To my mother, who braved raising me with no man beside her. Who, despite my flaws and mistakes, always helped me back on my feet-- or better yet taught me to get back up on my own. Who always showed me how to be kind by being perpetually kind. Who taught me intelligence over lipstick, thoughtfulness over mascara, empathy over money.
To my aunt, who took me in when my mom was working graveyard shifts. Who treated me like her own daughter. Who never let me take the easy way out and taught me how to stick to my word and follow through even when all I wanted was give up.
To my grandmother, who singlehandedly raised them. Who has always fought for those who needed fighting for. Who kept me laughing, even when laughter seemed impossible. Who taught me humor and love and politics.
To these women, who have led by example. Who have shown me who I want to be and how I want to act. Who never needed men but rather chose to share with a special few. Who taught me that womanhood and independence are not mutually exclusive.
This painting came from a Nicaraguan man traveling around his country, creating art out of espresso, paint and paper hand-made from palm trees. I do not know his name. The power and integrity portrayed in this piece is stunning. What a shift it would be if we began to see women as warriors, if we allowed ourselves to be drawn into the power of the feminine.
Riding while female
On hilly overland trail at sunset, I come closer to flying than by way of any airplane. In the cabinet of a cold aircraft with an unseen man’s voice echoing evacuation protocols through my ears, I felt as close to airborne as if in a video game: sterile, disengaged, a passenger.
Here, I have a hand in the matter: each curve of my soft body coordinating with a machine engineered to reflect a deeply human rhythm. I alter the pace with the tiniest retraction of my thigh. My skin and bones tucking in and out of the dusky July breeze, I think I may be freest woman in the history of my bloodline. Twilight settles: above the mountains, a thin strip of cobalt deepens until the last pigment of day slips below the ridge and yields to night.
As my body maneuvers the dark road, I measure precise and supple parts of self. Thin wheels balance in turn on a surface I can no longer see. I allow sight to give way; hearing, taste, touch and smell augment their sensuality. I call up this force, extend it’s reach, play in it alone. The only thing to do is sing, folding what surrounds me in and out of my lungs.
A creature of habit, I lift my left arm into a goal-post signal to no one and turn right onto the Westernmost part of Laporte Ave, where shadows stretch unusually long between streetlights. I feel the back of my body illuminate as the harsh rumble of an engine cuts into the quietude. I pull slightly right, waiting for the car to pass, willing the driver to hurry along and leave me to my play. The passenger instead sticks his head out the window far too close to my left side, screaming sharp advances into the thin space between us.
An alarm sounds in my throat, carrying warnings from women I do not know but whose defense mechanisms live in my blood, reverberate through my bones. Think quickly, don’t crash, make an escape route in your mind, pull your skirt down to cover the curves of your thighs, watch carefully until the tail lights fade, seek out a brighter street. Suggestions from cosmically attuned friends echo near my eardrums: "don't manifest your fears!" I remember rules passed down from my grandmother to my mother: bringing attention to the female body in public- even if by accident- is a dangerous act.
In a so-called post-sexist society, it seems there is scant space for a women to invoke sensual energy for any other reason than to give it away to a man. Popular culture's covert instructions for females go: your sensuality is an illicit force to be measured precisely, guarded until given- or taken- away. Summon this extraordinary human capacity only when you are prepared to hand it over.
But at times, the females living in my blood and bone speak before they are spoken to. They whisper secrets on how to access the magic of the feminine in a world that hunts witches, rapes, blames us for not buttoning up better. In clandestine corners of the world, women have long summoned forces of sensual energy anyway, without a male in sight, solely to wander along the thin margin between sensual and sexual.
I call it up only to let sensuality circulate, serving it to no one. A quietly shifting exploration of feminine power expands and contracts through lived experience.
On this particular night, the tail lights fade until darkness is restored, but I turn onto a well-lit road anyway. Pulling my shoulder blades toward one another, I soothe the disquiet in my chest. Throat still tingling, I pull a song from my lungs and try to recall the sensations from before.