VDay verses

Hmmm. It appears that my taste in poetry is sadly out of date according to yesterday’s readings. Thing is, one has to buy the latest poetry books to keep up to date (of course these new poets are not going to post their poetry online like you and I do – they’ve usually got tenure and royalty to claim from their published books) and poetry books are at the bottom of my wishlist.

Anyway, thank goodness for the Web!  So. Here below are several sonnets (okay, they’re not strictly sonnets!) that grabbed me the most yesterday. I wonder: does anyone else spend VDay immersed in verse?

                   I love you as the sunlight leads the prow
Of a ship which sails
From Hartford to Miami, and I love you
Best at dawn, when even before I am awake the sun
Receives me in the questions which you always pose.

                                           Kenneth Koch, To You

If you’re sick of Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s How Do I Love Thee? read Kenneth Koch’s ode to his love here.

That morning, when she asked me to leave, wearing only
The apricot tinted, fraying chemise, I wanted to stay.
But I also wanted to go, to lose her suddenly, almost
For no reason, & certainly without any explanation.
I remember looking down at a pair of singular tracks
Made in a light snow the night before, at how they were
Gradually effacing themselves beneath the tires
Of the morning traffic, & thinking that my only other choice
Was fire, ashes, abandonment, solitude.
(Larry Levis, My Story in a Late Style of Fire)

Read Larry Levis’ entire poem here (I guarantee you a gut-wrenching read!)

Not a red rose or a satin heart.

I give you an onion.
It is a moon wrapped in brown paper.
It promises light
like the careful undressing of love.

Here.
It will blind you with tears
like a lover.
It will make your reflection
a wobbling photo of grief.

I am trying to be truthful.

Not a cute card or a kissogram.

I give you an onion.
Its fierce kiss will stay on your lips,
possessive and faithful
as we are,
for as long as we are.

Take it.
Its platinum loops shrink to a wedding-ring,
if you like.

Lethal.
Its scent will cling to your fingers,
cling to your knife.
(Carol Ann Duffy, Valentine)

Sigh! Wish I could write like that … ah well, who else but a poet would try to offer an onion to his/her object of affection? (Update: British Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy is coming to Dubai for the 8th Emirates Airline Festival of Literature on March 1-12 … am so excited! )

i think of lovers as trees, growing to and
from one another searching for the same light,
my mothers laughter in a dark room,
a photograph greying under my touch,
this is all i know how to do, carry loss around until
i begin to resemble every bad memory,
every terrible fear,
every nightmare anyone has ever had.

i ask did you ever love me?
you say of course, of course so quickly
that you sound like someone else
i ask are you made of steel? are you made of iron?
you cry on the phone, my stomach hurts

i let you leave, i need someone who knows how to stay.
                                  Warsan Shire

warsanshire
Image Source: http://www.azquotes.com/quote/862251

Warsan Shire’s verses contain so much honesty, they make you cry. And think about what it’s like to be a black African woman today. She’s not the only one to write with raw honesty that verges on the sublime, though. Below are some verses written during the Middle Ages (believe it or not!)

If anyone asks you 
how the perfect satisfaction
of all our sexual wanting
will look, lift your face
and say, 

Like this.

When someone mentions the gracefulness
of the nightsky, climb up on the roof
and dance and say,

Like this.

If anyone wants to know what “spirit” is,
or what “God’s fragrance” means,
lean your head toward him or her.
Keep your head toward him or her.

Like this.

When someone quotes the old poetic image
about clouds gradually uncovering the moon
slowly loosen knot by knot the strings
of your robe.

Like this.

If anyone wonders how Jesus raised the dead,
don’t try to explain the miracle.
Kiss me on the lips.

Like this. Like this.
(Rumi, Like This)

It’s hard to believe the verses above were written by a Sufi mystic/poet. Read Like This and other Rumi poems here and be stirred by words written several centuries ago. Of course, Sufi mystics and lovestruck musicians don’t have a monopoly on sexually charged verses. According to the Bible, they’ve been around for several millenia. Don’t believe me? Consider these

Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth!
                                                  Song of Songs 1:2

He brought me to the banqueting house,
    and his banner over me was love.
Sustain me with raisins;
    refresh me with apples,
    for I am sick with love.
His left hand is under my head,
    and his right hand embraces me!
                                                  Song of Songs 2:4-6

I will seek him whom my soul loves.
    I sought him, but found him not.
The watchmen found me
    as they went about in the city.
“Have you seen him whom my soul loves?”
Scarcely had I passed them
    when I found him whom my soul loves.
I held him, and would not let him go
    until I had brought him into my mother’s house,
    and into the chamber of her who conceived me.
                                                    Song of Songs 3:2-4

Hopefully, these three examples are sufficient to show that Scripture contains content of an erotic nature. Of course, some of the metaphors are now obscured by time …

Your hair is like a flock of goats
    leaping down the slopes of Gilead.
Your teeth are like a flock of shorn ewes
    that have come up from the washing,
all of which bear twins,
    and not one among them has lost its young.
Your lips are like a scarlet thread,
    and your mouth is lovely.
Your cheeks are like halves of a pomegranate
    behind your veil.
Your neck is like the tower of David,
    built in rows of stone;
on it hang a thousand shields,
    all of them shields of warriors.
                                     Song of Songs 4:1-4

But. Believe me, listening to a read-aloud of certain verses from Song of Songs can put my significant other in a romantic mood. Anyway, for those die-hard romantics, here’s one from Neruda, er, E.e. Cummings (a friend suggested I print it out, hence the photo). The roses came from my garden – yes, roses bloom in the desert soil and aren’t they lovely?

IMG_5301

Speaking of writing in a digital age, The Atlantic’s A Modern Guide to the Love Letter is a seriously funny piece! Meaning, it gave several laugh-out-loud moments. Of course not everyone will appreciate such an article. After all, not everyone remembers receiving snail mail or the fastidiousness associated with writing love letters. But I do since I was sometimes asked to do so by my classmates at university.

Lastly, if the overdose of literary expressions of love or whatever sentiment yesterday made you puke, consider this post-modern take on love from a Romantic poet. Belated Hearts Day, everyone!

And what is love? It is a doll dress’d up
For idleness to cosset, nurse, and dandle;
A thing of soft misnomers, so divine
That silly youth doth think to make itself
Divine by loving, and so goes on
Yawning and doting a whole summer long,
Till Miss’s comb is made a pearl tiara,
And common Wellingtons turn Romeo boots;
Then Cleopatra lives at number seven,
And Antony resides in Brunswick Square.
Fools! if some passions high have warm’d the world,
If Queens and Soldiers have play’d deep for hearts,
It is no reason why such agonies
Should be more common than the growth of weeds.
Fools! make me whole again that weighty pearl
The Queen of Egypt melted, and I’ll say
That ye may love in spite of beaver hats.
(John Keats, Modern Love)

February thoughts: On abortion

Sigh. I was all set to write about the many occasions I exhibited stupidity (why do they occur in January without fail?), lessons on humility (of course these are related to my stupidity), reconciling with a guy who did not speak to me for two years, and the feel-good moment when one is acknowledged as a factor that pushed an old friend to start a blog. But then. I received an unexpected message on Messenger from my bff at university asking my thoughts on abortion.

Now I’d planned to write a post on abortion and was just composing my thoughts on the matter when I read When Abortion Suddenly Stopped Making Sense. Reading that, I promptly lost all appetite for penning a piece. I mean, what else could I add to the discussion? Will articulating my thoughts bring someone a new perspective on the matter? I sure don’t think so. But. Since you asked for it, these ramblings are for you, dear university bff …

                                                                  ♠♠♠

Perhaps nothing has been so divisive an issue for moralists, Christians and modern thinkers as abortion. Because. Where one stands on the issue is a silent declaration of an individual’s values concerning life, liberty, equality and citizenship.

For the record, let me state beforehand that as a Christian I am against abortion. Is it wrong? Absolutely. From a Scriptural viewpoint, abortion takes away from God a right that is His as the creator. To kill a foetus – a living, breathing organism – is downright murder because it is premeditated and intentional.

getty_rm_photo_of_sperm_fertilizing_egg
The moment of fertilization … to think that an intelligent being arises from the joining of an egg and a sperm! (Image Source: http://www.webmd.com)

Why then is there an epidemic of abortion the likes of which has never before happened in history? I’m not so sure but it’s probably due to a confluence of factors: the women’s rights movement, the rise of civil liberties advocacy, the advent of women in the workforce, the increased divorce rate, the sexual revolution of the 60’s which fueled the rise of live-in relationships, the pull of a professional life for women who want to be financially independent, the rise of educated women who want to have their cake and eat it, too ….

Perhaps the most instrumental of all is the current thinking that children are not a blessing but a burden, an inconvenience that stops females from from fulfilling their potential or achieving their career goals. I must admit – I have been guilty of this many, many times.

In fact, I’ve even discussed it with other mothers of different ages: we don’t make nearly as much sacrifices as our mothers. And yet. We are so quick to complain about the demands on our time. Compared to previous generations, we have it so easy: we order food to be delivered when we don’t feel like cooking (was there fastfood during my mom’s heyday?), we have the Internet to keep up with news and correspondence (they managed with printed newspapers and snail mail), we pay bills and shop from the comfort of our home (they had to get out of the house to pay bills and shop).

So. Let us go to the crux of the matter: pregnancy is a material consequence of sex. An act that usually occurs between two consenting adults. Whether they are married or not is beside the point in today’s climate. But. It is damning evidence that most of the women who signed an amicus brief on January 4, 2016 and credit an abortion for allowing them to become lawyers were single, unmarried and still in school when they did so.

Previously, sexual activity was mostly confined to married couples. Now, we’re taught that it’s okay as long as it’s consensual. But. Training and teaching teenagers on how to handle adulthood have actually gone down as educators place more emphasis on boosting a child’s self-esteem. A lethal combination, if you ask me, considering that the average teenage brain is still developing.

abortionsintheus-740-rev
Image Source: http://www.guttmacher.org

In our house, we have a rule: you must accept responsibility for whatever decision you make. You stay up late to watch a movie during a school night, I won’t spend ten minutes to wake you up. Where’s the analogy here, you ask? Simple. The women who engaged in sex and found themselves pregnant probably had no plans to have their bellies swell for the next nine months. Thus, when confronted with the prospect of spending the rest of their life with the unwanted product of their sexual activity, they chose a quick fix to the problem.

Please notice that I did not say “easy fix.” Quick is not equal to easy. I’m trying not to be offensive here. But. To me, having an abortion is tantamount to declaring “I don’t want to be responsible for whatever material consequence arises from having sex. Yes, I still want to engage in sex but please, not at my expense! The men have it easy, they don’t get punished with a swollen tummy and spend the rest of their life with a child who will curtail my sexual activity… why should I? ”  Also: “I can’t afford not to have an abortion!”

Of course, that’s a crude way of putting it. Many women undergo abortion under duress, believing that it will enable them to achieve success while mired in poverty and a no-choice environment. And. They’re right. Abortion allows them to have control over their bodies and go on to lead productive lives.

tumblr_louqj5ibcc1qk48q1o1_500
Image Source: Soc.ucsb.edu

In addition, it confers many freedoms. Abortion allows couples to do away with a baby with a defective gene. Abortion allows a career woman to stay on track for a promotion. Abortion allows a rape victim to eliminate the reminder of a harrowing experience. Abortion allows a married woman who had an affair to hide her sin (I’m thinking of the Filipino husband who returned home after his wife committed suicide because she got pregnant by another man). Abortion allows an unmarried woman living in a land where premarital sex is illegal and ground for deportation to engage in sexual activity unhampered.

A selfish choice? Yes, if you ask me because most decisions are based on self-concern, not for the foetus. Ask any mother who struggled with fertility (and believe me I know a lot about this) what her immediate concern was after becoming pregnant and she will tell you: the baby’s health.

“To the world, I am an attorney who had an abortion, and, to myself, I am an attorney because I had an abortion.”
introduction to an amicus brief filed January 4, 2016 by 113 lawyers

Right now, abortion is hot in the news because an imminent case, Whole Women’s Health v Cole, will require the US Supreme Court to decide for the first time in 20 years to make a ruling on abortion. If you can, read the testimonies of the women who contributed to the amicus brief to persuade the US Supreme Court that providing safe, legal abortion is crucial to empowering women economically. A recurrent theme emerges: they became responsible for their destiny only after obtaining abortion. Nearly all are united in expressing that an abortion helped them go to law school, break a cycle of poverty and achieve personal/professional success.

But. Had they been more responsible (notice I did not say ‘selfish’), they would not have gotten pregnant in the first place. I mean, c’mon, there’s the pill, the condom, and the least popular choice, abstinence. Which, of course, is preached in the Bible. And so we go back to Scripture where it states:

For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know
that full well.
My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven
together in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book
before one of them came to be.
Psalm 139:13-16
Lastly, let me just say that I have tried to look at abortion as a woman’s constitutional right to participate fully in the progress of a nation and to enjoy freedoms that are taken away when one becomes pregnant. In fact, I have even written a poem from the perspective of one who regrets an abortion decision. But. I simply cannot let go of the reality that a foetus is a human being, subject to the same constitutional rights as its mother ….

So. You want to know what’s my take on the issue, moralizing aside? It’s this: you want to engage in what adults do? You better be prepared to handle adult responsibilities. Like raising a child.

PS. I just realized that I don’t know whether your friend who had an abortion is married or not. Please don’t judge her. She needs your compassion and help to turn her judgment around to the fact that life is precious. 

Both Sides Now

At our age, we don’t mull. We move!
                               advice from a friend 

Ugh! I hate being reminded of my age. One has only to stand in front of the mirror to see that time has wrought changes that do not reflect the Me I am inside. Then again. With age comes a certain point in time at which one looks back. When Gail Sheehy did so, she chose the favorite song of my childhood. In a testament to the enduring appeal of the song, Sheehy wrote an article on how Joni Mitchell’s iconic folk song Both Sides Now carried her through the different stages of her life.

IMG_3461
View of Taal Volcano (I think)

Listening to it again after a lapse of several years, likewise, I, too, could relate to the “many sides of Both Sides Now” that Sheehy explored (none of which I care to discuss publicly). Because. Despite growing old, I really don’t know clouds … at all … or love, or life – for that matter.

Rows and flows of angel hair
And ice cream castles in the air
And feather canyons everywhere,
I’ve looked at clouds that way.

But now they only block the sun,
They rain and they snow on everyone
So many things I would have done,
But clouds got in my way.

I’ve looked at clouds from both sides now
From up and down and still somehow
It’s cloud illusions I recall
I really don’t know clouds at all

Moons and Junes and Ferris wheels,
The dizzy dancing way that you feel
As every fairy tale comes real,
I’ve looked at love that way.

But now it’s just another show,
You leave ’em laughing when you go
And if you care, don’t let them know,
Don’t give yourself away.

I’ve looked at love from both sides now
From give and take and still somehow
It’s love’s illusions I recall
I really don’t know love at all

Tears and fears and feeling proud,
To say “I love you” right out loud
Dreams and schemes and circus crowds,
I’ve looked at life that way.

Oh but now old friends they’re acting strange,
They shake their heads, they say I’ve changed
Well something’s lost, but something’s gained
In living every day.

I’ve looked at life from both sides now
From win and lose and still somehow
It’s life’s illusions I recall
I really don’t know life at all

I’ve looked at life from both sides now
From up and down, and still somehow
It’s life’s illusions I recall
I really don’t know life at all

It’s life’s illusions I recall
I really don’t know life
I really don’t know life at all

Note: This post was originally written on November 8, 2014.

Untitled

My roses, how they grow!
Ask me not, I do not know.

Crimson, fuschia, burgundy
Pale pink, old rose, almost white
My roses, though a glorious sight –
In winter, they cannot be but a blight.

IMG_4686

Was it only yesterday?
When you declared, as your fingers
Gently snapped off each velvet petal
And cupped them in your hand for me
To savor their whimsical, fleeting fragrance:
The brave cannot fail because they’ve got 
     courage enough for a crowd to stand up
again and again and again.

Well, I never was and still am. Not. Brave.

Oh!
To be you and me
In a universe that cannot see
Helios charging his chariot across the sky
Or the moonbeam’s kiss upon your eye.

Oh!
To be with you and sail,
Pen the plot of a thousand tales.
But fate unkind uttered a decree:
There never more will be a We.

If you can, see me now:
Limping along life’s highway, being careful
Plucking hope from the barren, rotten soil,
Planting love and kindness to be faithful
In the midst of never-ending, grinding toil.

Ask me not to forget:
I will mourn, dance and sing
Till the crying clouds part and bring
A whiff of sweet sunset borne
On a gale from a meteor torn.

Ask me not to forget:
I will write, write and weep
Till your laughter thunders down from heaven and flings
Away these wet and buried, waxen tears
Wrought so long ago by death’s sting.

IMG_1431

My roses, how they grow-
Ask me not, I do not know …

Maguindanao in my mind

Can a land be cursed?

Oh, Maguindanao!
Why is your earth so hungry to swallow souls?
Why does your soil bear graveyards
That torch a nation’s psyche?
Why does your name conjure up
Visions of fallen men and women –
Their voices silenced before their prime?
Why is peace so elusive in your air?
How much more can your people bear?

Oh, Maguindanao!
When will justice be done?
And so it goes, when hope is gone ….
Farmers, tired of tilling from dawn till end of light,
Stow rifles at their sides, ready to fight.
Tired of waiting for a government with promises to keep,
They moonlight as militia, forsaking their sleep, 
While in their bosoms: mothers, wives, daughters and sisters weep.

It may seem odd that a matron who largely spends her time outside the house shopping should write about a place that she has never visited much less mingled with its residents. Let me explain. Twenty years ago, I married a farmer’s son. Thereafter, a world that was hiherto unknown opened itself up to me. Alien to city dwellers, the rural life remains living reality for the majority of people in the Philippines. That it is a daily experience for so many Filipinos still astounds me to this day.

With each visit, I had to keep my mouth shut from complaining and reach out to find a common ground with folks with whom I had little in common. Thus, I know. About farmers who get up two hours before sunrise, drink a mug of hot coffee then go out to till their fields or mind their livestock before having breakfast at daybreak. About walking a kilometer or two to fetch water or wash clothes when the water pump runs dry during summer. About barking dogs that signal the presence of Communist guerrillas lurking around at midnight. Frankly, I doubt whether those commuters and motorists cursing the traffic in Metro Manila will readily trade places with a farmer living in a barrio without electricity or water flowing from a faucet.

Then again, I’m a journalist’s daughter. And. The audacity of the perpetrators behind the Ampatuan Massacre six years ago still leaves me gagging. So much so that I promised to pen a poem after reading about the Mamasapano clash last year and the Christmas Eve murder of farmers by the BIFF.

Can a land be cursed? I don’t know but Maguindanao sure seems to be …

The Painted Veil

If there’s one film that has been on my bucket list for the longest time, it’s the screen adaptation of Somerset Maugham’s The Painted Veil. Well. I finally watched it the other night. And. Oh, how my heart was beautifully broken!

It was pure cinematic perfection from the breathtaking cinematography to the acting to the musical score. Halfway through, Naomi Watt’s luminescent beauty reminded me of the actress who played Julia Flyte in the BBC’s 1981 adaptation of Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited, perhaps because of the hair style during the prewar years.

The title, of course, comes from Percy Bysshe Shelley’s sonnet below:

Lift Not The Painted Veil 

Lift not the painted veil which those who live
Call Life: though unreal shapes be pictured there,
And it but mimic all we would believe
With colours idly spread,-behind, lurk Fear
And Hope, twin Destinies; who ever weave
Their shadows, o’er the chasm, sightless and drear.
I knew one who had lifted it-he sought,
For his lost heart was tender, things to love,
But found them not, alas! nor was there aught
The world contains, the which he could approve.
Through the unheeding many he did move,
A splendour among shadows, a bright blot
Upon this gloomy scene, a Spirit that strove
For truth, and like the Preacher found it not.

Discussing the poem is beyond my present powers. Here is an analysis by Stephanie Huff. Don’t let it, however, detract from your own interpretation/enjoyment of the poem.

January Thoughts: Deconstructing My Feminist Self

An artist must, after all, speak of his own experience.”
                                                                        Li Tianbing, Chinese painter

‘Twas nearly a month ago when it happened. I was waiting at our gathering spot at the mall after we’d watched Star Wars: The Force Awakens and mulling over the film’s convoluted plot (which today I can’t recall) when I witnessed a practice that is common to Arabs in the Gulf Region: two men leaned forward until their noses joined, then swung their head from side to side in the traditional greeting between members of the male sex. They were one meter away from me.  The act was repeated again between friends A and C (the first was between A and B who was with C) before the men held each other’s hands in an exuberance telling of the warm friendship that existed between them.

Witnessing the nose kiss so up close and personal had me wondering at the vagaries of a society with strict codes for dress and conduct for both men and women. I’ve seen the hubby warmly embraced by a kandura-wearing friend whom he had not seen in a year. So. Men are able to freely express their friendship without arousing suspicions that they are gay. But women? Well, I’ve seen many, many women flaunt their figures underneath the abaya, their shopping bags breezily dangling from their arms as they cheerfully chatter away. I’ve also seen women publicly dance with other women because there were no men present to be their partners. But never have I seen women greet each other the way men embrace each other in public.

If men can engage in PDA’s of the intimate sort in the public sphere, what about the women? That got me thinking. And wondering. Then thinking again. About the engineer who was called home by her father so she would not be corrupted by the West. About how social change is inevitable in a country used to satellite television. About the thirty-something woman I met who spends her days watching television. About how Emirati women are fortunate to have a government that cares, truly cares, about them (local women are encouraged to get a university degree and are offered technical/financial help if they want to set up a business). About how the road to lasting social change is paved with potholes and craters literally and figuratively. Lastly, about my journey to and from feminism.

                                                                      ♣♣♣

I first became enamored with the feminist movement’s ideals after reading Collette Dowling’s The Cinderella Complex at the age of thirteen.  That it happened just when Cyndi Lauper was singing “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” in a society where female university graduates were being encouraged via tax incentives to procreate with fellow graduates may have been a contributing factor. That I was a rebellious daughter may have been another contributing factor. I don’t know. All I can now say is …

I’ve done it. I’ve attended university classes where I was one of three girls in a class of 33 without wearing a bra. I’ve worn clothes that would not be considered revealing today but which, given the time and place, caused my classmates to joke “Athena, your dressmaker must have been short of fabric once again!” I’ve smoked but quit just to get my best friend off my back. It was easier to quit than tolerate her constant nagging that it was bad for my health. You might even say that the course I managed to finish at university – electrical engineering – arose from a desire not to constrain myself to a female profession.

Eventually,  I realized that these were shallow displays, the external trappings of a feminism not deep enough to flout society’s norms. (Why must feminists break through boundaries and flout cultural conventions to be lauded for their achievements?)

Becoming a Christian a year before graduating from university was responsible for the latter, of course. Who knows what I might have done had I not found Christ? Years and years later, reading the Bible enabled me to view the secular writings in magazines from the perspective of one who had found freedom in Christ. That only Christ’s truth – not the church, not religion – liberates was truly liberating in a way that is hard to explain.

I also realized that men have used religion (or lack of it as in the case with China) to perpetuate gender inequality in all forms throughout history long before Jimmy Carter famously declared his withdrawal from the Southern Baptist Convention (notice he did not say he abandoned his faith). As an aside, did you know that women in East Germany had a better life under the old Communist regime?

My idea of a true feminist is a woman who feels free enough to do whatever she wants.”                                                                           Lana del Rey

And so here I am: a housewife with plenty of fat and white hair to spare who’s now able to proudly proclaim “Hey, I’ve been a feminist all this time!” without shame. Except, except …. I’m not. Not really. Because I think. You see, real feminists just do. They don’t sit around, intellectualizing the debate over bridging the gap in the salaries of men and women. They don’t give speeches lamenting their lower pay or bragging that they’re successful because they did not get pregnant/got an abortion. They’re not the women who carefully plot a course to upset the male status quo. Because. Real feminists can’t afford to think. At least those who do not live in the developed Western world can’t. So. They simply act. Just to survive.

I learned feminism disproportionately from black women.
Gloria Steinem

To me, right now, the true feminists are not the women who are accustomed to privilege and want to have more. The face of a feminist is that of the child bride who refuses the marriage arranged between her and a man three times her age. She is the Indian widow who defies society’s expectation that she die with her husband by choosing to exist, struggling to maintain dignity while living a beggar’s life. She is the Chinese mother who, after giving birth to a girl, hides her and gives her up for adoption to give her child a better life. She is the rape victim who has boldly shown her face to the world. She is the student who bravely utters words that she knows could get her a bullet in her body.  She may be the lawyer who gives up a lucrative job to join an NGO and defend girls in court. She could be the mother figure in a village livelihood project. Heck, she may even be the whore in a brothel struggling to maintain some semblance of self-respect while looking for a way to get out of her pimp’s protection.

In all cases, they are either trying to or have bucked cultural conventions and hierarchical patterns set down by external authorities. Their life shows no signs of the external trappings of feminism that is associated with the movement in the West. Perhaps I think like this because I come from the Far East, no? I don’t know. Anyway ….

In the 1990s, Dustin Hoffman starred in Accidental Hero with Geena Davis and Andy Garcia. It’s a nondescript gem of a movie. Still, it stayed with me through the years for questioning American culture’s fixation with heroes and the general definition of a hero. Perhaps we should do the same when it comes to feminists? I’m not saying that those who vigorously campaigned for equal pay, workplace childcare, access to contraceptives, and other issues did not advance the movement. They did. But. There’s a Me-ness to their activism that is lacking in the examples I mentioned above.

Today, I am largely disillusioned at the Western framework for female liberation or what exactly constitutes a feminist. I look at Gloria Steinem and Camille Paglia and their ilk and wonder whether the achievements for which they are lauded actually did us any good in the long run. Don’t get me wrong. I deeply admire Steinem for walking her talk. But sometimes I do wonder if the women’s movement would have progressed without their activism and rhetoric, pushed along by the waves of fresh female graduates and women seeking employment after a divorce. Or if, in seeking parity with men, women traded something better for something that is simply good. Because. The reality is we can’t have it all. (I could expand what I mean by this statement but this post is already very long) If we could, then why do women today face so many problems that our parents and grandparents never had?

In the end, what ultimately nailed the coffin on my regard for the feminist movement was Mallory Millett’s Marxist Feminism’s Ruined Lives: The Horror I Witnessed Inside the Women’s “Liberation” Movement. Millett is the sister of Kate Millett, a feminist icon. In it, she reveals the man-hating family-destroying agenda of the feminist movement. Reading it brought up many questions …

Why must women act like sluts to gain freedom from men? Where is the self-respect in that? Can’t one have a liberal mind without flouting societal norms? Another thing. Men do not work their butts to trade places with us. Have you heard of a guy expressing a wish to get pregnant and give birth?

We were uniquely made to carry a life and childbirth. Why then, do we aspire to jobs traditionally held by men? (Again, I’m not saying it’s wrong – just that if you’re not called and uniquely suited for it, it’s a travesty to do so just to advance a movement). Why do we reject the physical limitations placed on our bodies? Menstruation is a pain, yes, but there’s no point in wishing that men experience it. They can’t and that should be the end of it.

So what, exactly, does a feminist mean to me right now? It’s hard to explain. The feminist movement has embraced all sorts of causes (gay rights, racial equality) that the average person would have a hard time grasping its tail, especially since identifying with it is now so fraught with emotion. Celebrities declaring that they’re not feminists have not helped the cause, either.

So. Let me revise my opinion once again. The real feminists, the way I see it, are not necessarily those who proclaim their feminism in their writings or actions. They are the women who, in forging an identity true to their nature, have paved the way to something better for the rest of womankind. They may not be wildly successful in their fields. But. In extending the boundaries for what women are capable of – and I’m not talking about the glass ceiling only here – they have made the world a better place for their daughters and daughters-in-law. This definition is not limited to powerful women like Hilary Clinton whose ability to concurrently inspire disgust and admiration leaves me in awe. It embraces females of all color and creed and may even include – gasp! – your mother.

In the end, the true feminist may be the mother who educates her sons and daughters about the value of human life, showing that gender equality, when marked by a recognition and celebration of the distinct differences between male and female, is biblically compatible. Because. Come to think of it, if all men grew up thinking that women deserve equal pay as men … if all boys became men believing that women’s differences do not make them inferior but in fact superior to men, we wouldn’t be waging a war in the workplace and judiciary, would we?

As for me, well, don’t label me a feminist. Or wife. Or mother. Just one word will do: woman. After all, it’s what I was created to be. And. It’s the only word that captures the essence of Me.

PS. Please be kind when commenting. I have no wish to start a debate; I am merely sharing my thoughts.

A few film suggestions beyond Sufragette:
Not Without My Daughter
Girl Rising
I am Nojoom, Age 10 and Divorced
Water