An Open Letter to Gentleladies

Feminism, Personal, T.R., Uncategorized

Dear readers,

Please remember the following:

You deserve to feel safe in your expression of your sexuality.

You do not have to apologize for other people’s violations.

The world will try to make you feel ugly; you are not.

Recently, I was at bar with some friends. I was buzzed and we were dancing. The bar was full of beautiful people. The blacklight made dust motes look like galaxies. I was happy.

Abruptly, a man shoved his way over to me, grinning. He pinned me up against the wall with his ass and started grinding, hard. I didn’t approach him, hadn’t been dancing with him; it was jarring. Out of a combination of drunkenness and anxiety developed from my personal history, I panicked and lashed out. I barked into his ear: “Hey, get the fuck of off me, okay?”

He stepped back, stunned. He looked at me with disgust. He looked offended.

I stood around awkwardly. Eventually my friend and I moved to the other end of the dance floor. I wondered if I had overreacted—I had been dancing hard. Maybe I looked like I wanted to dance harder.  I posed this to my friend and she, of course, called bullshit. “You do not have to apologize. If you were uncomfortable you did the right thing. It’s not about his feelings.”

She was right. I was okay; I’d dealt with this. I had dealt with worse. I wasn’t going let some bro ruin my night. We kept dancing.

Walking home, we happened to pass the same man. He was wasted and apparently pissed. He yelled at us. “You girls are all fucking ugly. Fucking ugly. Especially the one in the middle.” I was in between two friends. We flipped him off and kept walking.

The fact is, I could tell him to fuck off but his words still got under my skin. Ugly. Something to manhandle.

This is how rape culture works. This is how it plays out on daily basis. Bar Bro believed that my rejection justified verbal harassment from him. Rejected, men are socialized to believe, is on of the worst things you can be. So he spat back at me the worst thing that a woman can be: ugly. He wanted to punish me for being sexually unavailable.

And even though I fought back, my internal response was in essence to victim-blame myself. In the same way that I can promote body positivity and genuinely believe that the beauty myth is a load of shit and yet still feel bad about my thighs, I told myself a narrative that I would never tell another woman. As much as I abhor slut-shaming, I seem to have internalized some slut-shame of my own.

If you’ve been in a situation like this, I’m sorry. Use your astute feminist brain to critique it. Don’t apologize. You are in charge. You are beautiful.

❤ T.R.

How to Stop a Runaway Train (or: how not to be an anxious wreck)

Essay, Personal

Maybe your heart races all the time and you’re not sure why. It batters your ribcage like a dazed bird against a windowpane. You skip breakfast because you have a vague, persistent ache in your stomach. If you speak in class you start stuttering like your pulse.
Maybe you’ve got memories that reel unbidden through your mind,  a movie on mute and fast-forward. You sleep little. Sometimes you shake. City buses make you implode. Your internal monologue is very scared and very loud, much of the time.
“Anxiety is the dizziness of freedom.” I saw that scrawled on a bathroom stall. I like the the ring of the words, though I don’t know if they’re true. I do know a few ways to quell dizziness.

1. Go for ambling, aimless walks: you need to get out of your head. It doesn’t much matter where– urban and natural landscapes alike are throbbing with Things That Have Nothing to Do With You. It’s grounding to be amongst them. Try to think of nothing but the flex of your muscles and the rhythm of your steps. Take hard, hungry breaths that burn your lungs a little.

2. Make a Playlist for Chilling Out. This doesn’t have to be a slow or soft playlist. Ambient electronica might be soothing for a lot of people, but maybe the rawness of riot grrl or hiphop does it for you. Have no regard for niche or snobbery– if Ke$ha calms you down, have no shame.

3. Clean like a motherfucker.

4. Make art, whether you think you can or not. Perfectionism is paralysis, and breeds more anxiety. Urgent creativity is cathartic and sometimes produces shitty art. That’s great– shit is fertilizer.

5. If these methods sound a little clichéd or superficial, it’s because they are– they’re worth doing, but they won’t provide sustainable stability. Mental illness is cyclical. Severe anxiety can’t be washed away in a bubble bath. Find a good shrink if you haven’t. If you’re uninsured, don’t be afraid to ask about a sliding scale; many therapists will be willing to work with you or to refer you to someone who can. If you’re a student, your campus may have free counselors. Keep in mind, though, that therapy can make you feel messier sometimes. Analysis doesn’t necessarily help the hyper-analytical. Medication is fickle and can be hard to obtain. If treatment isn’t feasible for you, coping mechanisms become vital. Know yourself and what you need. Try not to get entangled in self-diagnosis- the internet can make you into a psychological hypochondriac. You are not a list of symptoms.

Some resources/reading:
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
The Icarus Project
Mad in America
The Magic Bullet by Anita Felicelli for The Rumpus
 On Falling Apart by Sady Doyle for Rookie
 Blue Christmas by Rachel Prokop for Rookie

Race and Reading: On NPR’s “100 Best YA Novels”


Recently, NPR Books compiled a list of the  “100 Best Young Adult Novels.”   Audience members were invited to nominate and then vote for the “best” examples of young adult literature. The response was overwhelming: NPR received nominations from 75,500 listeners. If this project is any indication, the general public is passionate and opinionated about young adult books. As a writer and an advocate of literacy, I find this heartening.

However, the list itself has discouraging implications. The audience selected only two books –– out of one hundred –– that feature protagonists of color. The NPR Ombudsman blog has already addressed the methodology of the poll and the role of its panelists; I think the list speaks less to the incompetence of NPR than to the invisibility of certain stories, and perhaps the inherent danger in declaring “bests.” Blame notwithstanding, touting the best books as ones almost exclusively about white people perpetuates white privilege and marginalizes a multitude of stories. And what about other facets of identity –– class, sexuality, gender –– that teens are coming to terms with? One thing that surprised me about discussion of the list is that it essentially stopped at race.

I believe that YA literature is crucial. It’s not just important that kids read books. It’s not just important that kids read good books. Kids need characters and stories that they can identify with –– books that reflect their own varied experiences and struggles. By extension, they need characters and stories that challenge them as well, provoke them to consider their place in the world and engage with narratives they might not encounter in their own lives.

Adolescence is a great time to read –– as a teenager, reading is fun and free of pretension. Books sustained me in middle and high school. They were an escape, certainly, and they were entertainment. But beyond that, they allowed me to conceive of the world beyond my tiny corner of it in a vivid and beautiful way (I grew up in a small, somewhat isolated and chronically rainy town in Alaska).

By reading voraciously, I was exposed to lives along myriad racial, cultural and socioeconomic lines outside my own experience. While this list features some excellent books, its heterogeneity confuses and saddens me. My broad inference is that overwhelmingly, teenagers are either deprived of stories about themselves or deprived of stories about the world. At a time when most of us are utterly absorbed in ourselves and yet at the same time developing a social consciousness, we benefit from stories of both.

Three Women Who Turned Me On to Spoken-Word Poetry

Feminism, Lit

I’m a relative newcomer to the world of spoken word and slam poetry. Spending sleepless nights pouring over Neruda, it never really occurred to me that poetry, when performed out loud, could draw fervent crowds. Discovering the phenomenon of poetry slams was pretty exciting: this thing that I’d always loved in an obscure, solitary way was suddenly resonant to a whole roomful of people. I loved the immediacy of it, the way the reaction to a poem was made palpable. However, I think a lot of people have a misconception of spoken word that it’s something like the hilarious parody on the webseries Misadventures of an Awkward Black Girl (look it up). While there is indeed performance poetry that bad, I think it’s really just as diverse as any other genre. Here are some of ladies whose voices I’m in love with.

Andrea Gibson

… The doctor who stitched me up asked me if I did it for attention.

For the record:

if you have ever done anything for attention

this poem is a tension.

Title it with your name.

It will scour the city bridge every night you spend kicking at your shadow, staring at the river,

it does not want to find your body doing anything but loving what it loves.

My first encounter with spoken word poetry was a prolonged Andrea Gibson youtube binge. My sister recommended her to me the winter of my freshman year of college, when I happened to be struggling with a severe bout of depression. I felt raw and messy, and Andrea was an antidote because she was raw and incisive — it was consoling that someone could be at once so vulnerable and so powerful, both emotive and lucid.

A writing instructor at a workshop I attended said that “to write about sadness is generous.” For me, Andrea Gibson embodies that generosity. That’s not to say she’s melancholic — she can just as easily be funny or wry or angry or ecstatic. But in a culture where “navel-gazing” or “oversharing” seem to be amongst the worst vices a writer — particularly a female writer — can commit, she is a testament to the power of candor, of emotional authenticity.

Stylistically, the most apt description I can come up with for Gibson’s poetry and performance is “effortless lyricism.” For all the nuances of her craft — wordplay, metaphor, her literal voice and inflection — there is always this sense of instinct, of ease. Andrea Gibson’s reality is one where the girls she loves float through her bloodstream and hang on her “monkey-bar” ribcage. She wants to give you glimpses of it.

Lenelle Moïse

… Some thirsty throats cope,

manage dirges in Cajun, in Zydeco

out-of-state kin can’t get through

refugees, refugees

remember ruined homes

a preacher remembers the book of revelations

still, saviors wait to save

and the living wade with the countless dead

while the wealthy president flies overhead, up where brown people look-

up where brown people look like spoiled jumbalaya, stewing from a distance in their down-there distress…

I’d seen her before. She had this warm, full, throaty voice and an electric physical presence. She managed to have full command of the audience’s attention and at the same time engage us naturally in her performance: using call and response, asking questions, and just maintaining an energy and intimacy that’s often inhibited by “the fourth wall.” I was struck by the way she wove her poems seamlessly into her speech — segues from story to story. She was poignant, radical, funny, down-to-earth, and thoroughly innovative onstage. The evening left me with completely new (and frankly more positive) connotations for the term “performance art.” The piece was also, very genuinely, a catalyst for political thought and discussion, though Lenelle never hits you over the head with an an agenda.

A playwright and actress as well as a poet, Moïse merges genres, working vocal jazz, movement, and storytelling techniques into her poetry performance. She writes about growing up Haitian-American, bullies, first crushes, sexuality, hate crime, Hurricane Katrina, gender, language, and Jean-Michel Basquiat. She’s fierce as fuck, and you should hear what she has to say.

Rachel McKibbens

Go with the one who loves you biblically.

The one whose love lifts its head to you despite its broken neck.

Whose body bursts sixteen arms electric to carry you,

gentle, the way

old grief is gentle. Love the love that is messy in all its too much,

the body that rides best your body, whose mouth saddles

the naked salt of your far gone hips,

whose tongue translates the rock

language of

all your elegant scars.

Go with the one who cries out for his tragic sisters as he

chops the winter’s wood, the one whose skin

triggers your heart into a heaven of blood waltzes.

I came across Rachel McKibbens back in April, while participating in the National Poetry Month poem-a-day challenge — she was posting enormously helpful prompts on her blog for every day of the month. The “ex-punk rock chola” has serious spoken word credentials: she was 2009 Women of the World Slam champion, an eight-time National Poetry Slam team member, and a three time NPS finalist. McKibbens is a versatile poet; her dark, spare, and brutally beautiful work is as visceral on the page as it is at the mic, delivered in her distinct, ragged voice. I think that her insights on both “page poetry” and slam poetry are telling. Of spoken word, she says, “[I]t certainly taught me a lot about cadence, rhythm and sound. I’ve been a syllable counter since the day I understood words. Sonics are extremely important to me. And timing. I don’t think you can really learn these things in their entirety unless it’s on a microphone. Reading it aloud to yourself in your home is not the same as knowing how to honor your poem by reading it to an audience properly. Many page poets don’t read their poems correctly. I’ve heard brilliant pieces of writing fall flat because the reader didn’t learn the poem’s voice.” However, she also notes, “I have never played to win… I have only ever played to change the game,” and insists “in slams, I approach a poem exactly as I do at readings. I stand at the mic, and I read my poem. That’s it.”

Rachel McKibbens is acclaimed in both spoken word and “book poet” circles because in her work, the muscle of the language is apparent regardless of what form it takes. While it makes sense to sometimes assess performed and written poetry differently, I think that it’s important to remember that cliques not withstanding, it’s all poetry. I am interested in poetry, period, and at the end of the day I don’t care whether it’s written or spoken just as long as splits my head open.

Meet T.R.!

The second of our three new editors, and the second member of our board.
Hello gentleladies!

I’m T.R. Benedict and I’m really excited to start editing and blogging for Broad! I heard about the magazine from a friend and had a piece published in the Spring 2012 issue. I later applied for the assistant editor position because Broad!’s mission resonates with me: to raise consciousness of unequal representation in the literary world while publishing all kinds of creative work by women. Stories are powerful in all forms, and  I think that we should be critical of whose stories are being heard and how that shapes our attitudes. I think the way that literature is categorized- genre classifications based on gender, ethnicity, or sexuality, for example- are telling as well, and worth discussion. To create platforms for all kinds of writers without creating restrictive or tokenizing categories may be a challenge, but it’s one worth undertaking.

I’ve been writing for as long as I can remember. I tend toward poetry, creative non-fiction, and the occasional flash fiction, but I’m interested in work of all genres (and work that defies genre!) I try to read widely; my latest literary obsessions include Joan Didion and Richard Siken. I also enjoy making art, and I look forward to seeing what kind of visual submissions we receive.

In addition to literary and feminist issues, I hope to explore media, art, queer topics, and more in my blog posts here. This is my first real blogging experience, so input is appreciated. And of course, keep the submissions coming!