All too often we hear about young boys, particularly ones of African descent, not having father figures and going off the rails. We hear about them either ending up as fodder for jail, aimless wanderers with no idea how to behave as men and/or winding up being absent fathers themselves, with no sense of responsibility. Well guess what, sometimes those fatherless men end up with fatherless daughters because these women have no idea what it means to have an entity around the house being a father or a man either.
If there are no other male role models in their lives - friends, uncles and such - then the journey to knowing what a 'Man' looks like is distressing.
Men are NOT the same as women purely because of that macho patriarchal socialization, programming and training of what a man is supposed to be. Posturing Rap stars, magazines like FHM and bolshie arrogant banking city and media types have a lot to answer for. But even then I think that idea is a confused misnomer. Who knows what manhood looks like these days when men can buy calf, bicep and pec implants, have as many cosmetic products as women and expect women to pay their way out of spite for all the years they had to. Ok, maybe I'm being harsh there.
What I think is important though, is that there is a human responsibility to the nurturing of the future generations. Boy AND Girl children need good female and male ideals around them. Not perfect cos maybe that's too much to ask sometimes but they need people around them who are seen to at least be trying to do the right thing. Kids are smart. They can tell the difference when someone cares or not.
Little girls need to feel the vibration of a man's voice that loves them. Then they will know the sound of Love. They need to feel the embrace of a man that respects them. Then they will know the touch of Respect and Love. They need to see the silhouette of a man wishing them sweet dreams. Then they will know the shape of support for their dreams when they see it, the touch of respect when they feel it and the sound of Love when they hear it. No woman should suffer any form of abuse at the end of the fist or tongue of a man. It is unnecessary let alone wrong.
This poem is the for the father I have never known but who I love still for his absence. Part of my journey to finding out the true meaning of Womanhood has been through an unpredictable and rocky path to understanding Manhood.
Click, listen, read, immerse, enjoy. Peace. Z
daddy's gone away
yes daddy's gone to stay gone
Was my existence braided on purpose
in to the journey of your mission bound spermatozoa?
where were they headed for real though?
meant for the long dark red of my mothers fallopian tube?
to her open womb?
where i unfurled into this life
a full thing with no name from my fathers side
just a black strike on my birth certificate
my fathers namelessness comes to me in dreams
or in the films of other peoples daddy’s
I’d turn my face ashamed of my dad
yes blindly ashamed and blissfully proud
I’d be comforted, reassured and strong with my daddy
as he carried my 3 foot high body, my head resting on his shoulder
while he strided like palm trees sway
but I'd also be angry and hateful toward my daddy,
grateful toward my daddy, cuss him out in my pillow,
wish he were dead and call him by his first name for a week,
my jaw stubborn as the karma of my life without him
I’d be dutiful daughter and kiss him sweet on the cheek at bedtime
I’d want to smack my own dad in the mouth
disobey his rules / come back 43 minutes after curfew and not apologise
I’d be his sugar dumpling, loyal and smiling,
I’d be full of love then I’d curse in front of him and back chat,
wear make up at thirteen and never bring my boyfriends home to meet him
I’d do all these things and more
just to test to my daddy
fling my arms around his neck and see if he’d forgive me
just to make sure,
I’d put my dad through hell
I’d do all these things and more
just to make sure
but where does the fire from all these impetuous tempestuous feelings go
in the of decades space, shoulder deep into an army back pack
smelling of johnny cakes mum made on Sundays and gunpowder
from the war that took him when i was three weeks old.
my daddy was an army man with black cat claws
and couple of other women’s draws, notched on his rifle butt,
but he loved me enough to write a letter or two....
to do the right thing by his baby mama
daddy should know his girls feet are strong
her shoulders are broad
that refined things don't pass by her ears and eyes unnoticed
no one can talk to her as if she’s
Daddy. Dad. Daddy.
How does that word sit on my lips?
a cluster of D’s exploding from my tongue
vibrating the air around me like an ectoplasmic echo
But I ain’t mad, just lonely
to know know what saying “Daddy”would be like
and a voice with bass in it
that recognised mine like keys in locks
would call back
opening doors to safe and sound security
a full night sleep with my Super Dad snoring loudly down the hall
My good Sister friend Marcina Arnold posted a vid on Forum Feminina about Menstruation.
Names for the release of menstrual blood and for those who are a bit squeamish or easily offended , you have been warned - period, the rag, the code red, on the blob, Aunt Flo, the crimson wave, bloody mary, the curse, the devil's juice (eugh). Some talk about feminine sanitary items as vagina diapers, a blood hammock, a crotch bat, a dracula's tea bag - oh it gets worse!
Marcina's post me thinking about a book I've read called The Red Tent. I lent it to someone and never got it back but when I read the post, I ordered it off Amazon again (£1.50 used. Gotta love it). Anyhoo, the book is set in the biblical time of Pharaohs and is narrated by Dinah, a young woman of a nomadic tribe, daughter of Jacob (a daughter is Israel). She is supposedly raped by Shechem, son of Hamor (son of Egypt). The controversy that raged through the pages of this book after this occurance is whether she should be blamed for now being a fallen woman and or whether Dinah and Shechem were actually in love. There would be too much scandal if they were in love because that kind of inter-racial, inter class (him a prince, she a slave) activity back then was more than NOT COOL. Has much changed? The story ensues.... have a read if your interested.
However, THIS post is about monthly bleeding.
In the book, the 'Red Tent' is a physical place where the women of Dinah's family who would 'flow' in time with a new moon, sitting on a rag on some straw till their periods had finished. All their cycles peaked simultaneously and they would bleed together. They were that finely tuned with each other. and time in the Red Tent was quality time spent bonding with each other and communing with the cycle of the moon. They massaged each other, share "the escapades of their youth", "sagas of child birth", shared their knowledge and craft skills, their sexual antics and tips on surviving as women in that time. I was moved and intrigued how important a first period was back then. The focus on what it meant to become a fertile young woman wasevolution.
"Rachel bled her first blood, and cried with relief. Adah, Leah Zilpah sang the piercing, throaty song that announces birth, deaths and women's ripening. As the sun set on the new moon when all the women commenced bleeding, they rubbed hennah in Rachel's fingernails and on the soles of her feet. Her eyelids were painted yellow and they slid every bangle, gem, jewel onto her finger, toes, ankles, wrists.They covered her head with the finest embroidery and led her to the red tent. The sang songs to the Goddesses... ....The women sang all the welcoming songs to her while Rachel ate dates honey and fine wheat-flour cake, made into the three-cornered shape of her sex. She drank as much sweet wine as she could hold. Adah rubbed her legs her back her abdomen with aromatic oils until she was nearly asleep... Rachel was stupid with the pleasure and wine."
Most of us might remember a clumsy sex education lesson, a vague or overly explicit description of what to expect (from those parents or guardians who tried too hard) - the embarrassmentat the insertion of a tampon or the thought of wearing that nappy you had to waddle down the street in. Body Form and Always and the wings thing was a blessing (except when you get the sticky bit burn). Now we have Moon Cups, Soft Cups and reusable sanitary napkins. The business of having a period has moved forward, but not the evolution into womanhood. That line has been well and truly blurred with the hyper-sexualization of young girls as young as 5 years old.
So what happened to that song and dance over coming into Womanhood? What happened to the pride over a girl child, your child becoming a vessel full of beauty and the potential of bringing ultimate Femininity to the world? And what happened to having a party that wasn't about getting drunk on your sixteenth? What happened to the blessed Rite Of Passage? Have our periods become so much of a bother to us that we've neglect to remember it's relevance to those yet to experience it? Have we forgotten the young girl in us who experienced it and the comfort we needed when that reddy smudge appeared for the first time in our panties? Could paying unprecedented attention to a girls first blood re-ignite a forgotten innocence? Could it place a revered importance on preserving that innocence in a world that sexualizes our girls at ludicrously young ages through music, fashion and advertising? The questions need to keep coming before we get too complacent and this hyper-sexualized state of being crystalises itself as 'normal'.
When Rachel, aged 12-ish, got her first blood she was relieved. She was a woman and most of the joy around her coming of age would
have been because now she was fertile and marriage would have followed
closely behind her ripening. Now-a-days the pressure of pre-teen marriage may not be such a pressure but that moment will only happen once and should be celebrated, the transition made less frightening and the welcoming of womanhood noted in the annuls of memory as a joyous occasion. An important sensual rite of passage.
What are your experiences of coming of age, your early experiences with your cycle? Post on the Forum Feminia .
This book entered my life at a point where I thought I was going to implode. As a woman of colour, I felt like there were elements - people and organisation structures - telling me that I must be crazy to think that what I dreamed for myself and my talents were possible - they were someone elses, not even meant for me. They were someone elses dreams. Yes, those dreams were, are big because I have expectations of my life. The biggest one being that I expect to lie on my death bed and say I have no regrets.
No regrets means imagining to your fullest potential and aiming as high as you please, right? Right.
Well, no actually. I had people telling me that I "was not there yet" or "are you sure you're ready for that yet?"
What I realized was that these voices translated into "who do you think you are?" and "You aren't good enough?" - I call that stomping on the dream before it got off the ground. Bob Marley put it well in his classic, "I Shot The Sheriff" -
Sheriff John Brown always hated me,
For what, I don't know:
Every time I plant a seed,
He said kill it before it grow -
He said kill them before they grow.
Not that these people hated me. Not at all. It was more a case of they themselves having low expectations of me, of what I could do and of what I wanted to do/become as an artist. I believe 89% of the time they didn't understand the subtext of their words.
It got me thinking how many times in my life I had heard, or shall we say subliminally felt the oppressive subversion of a teacher's/supervisor's/boss's/agent's utterances that seemed to tell me that I was not quite enough... Paranoid? I could have been. I was running myself ragged around the city, the globe even, trying to make money, make 'progress' in my art form as writer and poet, performing with just enough energy to stand-up and hold a mic. I have broken down on stage. Yes cried and said "i want to see my Mum" onstage. Me one and 250 people in the audience. In 2010, I felt that I had been moving laterally for about 3 years and no matter what avenue I turned down I felt blocked. Some blocks were overt - "At some point we all have to sell out", I was told once. Sometimes so subtle. I began to think, "Zee, really, you just ain't trying hard enough, try harder, work harder, try another angle different from the 29 others you've tried cos what you're doing is not enough, IT'S JUST NOT GOOD ENOUGH!"
Wow... as you can imagine. I shocked myself. I had embraced the mantra, made it my own. I had accepted the voice of my oppressors.
"..it's frightening to acknowledge that I have internalize a racism and classism, where the object of oppression is not only someone outside of my skin, but someone inside my skin."
- Cherrie Moraga, This Bridge Called My Back.
"THIS BRIDGE CALLED MY BACK" came as a gift from above. I stumbled on it while browsing through Amazon, for what I can't remember now. But it spoke to a voice deep in the back of my wardrobe along with those dusty shoes and that frock that fell off the hanger 5 years ago, a voice tied up in a rough hemp sack, muffling "Believe what you know for sure. This stomping IS happening and YOU ARE MORE than what you have been told."
So invest in this book if you can. Its price on Amazon ranges from £15 for a used copy to £70 plus for a new AND used. Yeah I know. A bit Pricey. But that just tells us there's something of value between the pages of this book that the echelons of western academia might prefer we didn't know. Or at least its not going to make it easy for us to get our hands on. Try your library.
There are many references to Lesbian community. For some this might be a "problem". Whatever. More importantly, the writings were originally collated in the early 80's when women were making a stand against classism sexism, and the aggressive impact on womanhood during the economic boom. Independence financially and sexually was prevelant. Fundamentally this book is about women of colour sharing stories of overt and subtle sexism and racism, of coming into being and re-affirming each other. This book saved my sanity during a frustrating artistic/business life experience. It calmed me. Salvation just when it needed it.
Late one Tuesday night last September, I was waiting at a bus stop along with a few others, but two young black girls stood out. Not just to me but to a couple of tusty youths going about their business. On auto pilot they began their usually labberish talk to get the girls attention, get their number, get a feel up... or just get to them if they couldn't get any of the above.
The girls seemed a little unsure of themselves, awkward in their tight lycra tops revealing cleavage, and tight jeans exaggerating puppy fat curves... but they held their ground as the boys asked questions in a cool but assertive manner. Not getting the response they wanted, the boys ramped up the volume on the sexual innuendo with a lustful aggression to back it up. The two young women, stood firm finding support in each others presence. The boy's foolish talk up in the girls faces was getting them no where - the boys stepped.
One girl said to her friend. "Dem boys are so shtupid man. What makes them fink we're gonna gi dem anyfing when dey go on like dat?"
I liked their style. Cool, if a little shakey but holding on to something they knew that those boys didn't. They had a choice.
Many young girls don't feel they have the choice of refusing to accept these torrents of testosterone driven assaults because they feel dis-empowered. Some allow and even encourage inappropriate, explicit and aggressive ways of being talked to or touched. To match that energy, they'll behave in a manner as if they are giving permission for the dignity of their young Womanhood to be disregarded, not just disrespected but totally ignored. This is the symptom of a dis-ease. They themselves are not aware of their own value. Who has neglected to tell them that these encounters equates to them being de-humanised as a Female Human Being, as they accept being spoken to as if they are only a vagina, no, a 'hole' on legs? They have been trained to believe that their sexual power is all they have in the world to get them through life, and get them what they want. Some of them get themselves in trouble, get diseases, get pregnant. Some put themselves in serious danger.
But these two girls held their corner. What else, besides their ripening puberty and their new found beauty, made them stand out? Their nails. Bright, officious, cutting slashes of rainbow through the air when they talked with their hands as well as their bright lips and fast tongues.
On the upstairs deck of the bus, with my bags of shopping, I went over and told them that I liked the way they handled 'dem youts' and I had to get pictures of their nails for a 'project'. They remain anonymous. Love my mobile phone for these moments.
I was then reminded of a poem I wrote many moons ago... Listen, read, explore...
Melanie's nails tip the scales beyond the balanced rational of modern architecture.
Rhinestone encrusted, they arch entrusted to an adhesive, bonding live nail to acrylic
Unifying her in a mirage marriage of sophisticate Ameri-carib elite to brown girl in Beauty College from Tottenham high street.
Mel got her nails from “US GAL, from a real Korean chick with her high heeled, tiled floor cracking, sling backing tight jeaned or shorted skirt wearing, little tittied, hair flicking, eye flitting but perfectionist focus for nails building self.
Three Saturdays of her minimum wage slave was the price Mel paid. Her manager points out the impracticality of her newly acquired appendages. Mel points a beclawed index digit retreating, hissing her warning like a lioness, cub protecting, "Don’t you come between her and her ten reasons for living!"
Mel's nails entrap the gaze of the mind ticking the gansta rap on MTV box - big black six packs and guns, undulating brown flesh in thongs... Mel imagines it’s her choice of rhinestones on her thumb that catch the sun and leaves them struck dumb.
Mels nails tell a tale of her clawing her way through a thicket of charmless males, who liked her thigh, her buttocks tight and high Her breast pointing to the sky, her clean wet eyes. Mels nails meant she never washed a dish from that monumental day. Like a buzz from a passing fly were her mothers the complaints - Ignored or irritatingly swatted away with a curled lip Her ears had closed to that voice long ago anyway. The space between which was not full of air as maternal blusters and playground blasts had blown her to believe from pubescent rebukes alluding to her bodily parts that chose to round and swell before she had lost her clumsy schoolgirl gait; those bulges that attracted
an attention she only knew made her uncomfortable made want to origami herself in to shape of a boat or something even less interesting. Poked at for contemplative visage mistaken for shy inaccurately diagnosed as "Well She's just stupid, innit." And her inclination for re-potting plants was not a reflection on her personality as being an unanimated as a wallflower. She just liked to help things grow.
somewhere down the line she had put down the gardening gloves and picked up shears pruning that soft touch don't say much
into a loose lip l such and such it wasn’t enough to just dispassionately exist scratch the varnished surface and see after the eclipse
You find a small tongue cannot articulate big pain lying under cover, could not choose which night was dream filled, could not wish away the rain that fell on Mels small world. Her blamelessness bent over backwards a rainbow under those dark clouds smelling of thick mans smell and Tennents Extra unmasked by the favourite aftershaveof her stepfather seeping under her door and into her bed.
And between the mothers back teeth laughing, his big hand her mothers broad hip stoking and heavy whispering in ears only open for compliments and good girl pay offs, mother rationalises blindness for the impossibility of his preference of her daughter over herself….
Thus after nose, brow, dimple navel and eighteenth ear piercing through which her frustration escaped, Melanie painted her nails a shock of colour She chose herself. Definitively. Uncompromisingly - Nefertiti on her left pinkie with a tiny gold ring punched through representing her vague knowledge of self, a sun setting on an Island beach and solitary palm tree, firework, stars, explosions of a kaleidoscope
Mel got her nails and face painted to accentuate the light and shade of her dreams not to cover up the shabby seams of tear darned recoveries. No….
Misadventure was a survivor’s test. She knew this and her promenades into womanhood Were strewn with the waste of her hurts.
But she prettied them up with polish and flares of yellow brick roads, glitterati carnivals, and the lazy sound of droning bees pollinating in a park in Tottenham filling her body to bursting, shooting out of her fingers tips like car headlights. She had fine art Picassoed over her nails in the colours she chose for herself definitively and uncompromisingly. Cos Mel's nails were her dreams manifest.