getting past the “F” word…

20 Mar

March, 2010…for women’s history month

There was a time when celebrating Women’s History Month was an uncomfortable experience. Celebrating my “womanhood” meant also accepting a host of other things I didn’t necessarily want to. Most of it was my fear of being called a “feminist” – that ‘ugly’ perverted stink of a name. I resisted the identification, wanting little to do with the leg hair growing, angry people who constantly beat up on men.  Or so it had been presented to me.  Claiming it, the name and the association, actually made me feel less “feminine.” Aggressive and hard, “too strong” I think. And I hated it.

Because I was affected by popular (mis)representations of Feminism and femininity, I wasn’t able to imagine a woman as both intensely ‘political’ and gracefully beautiful. As being simultaneously bold and without unnecessary offense.  I wanted to be both Harriet and Billie. But I had to pick a box – check one. I chose the ‘prettier’ girl. She generated less trouble, more friends, and it was easier that way.  But of course, this particular compromise was expensive, and cost me a very significant part of my identity. I’ve had strong opinions since birth, but people – teachers especially, have always chastised me to silence and stillness, mold making me into some more suitable version of myself. (And I willingly obliged.)  If I had a voice, it had to look a certain way.  I got, “don’t be so loud” far more than anyone ever helped me in shaping thoughts and developing ideas.

I believe the first time I was told to channel my energy in some form outside of dance and song was when I met a complete stranger during my senior year in college.  Lisa Delpit.  Our conversation was probably no longer than an hour, yet she left me with more than I had accepted from most people at that time:  “You have to write.”  For my grade school teachers, I had been too sassy, too assertive and consequently, I started wearing the face of a femininity that never belonged to me. And while that face is probably true for someone, I resent that it was presented as being without any desirable alternative, and maybe also that I was so preoccupied with becoming whatever would make me more tolerable.

It took me until 2007 to finally understand, that Feminism and I (despite our flaws) stand for many of the same things. The root of which is humanity – people. God forbid. And… I’ve decided, feminists aren’t ugly. Oppression is.  In mind and spirit, and in politics.  Patriarchy is ugly.  Sexism, domestic violence – ugly.  Male chauvinism, sexual abuse, entitlement, unrestrained and ignorant male privilege.  Those are ugly. I think I must have quietly participated in some of those evils all those years I was ducking the “f” designation. I still loathe boxes though.

So here I am.  Grateful that experience has afforded me this wisdom: trying to make people understand you by masking who you are will not help them see you. Nor will it help you see yourself, or them. If anything, it cultivates greater misunderstanding. I get that now. In an effort to become agreeable enough to occupy enough time and space to express an opinion, I suppressed my ideas.  Running from one name, forced me into another and neither of them belong to me.  I lost myself altogether.  I am truly glad to have recognized that being me is inherently political. And even more inspired to have identified purpose in helping myself and others develop language to describe ourselves and our experiences, and mark a space from which we can declare them.  So for now at least, my current status remains: “Working Title.” Though let me be clear, Feminist or some variant is in the mix.

My whole point has really been this…  March is Women’s History Month. And I’m celebrating, as a Lover/Supporter/Defender of women and people everywhere.  (Feminist does not sting as much when it stands next to its definition.)

Thank you to all the women in my life, and in this world, who understand human value and self-worth, and have had the courage to invade silence to aggressively protect their names. To those who seek to learn themselves, but search more than their own faces. And to those who are after more than Self.


5 Responses to “getting past the “F” word…”

  1. Promising Poets Parking Lot March 26, 2011 at 8:48 pm #

    stay blessed, the most remarkable thing to do is to feel good about oneself.

    wishing you the best.
    share one piece with us today, make more friends…

    bless you.

    • patrice berry March 27, 2011 at 11:46 am #

      i’ll be back! i feel terrible enjoying everyone else so much when i’m so inconsistent!

    • patrice berry March 27, 2011 at 11:46 am #

      oh…and thank you soooo much for your words, and for reading.

  2. Vanessa Irvin Morris March 28, 2011 at 7:24 pm #

    Patrice, thank you for such a beautiful piece. Your self-permission inspires me towards my own self-permission. I love your statement: “being me is inherently political.” Absolutely. Deliciously political and simplistic all at once. My mother once said to me, “You are who you are and that’s it.” And I was like – “well dern. okay.” I forgot to ask her how old she was when she finally realized that truism. I was grateful she said it to me the way that she did – kind of early in my journey. Yet, change is a constant, and so we gotta ebb and flow with ourselves as gently as the tides and the winds (err — on a good day).

  3. Twan Claiborne May 11, 2011 at 3:51 pm #

    Yes, Patrice, yes! The personal is always political. This is a powerful piece of art. Thank you for sharing it with us all. I am so glad you hopped on the Love Yourself train. We’ve been waiting for you! You’ve always been beautiful – inside and out. But it does take time, and removal from the bubble known as Swarthmore, for us to realize those facts about ourselves. I’m trying to get to that level myself.

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