In between the things I juggle, two things crossed my radar this week. Maya Angelou died on Wednesday. And #YesAllWomen, a Twitter outpouring of support and grief and shared stories after the Santa Barbara shootings, passed a million tweets and is still going strong.
My introduction to Maya Angelou was in a women’s literature course –one of the basic ones, women’s voices through time or something– at a satellite campus of University of South Carolina. And it was excellent. We read Margaret Cavendish and Lauren Berlant and Emily Dickinson and Phillis Wheatley. We talked about what it means to write. What it means to have to prove you even have the authority to write. What it means to be an author and not a muse. What it means to define yourself by how you are viewed. We talked about the invisible power structures in language, about old boy’s clubs and old wives’ tales and how knowledge is credited and discredited. We talked about identifying our privilege and overcoming disadvantage. It was a great class.
And we read Maya Angelou.
“Still I Rise” is one of my favorites of hers. I love the acknowledgement of–then resistance to–the framework in which she is supposed to fit.
I love that laugh as she is talking about her sassiness.
It reminds me of Hélène Cixous’s writing about the laugh of the medusa. “The Laugh of the Medusa” (1975) is Cixous’s most influential article–in it, she identifies the misogyny inherent in language and proposes resistance to that misogyny through a focus on the body as a way for women to write themselves true, instead of being written as the monstrous other. The laugh of the medusa is an embodied resistance, it is that which can overcome, subvert, mock oppression. It is a “call to arms urging women to reclaim their bodies and, by extension, their desires and identities through writing.” It is Maya Angelou cackling at your presumption that she is going to droop her shoulders and submit to your classification. The laugh.
But, while the laugh is a vital means of personal resistance, it is not everything. It doesn’t make the world safer.
I’ve been following along, with horror, all of the news that has been coming out about the Santa Barbara shootings. Read about Elliot Roger’s misogyny here. And the misogyny that drove the shootings, while a drastically more tragic incident than what many women face, has inspired a huge out-pouring of personal experiences of sexism under the hashtag #YesAllWomen.
Madeline Davis wrote an article about it on Jezebel: “I am not an angry feminist. I’m a furious one.”
Her final lines are what got me. She says
And I’m still angry, still furious. I’m furious that growing up, I wasn’t allowed to do the same things that my brother did because it wasn’t safe for me. I’m furious that my parents ingrained in me from a very young age that I should never wear heels because I should always be ready to run at a moment’s notice. I’m furious that walking alone at night feels more like an act of rebellion than a simple act of transit. I’m furious at myself for worrying that participating in #YesAllWomen would lose me Twitter followers or turn off the boy I’m trying to impress. I’m furious for the women who are afraid to tell a dude at a bar to “fuck off” because they might getbottled in the face. I’m furious at the men who entered this comment thread to complain about how no one wants to fuck them even though they’re nice. I am furious at the commenter who read an article about a girl getting murdered by a fellow student after she declined an invitation to prom and then wrote 18 paragraphs on how he doesn’t believe in rape culture because he’s never seen it. I’m furious that girls get shot in the head or kidnapped for simply daring to go to school. I am furious at my own embarrassing and idiotic impulse to say #NotAllWhiteFeminists when women of color discuss their mistreatment and dismissal by the white feminist community. I am furious about the number of tips we receive daily about the mishandling of sexual assault investigations. I am furious about sexual assault. I am furious at the people who will inevitably tell me to calm down after reading this.
And mostly I’m furious that I’ll eventually shrug all of this off, too, because laughing about it is easier than changing it. I’m furious because I don’t know what else to do.
So. I don’t know. Laughing is easier, but laughing is ultimately a gesture of futility. Today, this week, it feels a bit futile.