flowers, painted eggs, seed pods—so many natural things can be used as symbols of the reproductive system (and I received several as gifts today too!). Or, if you really don’t feel crafty, you can see if there is an artist in your area willing to make something for you or you can just splurge for some of the slightly pricey but definitely beautiful items on sites dedicated to yoni art.

GIFT BAGS and PRIZES:

All great parties include goodies to take home. Gift bags were actually really simple to compile. I made origami orchids, which were much easier than the origami vaginas and still reminiscent of female anatomy. I found fantastic vagina straws at Spencer’s that added a fun little memorial to the party. I also tried to include some practical pampering, throwing in some Raspberry Leaf tea (remember raspberries aid in women’s reproductive system health) from Traditional Medicinals and some womb and uterus massage oil from Rosemary Gladstar’s Herbal Recipes. A few other stuffers like flower bookmarks and flying wish paperI was ready to make myself a gift bag just for the joy of opening it!

I also tried to keep prizes relatively approachable, things that would remind my guests of the party without making them feel like they needed to hide them in the back of a drawer. I found a fun lip-shaped bath fizzy, a couple of journals, and a necklace—one prize for each of the games. Of course, prizes can also include crafts like a knitted uterus if you knit or clay sculptures.

Overall, the party was a hit. I didn’t invite a whole lot of people because, to be honest, I was slightly afraid of how people might react. It’s not a mainstream idea, and I think even some of my invitees were a little worried about how awkward it might be. But it was such fun for me and the people who came that I am ready to make this an annual holiday. Perhaps next year I will have the courage to invite some of my friends that I wanted to include but chickened out on asking.

In the meantime, I’m glowing with happiness. My body feels honored; my mind feels more connected. I’ve learned amazing things about my physiology and have had an incredibly empowering afternoon. As weird as the idea may sound at first in a society that generally tries to turn the female body into something vulgar, I encourage every woman to consider setting herself free of that and learning to celebrate the amazing body that she has.

I’m here. I’m a feminist. Get used to it.

I only just discovered feminism a few years ago. It may be an old movement, but it is entirely new to me.

Okay, that’s not entirely true. I “knew” about it, but only from the narrow perspective of fundamentalism, which basically taught that it was akin to homosexuality in its destruction of family values and ruination of marriages.

When I got a real does of feminism, the straw men—er women—fell easily away. I was a big fan of their early victories, such as getting the right to vote, establishing that wives are not property to their husbands, fighting for education, etc. I looked at real feminist’s lives and was impressed by how sane they seemed to be. They stood for things that I already felt were important. In my mind, once I was exposed to the truth, it was a no-brainer to be a feminist. I already was one!

Adopting the label of “feminist” was empowering and scary at the same time, kind of like adopting the label of “bisexual.” I knew there would be people who made false assumptions about me based on negative stereotypes. I knew that there might be a handful of people who would be turned off by the rhetoric and antagonistic towards the “agendas” of *gasp* equal rights.

But that was all part and parcel of taking a stand for something. By the time I decided I wanted to be a vocal feminist, I’d already faced so much backlash for my worldviews that the idea of yet one more person disliking me seemed like another no-brainer. It was worth it to stand for women’s rights.

I hadn’t even been a feminist for a year before I encountered a new enemy to feminism—feminists. I started hearing rumblings about former feminists who declared they were no longer feminists because they wanted to be more “inclusive” or who felt that feminism had become too vitriolic and had lived past its use.

All this while the GOP was doing everything in its power to take us back to the early 1800s, including some who thought women shouldn’t be allowed to vote!

I was confounded, to say the least, and horribly disappointed that feminists seemed to have started believing the anti-feminist propaganda. Seriously, this is the movement that has been demonized from the get-go. Perhaps we’ve forgotten, but there were printed cartoons trying to make feminists look like man-eating monsters to defame the women’s movement. This kind of antagonism is nothing new to feminism.

feminist ad

This past weekend, I overheard part of a conversation at a writer’s event. The New Feminist Agenda by Madeleine Kunin was being featured, so it was natural for feminism to come up in the conversation. Those who have met Madeleine know that she is an incredible feminist and an inspiring woman. Those who have read her book can tell you that the “new” agenda she proposes is one that focuses on family needs like childcare and job flexibility for both men and women—hardly anything “radical” or “family-hating.”

Although I did not have the pleasure of hearing Madeleine speak this time, I did hear a few women discussing a story she told—of a college girl who said she would rather be called a slut than a feminist. The women were saddened, understandably, by this young woman’s attitude towards feminism. While I agree that it’s disheartening that a woman who is benefiting from the hard word of so many feminists would consider it an insult to be associated with women’s rights, the sadder part was the discussion that followed.

One of the “feminists” wondered if the title of Madeleine’s book should have used a different word because “feminist” was just too . . .

I actually didn’t hear the end of that thought, but I can fill in the blank with any number of words that I’ve heard before. “Tainted,” “negative,” “off-putting.”

Oh my heart broke at that moment.

Let me make something clear, I don’t think everyone has to identify as a feminist. I’ve got friends who support equal rights but who do not consider it a big deal to identify as a feminist. That’s fine. If the label doesn’t feel right, don’t wear it.

But if you do identify strongly as a feminist, why the hell would you let someone scare you away from your own identity?

Yes, there are a handful of extremists who trumpet the feminist label while doing horrible things. Does the fact that feminism has some crazies—some truly horrible, mean, bigoted people—involved in it make it an illegitimate movement suddenly?

No!

Because that would mean that the Republican party, the Democratic party, the Catholic church, Islam, Christianity, Mormonism, Atheism, Humanism, Agnosticism, and any other movement or philosophy you can think of are all illegitimate for the same reason.

Every group is going to have extremists within it.

Every group is going to have assholes.

But the majority of feminists don’t actually want to castrate men, take all the power, kill babies, dismantle all of society, destroy the family, force women to stop shaving their legs, or oppress other people based on race, gender, religion, etc.

Do people like that exist?

Yes.

You’ll find them wherever you go, including within feminism. But guess what? It’s not because they’re a feminist that they hold onto their own brand of bigotry. One jerk within a movement doesn’t make every other person in that movement a jerk as well. One flaw in the history of a movement doesn’t make it entirely flawed.

I’m more than willing to denounce anyone who is promoting their own brand of bigotry, but I refuse to let their stupidity take away my identity.

Today, I’m here to tell the world that I’m fucking proud to be a feminist.

If that means I’m called a “slut” because I refuse to conform to the sexual double-standards and taboos of society, then I’m proud to be called that too.

If that means I’m called a “bitch” because I don’t erase my individuality around other people, then I’m proud to be called that too.

If that means I’m called “radical” because I have a voice and use it, then I’m proud to be called that too.

The people who already hate what I stand for DO NOT get to define me. I am a feminist because I believe that women’s rights are as important as racial rights and gay rights—because they’re all part of human rights.

For the past two years, I claimed my identity as a bisexual and walked down the streets of my home town and of New York City with people holding signs that said “We’re here. We’re queer. Get used to it.” While there are certainly people within the Queer community who hold prejudices against others and against their own or who ascribe to ideas that I’m not comfortable with, I’m not ashamed to identify as LGBT.

Perhaps this is the year, then, that I need attend a  slutwalk topless screaming “No means no” or march on D.C. with a sign that says “My body, my choice.” The world can demonize feminism all it wants, but I’m not giving up.

And if you identify or used to identify as a feminist, I challenge you to claim your right to your own identity. Grab hold of it with both hands and don’t let anyone scare you away from it. There will probably continue to be a negative view of feminists for a long time because we’re nowhere near where we need to be yet. There will always be people who hate you for what you stand for. But that should be all the more reason to stand proudly.

The very fact that feminism is considered a dirty word is exactly why we still need feminists.