It is 3 months until the release of our anthology, Feminine Rising: Voices of Power and Invisiblity with Cynren Press!
Way back in 2014 Andrea Fekete had an idea to bring a collection of women's voices into this world, and I volunteered to help. Now we are on the cusp of publication, and this gorgeous book is now available for review on Net Galley. To whet your appetite, here is my introduction to this powerful collection. I am honored to have my words in the company of such amazing women.
I didn’t have any use for feminism when I was a teenager. I didn’t think gender had ever closed doors or restricted my life in any way. Of course girls could do anything boys could do. Obviously females were just as good as males. Granted, I was raised by two feminist lesbians, so it wasn’t exactly the normal environment. I didn’t realize that I was standing on the shoulders of my mothers, grandmothers, aunts, and many unnamed women who had fought to afford me the rights I took for granted. Still, when I grew up, I didn’t mind deferring to the man I married—he was older and more sure of himself. He made more money than I did, but that was to be expected—I hadn’t finished college. Besides, all I wanted was to be a stay-at-home mother. I wasn’t a “career girl.”
I didn’t really appreciate the differences in gender until I had my first child. As a pregnant woman, I was suddenly aware of my vulnerability—my doctor wouldn’t even let me walk the dog, lest I fall. Then came childbirth. I was in more physical pain than I had ever experienced, and my husband couldn’t do anything to help. He was willing, mind you, but nothing he did lessened the pain. It was up to me and my body to bring this baby into the world. Once our son was born, my husband couldn’t keep up with the frequent night awakenings. We had planned on doing everything together, but within a few days, it was up to me alone to figure out what to do with this squirming, crying infant. I walked him up and down the hallway, hour after hour, but my feet had broadened during pregnancy, and I was sure-footed, firmly rooted to the ground. My breasts produced milk, my voice sang off-key songs that soothed him finally to sleep. Everything my child needed, my body provided.
Three months after my son was born, I returned to work, and a twentysomething man offered me his seat in a meeting.
“Do you really think I can’t stand for thirty minutes?” I asked him. “I created life and kept it alive with no other nutrition than what my body produced for the past twelve weeks. What have you done in your lifetime that’s comparable?” It was the first time I saw myself as strong and capable—an actual grown-up. Only then did I find myself uncomfortable in a submissive, weaker role. I started seeing how much I deferred to others, and I no longer wanted any part of that behavior, but more than that, I saw it as detrimental to my parenting.
I had a second son, but that didn’t lessen my feminism. I was responsible not only for my boys’ physical safety, but their emotional well-being also. The way I interacted with other people was setting the stage for how my sons would come to view women. I wanted to raise decent human beings. I wanted my two boys to be sensitive, caring people, and of course that included seeing women as equals. I had to constantly fight against sexist language and societal norms.
“Are you his little brother or his little sister?” my now ex-husband asked our youngest child on a bike ride when he struggled to keep up.
“You don’t want the pink sleeping bag, it’s for girls,” my stepmother told my eldest boy.
I won’t go into the comments I received over painting my sons’ toenails or letting them play with dolls—it didn’t matter that they also played with robots, footballs, or train sets. I started to see how ingrained sexism still is in our culture, and it made me steam. I had borne these children, fed them, wiped their noses and bottoms, taught them first sign language, and then to speak. I was the one who answered their questions about how the world worked. I got up every few hours night after night, year after year, and still functioned at work and at home. I didn’t get sick days either place. I was learning how strong I was, and I wasn’t about to let anyone teach my children that women were somehow weak or less than men.
Part of being strong and capable was finally finishing my education, so I could be the person I wanted to be, as well as make adequate money to support the kids and myself—and to be honest, to prove to my ex-husband that I was as smart as he was. In college, I was exposed to women writers: Adrienne Rich, Audre Lorde, Mary Karr, and Lidia Yuknavitch. All these women had lived lives very different from mine, yet I saw myself in their words. Their writing helped me understand both my own gender identity and the world I lived in. As I found commonalities in works by women of color, queer women, and women from other countries and religious backgrounds, I started to appreciate the tribe to which I had always belonged, and my responsibility as a member of the greater feminine collective. I wanted to give a microphone to those who had never had a chance to have their voices heard. When Andrea Fekete asked for a partner in bringing this anthology into this world, I jumped at the opportunity.
Working on this collection allowed me to focus my attention on the female experience not from an academic, distanced perspective, but by listening to female voices in their own words. Some of the essays are humorous, some heartbreaking. Each speaks to an aspect of femininity in an authentic and unique way. Some of the writers have published extensively. For others, this is their first published essay or poem. Placed together in one grouping, their power is unmistakable.
Copyright © 2023 Lara Lillibridge
Public domain imagery courtesy of Snappygoat.com