March 2013

Post 92.

The only thing stopping me from burning down billboards is the fact that I don’t drive around with gasoline and a flame-thrower in my trunk. I’m talking about billboards with images of women lying with a bottle opener by their open mouth (is she the bottle or is the opener a penis or is it that if you open the bottle you get to open the woman?) or sprawled across a shower with tiles over their breasts (as if that’s what tiles are for) or lying topless next to car batteries (because this is something women actually do when they go to the mechanic).

I’m not a violent person. This is a rational response to the violence being done to my daughter who I see watching these billboards as we drive by them, the same violence that was done to me by these entirely inescapable images.  It’s a rationale borne out of being a survivor of such violence and knowing exactly how Ziya will have to learn to survive amongst it and with it within her, despite everything I try to teach her and almost no matter what I do.

I was not given a chance to grow into womanhood without having to learn that women should be sexy and what that ideal means, that only some bodies are considered really beautiful, that some skin colour and hair are more valued, and that being a well-adjusted woman means keeping calm in a world ruled by others, who define your worth through their eyes and define even your resistance, because one day you can no longer see yourself free from how they see you.  

Every woman knows the effect of growing up in this world. Every woman knows what that has done to her sense of self, to her confidence, to what she now loves and totally hates about her body, to the fact that when she looks in the mirror, she is evaluating herself in terms of these standards, ones most women cannot ever meet nor should ever have to. Sometimes for years at a time, sometimes for her whole life, every woman battles with her body and her beauty as if they let her down. Every woman knows the damage done, the secret insecurities she carries, her feelings of not being good enough if she is not attractive enough, of wishing to have another body besides her own or look like someone she is not. Every woman knows.  Every girl learns.

In a world that didn’t constantly churn out airbrushed, narrow images of women, maybe Zi could grow up just valuing herself because she is, not devaluing herself because of how she looks, not learning first self-loathing and then, with age, difficulty and concession, something approximating self-love. Maybe she wouldn’t learn to try harder than she needs to simply to be loved for who she is, to spend more money on make-up than helps her be beautiful, to fall for the myth that high heels empower. Maybe I wouldn’t have to try so hard to remind her that a pedestal may look seductive, but what it ultimately does is make you afraid of stepping out of place. Why not let her grow up in a world where these images have been burned to the ground, rather than being burned on the minds, bodies and psyches of women? Don’t Ziya and a generation of girls like her deserve that chance? Fire bun these billboards and their violence.

Post 91.

On Maracas the other morning, I collected a heart-shaped rock which told me this story:

Once upon a time, there were two mountains. They each were so tall that they could commune with the cosmos and, from dusk each night, they deliberated with the stars over the physics of the universe and the mathematical equations that explained it’s unfolding. They each were so vast that they could commune with at least three different oceans and, from dawn each morning, they discussed the philosophical conundrums of existence and the higher purpose of life itself. Each mountain was so busy looking up at the cold and brilliant gaze of the stars and down to where the warm and turbulent oceans sighed at their foothills that they never noticed each other across the endless clouds and miles beyond measure.  Each thought that it was the only mountain in the world.

One unusually windy day, the clouds were being pushed across the continents and one of the mountains suddenly saw the sun glinting sharply off the cheekbone of the other. At the same time, the other mountain saw the same sun explode in a spray of light off the shoulder of the first. Who is that? asked the first, curiously.  How come I never noticed? asked the second, intrigued. Too busy with physics, laughed the stars, who of course know all along of every eventuality. Too busy with philosophy, laughed the seas, whose everlasting travels around the world make them as prophetic as they are deep.

Ignoring their laughter, the mountains squinted across the light and dust, each recognizing themselves for the first time in the other.  Can mountains smile? If they could, they would have at that moment. Can mountains cry? If they could have, that would have happened too. In the instant that they recognized their likeness as momentous beings formed only from stardust, they also recognized their distance as towering creatures each in a place they were meant to always be, one that could not be crossed because for all their height and vastness, unlike the stars and the seas, they could not move. Longing for communion with one so familiar and yet so unknown fell across them like ashen evening shadows. What could they do?

They fell into a silence that lasted many, many moons. Suddenly deliberations on the origins of everything seemed merely theoretical, and meditations on the nature of being seemed uselessly speculative.  Neither helped achieve connection with another both the same as and yet so different.

The stars, ever watchful of what is meant to be, and the seas, ever watchful of the timing of events, together hatched a cunning plan. Not all communion must involve nightly conversation they advised the mountains, and not all connection is built through exchanging knowledge at every sunrise. You can never be together in this incarnation, but you can give each other gifts of yourselves, and you can do that for all time, until one day so much of you reaches the other’s edge that your distance doesn’t matter. We can help you, for we know it is deceptive to believe that you are without desire and emotion. With that, both mountains began to glow in the ascending light, and pebbles, nuggets of stoney stardust, began to scatter down their surface toward the rivers and oceans.

They have been sharing their hearts ever since. If you look around shorelines and streams, you may find such rocky hearts in all shapes, sizes and colours. When you do, know that a journey of mountainous love now rests in the cup of your palm.

Post 90.

Last Friday, I completed International Women’s Day by walking the labyrinth at the Anglican Church in Port of Spain. The labyrinth is pre-Christian and associated with meditation and contemplation, and for me, the divine feminine. As I arrived, eight primary schoolgirls flocked to the gate like curious brown and black birds, wanting to follow my steps. ‘The labyrinth is magical’, I said, ‘walk along its path, picture what you want to be when you grow up and imagine that it will happen. Then, as you follow the curves back out, give thanks for everything that will help you fulfill that dream’.

What did these little girls want to be? ‘A billionaire’, said the first one. ‘Barbie’, said the second. ‘A pop star’, said another. ‘A dancer’, said a fourth. One wanted to be a doctor, influencing the billionaire-aspirant to say she now wanted to be a doctor too. ‘Who wants to be a flower?’ I asked. One of them chimed in, ‘what about being a Kiskeedee’? ‘Or a dolpin’? I suggested, glad that these little girls could still imagine without boundaries.

I traced the pattern like a mother duck with a buoyant brood of bright, beautiful and powerful young, telling them the magic of the labyrinth is that it teaches you to focus on your steps and direction until your journey is complete. When we reached the centre, we held hands and affirmed our aspirations. One little one said she wanted to be a police, another a teacher. ‘That’s cool’, I said, ‘I’m a teacher’. ‘And, I want to be a sunflower’, she added. ‘Yes’, I agreed, ‘I’ve always dreamt of being a sunflower too’.

I’ve walked that labyrinth before but never with such bubbling, giggling joy for nothing but the adventure of the moment. On the way back, we gave thanks for the stars and the sun, the sea and the animals. A different little girl now holding hands with me gave thanks for our homes, another for food, another for friends, and, one added, for being popular. Whatever I went to meditate on was completely forgotten and no longer mattered which, I suppose, was my lesson to learn.

I could only be grateful for the reminder that feminism needs to continue to struggle to offer girls options beyond bling, Barbie and pop-stardom so that they also live with fantasies of being Nobel Prize scientists and inventors, history-setting architects and engineers, astronauts, world leaders and, yes, police, doctors, mothers and sunflowers too. We still need revolution in a world where men rule irresponsibly, selling bodies and fame as girls’ biggest assets and best hope, marketing the myth that their moneymaker doesn’t refer to their minds. As with the labyrinth, they will have to navigate sharp twists and turns, meandering paths and unexpected directions as they find their way. I was blessed enough to encounter them long enough to say, you are the future divine feminine, be unafraid.

When we ended back at the beginning, these little birds scattered, skipping away with a confident playfulness I wish I still had. I experienced both happiness and renewed passion for a politics that seeks to conquer, with love, labour and even laughter, every form of violence and inequality that defines girls by less than their boldest dreams. I got hugs more vast that the sky itself from their skinny arms before I walked away into the dusty traffic, knowing by instinct rather than logic, I had just witnessed the labyrinth work its most enchanting magic.