Naming the feeling through Adrienne Rich

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Audre Lorde, Meridel Lesueur and Adrienne Rich - fierce feminists
By Nina Jacinto

Before I could articulate why my body wasn't just a body, wasn't just my body, there was only a feeling. That feeling came from observing the world around me. I had noticed that my body's color mattered, that my vagina mattered, and that everyone from my Teen Magazine to my extended family to the government had something to say about how my body should look, how it should be taken care of, and what it's supposed to be used for.

This feeling was suffocating and anxiety-making and confusing, and it remained unnamed for a long time.

And then there was college and there was reading and there was writing. And there was Adrienne Rich. She brought me solace and peace and also energy and fire because she was a woman who could wield the sword of both poetry and academia with such grace and ease. She helped me see that poetry was art and also power. She introduced me to the patriarchy surrounding motherhood and parenting. She compelled me to name the relationship my body had with the rest of the world - that my body was political because it was a female body, that it would be judged on a racialized and gendered spectrum in a way that other bodies would not.

As the war on women rages on with no signs of stopping any time soon, I think of Rich's persistent questioning of her readers, and specifically, to white feminists. "Who is we?" she asked, exposing the dangers of a false unified feminism that keeps white women and their feelings at the center and ignores the voices and work of women of color and women in the proverbial third world. "To locate myself in my body means more than understanding what it has meant to me to have a vulva and clitoris and uterus and breasts." Rich writes in Notes on the Politics of Location, "It means recognizing white skin, the places it has taken me, the places it has not let me go."

We move together in this movement towards reproductive justice and freedom, but we must also locate ourselves as individuals within it. We must understand how our bodies are perceived, in our homes, in other homes, in other worlds. And we must take control of our selves, and not allow our bodies to be used as casualties of war, as wedge issues in the election, as exploited objects. We will fight for our bodies and for each other. We will fight for the visions that Adrienne Rich so thoughtfully and beautifully articulated.

You will be missed, Adrienne, but your words will live forever in our work.