“A man is asleep in the next room
We are his dreams
We have the heads and breasts of women
the bodies of birds of prey
Sometimes we turn into silver serpents”
– Adrienne Rich in Diving Into The Wreck
I remember times when I have laughed at certain jokes and seemingly random aside comments of casual misogyny. I think back on those moments and wonder how I could have chuckled so easily? How readily these blatant suggestions and hints of gender/sexuality based violence have risen from some individuals’ throats and out their mouths, falling upon the ears of those who know better. How could these persons be so cad about veiled but handy threats against others — those who are their friends, their coworkers, their lovers, and family? How could we, me, giggle as though these threats are never carried out, that there are those among us — men and women — who suffer beneath the weight of their constant shadow? Why do we titter about what is a reality as though it were not? How is it that I myself can giggle when I could easily be made victim of such suggested acts? And, perhaps, be made yet another survivor or simple statistic, of the misogyny that dominates our culture, but that so many — possible victims and probable perpetrators — have willed themselves to believe is just innocent fodder, guiltless fuel for laughs over drinks and dinner.
The hair on my skin stands on end every time, no matter how I may grin and chuckle, allow these moments to pass without raising objections. Because, I have now begun to understand, there was silent objection, muted query and closemouthed protest. And I can guess that it wasn’t just my own disapproval. There are those around me whose hair also stands up in the same mum manner. They might not have a clear notion of why this is happening, but it’s there — the cloudy idea that what is being said isn’t funny, is too true to ever be simple, or simply humorous.
Every one loses in a misogynistic culture. Men and women and those innumerable individuals who do not/choose not to fall into that limiting, culturally-constructed binary of identity. Even those who would be labeled perpetrators — they are losing out too…on the better options, actions, and identities possible for themselves and for those with whom they come into contact and affect/are affected by.
The current political and cultural climate of our nation and world is in my brain as I both skim and sink into Adrienne Rich’s seventh volume of poetry, Diving Into The Wreck: Poems 1971 – 1972. The precision of her language across such a range of experiences yields images so delicately personal yet, also, so revelatory in their universal nature. Rich renders clearly identifiable feelings and notions that were once foggy — shrouded in cloud, floating along the edges of conscious thought. She writes of loss, love, intent, despair. And of those horrible things that one person can do to another. This includes acts of terrifying violence, rape, and homicide, events that seem so hard to imagine at more innocent moments but are so present all around, all the time, are reality for so many.
I grapple with my distance from/proximity to the events that swirl around and surround me. I fumble to make sense of the tectonic-plate-like shifting of roles for men and women throughout the world. I sometimes weep over what it feels like I owe to others because of those roles that I have been forced/willingly stepped into. And I despair over what others find their spines bending and splintering under the weight of.
So, in my struggle forward, treading — sometimes weakly, other times fiercely and with such great purpose — through the murk, I will discover a buoy at my fingertips and grab hold. Call it a romantic, silly mirage. Call it a privilege afforded to so few. Call it whatever you wish. But I will continue to reach for those small islands of respite and re-invigoration, like Rich’s transcendent, gloriously fortifying poems. We all find our strength where we can.
“I came to explore the wreck.
The words are purposes.
The words are maps.
I came to see the damage that was done
and the treasures that prevail.”
– Adrienne Rich in Diving Into The Wreck