In a recent interview for the poetry journal Rattle, Troy Jollimore put his finger on exactly what has always bothered me about the language of “unconditional love.” And–seeing as how he’s a highly credentialed philosopher and poet–he nailed it pretty darn well, so I’ma just step back now and let him speak (though any emphasis you see is added by yours truly):
“The reaction I find myself having when I really think about genuinely unconditional love is that I wouldn’t want to be loved unconditionally, because it would almost have nothing to do with me. I think what we really want is strong love that it would take a whole lot to threaten.
I have come to believe over and over again that what is most important to me must be spoken, made verbal and shared, even at the risk of having it bruised or misunderstood. That the speaking profits me, beyond any other effect.
My silences had not protected me. Your silence will not protect you.
from “The Transformation of Silence into Language and Action”
~by Audre Lorde~
I’ve long been familiar with the last line of this quotation from the classic essay, published in Sister Outsider, but not with the fuller context. What strikes me as significant today is her insistence on the importance of speaking even if you are misunderstood. Even when communication fails.
Because I can control what comes from my mouth (or my pen, or my keyboard). I can assert my truth in the world; I can use the clearest words available, the strongest language I can muster. But I cannot guarantee that an audience will receive the message I would send.
What Lorde tells us: Speak your truth, regardless.
Instead of a roll call, let me say that I love feminists who are bold, audacious, loving, critical, self-reflexive, creative, thoughtful, intersectional, anti-racist, anti-heterosexist, anti-imperialist, anti-colonialist, anti-transphobic, anti-ableist, anti-classist, and anti-misogynistic. I love feminists who support one another and who believe that their purpose is fighting for justice. I love feminists who believe unequivocally in freedom. I love feminists because I found myself within feminism.
“The good stuff and the bad stuff are all part of the stuff. No good stuff without bad stuff…. Learn the rules, break the rules, make up new rules, break the new rules…. The I in the poem is not you but someone who knows a lot about you…. Every free verse writer must reinvent free verse….
“Prose is prose because of what it includes; poetry is poetry because of what it leaves out…. What they say “there are no words for”–that’s what poetry is for. Poetry uses words to go beyond words….
“A finished poem is also the draft of a later poem.”
~~Marvin Bell on writing poetry
Marvin Bell was the first Poet Laureate of Iowa. He taught for forty years at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop (The University of Iowa), as well as many other places both before and after. Somewhere along the line, he developed and taught 32 Statements About Writing Poetry (the above quote is an excerpt of my favorites). (h/t to Musehouse for the link.)
Meanwhile, a study published last year in the journal Psychological Science titled “Objects Don’t Object,” found that when college women were asked to merely think about a time when they’d been objectified, they became subsequently less supportive of equal rights.
It’s not just dress codes, of course. (Which have been based on not only problematic notions of the “disruptive” female body but also an aggressive dismissal of all young people’s full and equal humanity since…well, well before John Marshall High School’s faculty grabbed its collective pearls in horror at the visible bra straps of me and the rest of my Madonna-inspired ’80s cohort.) The total range of interactions throughout the lives of girls and women in which such gendered objectification occurs — and the subsequent acts of self-silencing so many retreat to — hurt me to think about.
But. Perhaps I exaggerate. Maybe I’m putting more weight into an academic-clever title than the issue really warrants. Perhaps that howling in the back of my head, that urge to Hulk Smash everything and everyone that I’ve been resisting throughout this latest roundof well-publicized rape apologia…well, maybe that’s just my survivor privilege showing again.