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7/7/12

When company comes



               Langston Hughes is one of my favorite poets. His poems are so beautiful, and I’ve always related to them. Related to his feelings of sorrow when dreams “dry up like a raisin in the sun,” prayed with him to a God to, “Help me to shatter this darkness,” and felt the same anger: “I tire so of hearing people say/Let things take their course. Tomorrow is another day.”

Like Hughes, “I cannot live on tomorrow's bread.

            I will be careful to say that I know our experiences are hardly similar. But our fights converge sometimes. We both want a different world.

            Currently, this is my favorite Langston Hughes Poem-
I, Too
I, too, sing America.

I am the darker brother.
They send me to eat in the kitchen
When company comes,
But I laugh,
And eat well,
And grow strong.

Tomorrow,
I'll be at the table
When company comes.
Nobody'll dare
Say to me,
"Eat in the kitchen,"
Then.

Besides,
They'll see how beautiful I am
And be ashamed--

I, too, am America. 

There were many responses to my last post, and I cannot address, nor do I want to address, every single one here. I certainly will not apologize or rationalize my right to having an opinion, and expressing that opinion in a way that suits my feelings. I am a passionate person, and I care about things. This influences the way I write. I am passionate, my voice can be loud, and I do not ask for permission on my topics. You don’t think this is a big deal? You don’t think this discussion is one worth having?
You cannot send me to eat in the kitchen when company comes.
More importantly, I want to talk about eating at the table. When I say that there is no good patriarchy, I mean it. In the worst case scenarios, patriarchy uses a monopoly on power to abuse women, and that is wrong.
But even at its very best, benevolent patriarchy, upheld by kind people, still excludes women from maintaining power. Patriarchy tells me there is no place for me at the table. It expects me to sit on the lap of another, while he holds my place.
I have a right to sit at the table. Tomorrow I’ll be at the table, but that doesn’t mean I want to push anyone else out of their seat. I do not think all men are evil, and that women are better. I do not, as one commenter suggested, think “all men are wrong, all men are evil, no man can honestly love, support, and respect women… And women are just better. . . ? Women would never say something to objectify, simplify, or misrepresent men?

Men and women often push back when we sense our place at the table is threatened. It isn’t right.

Frequently, men tell me I have a place at the table, but not their table. I belong (metaphorically and literally, in the kitchen.) My table there is just as good! It is my divine role to sit at that table, and if I reject that spot, men sometimes will twist my words to justify excluding me. Sometimes women do it too. One commenter kept insisting he knew what I meant, despite an inability to use my words to prove it. He kept explaining to me how I felt:

"I take offense at the idea that just because a leader is male, he must be antagonistic towards women (which is the logical extension of what you are saying, whether you realize it or not.) You are arguing leadership theory in a place where leadership theory doesn't apply, and finding sexism in a place where it doesn't exist. Demonizing leaders because of their gender is not helping the gender discussion, it is undermining it by engaging in the same sort of sexism you are trying to fight."

Maybe there is no sexism at your table because there are no women there to be sexist against? Or maybe, like so many, you just don’t see the empty seats.

I do not believe that all men are inherently sexist, or all leaders in patriarchal institutions are evil. The world is patriarchal, and the church is a reflection of that paradigm. In my mind, one’s willingness to embrace many at the table of power, influence, and equality stems not from their position at the table (a male, a leader,) but how they react to newcomers. There are men in the world, and men in the church, who embrace my spot at the table.

When I criticize an institution that fills up a big spot on my table, or a man who threatens my place, it is valid, but not unkind. I can criticize, and still see good in the subjects of my disagreement. I can criticize, and still believe.

            I can still believe in a God, and maybe someday a church, that sees all of us at the table, “ both old and young, both bond and free, both male and female, whether out of the church or in the church, having no respect to persons as to those who stood in need." (Alma 1:30.)

            Then Nobody'll dare say to me, "Eat in the kitchen," Then. Besides, they'll see how beautiful I am, and be ashamed. Tomorrow, I'll be at the Table. 

28 comments:

Katrina said...

Beautiful and brilliant. Thank you, Stephanie. ❤

smalldog said...

You probably get this a lot, but thank you and bravo. You expressed much better what I've been trying to explain to a person (much like your commenter) for a while).

Illegitimi non carborundum.

Tristin said...

When I first began learning about social justice, the most striking response I can remember was that of embarrassment. I was so embarrassed of my role in the oppression of those without privilege! But my immediate reaction to the embarrassment was defensiveness, and I was in awe at the nearly-irresistible urge I had to fight back, justify myself, and tell my tormentors to return to the hell from whence they arose.

Luckily for me, I somehow found the strength to hold my shame and guilt with dignity and humility, and it has opened my world to the possibility of a future that is brighter, warmer, and more full. However, I never forget the burning of the embarrassment, nor the burning of the defensiveness, when I discuss social justice with others. I can't blame them for their reactions--they are perfectly normal coming from a stance of privilege, after all. But I wait patiently for the signs that indicate an internal struggle is taking place, and I let that struggle grow until it blossoms into understanding and acceptance.

I don't believe I hold any moral high ground. I consider myself very blessed to have learned a lot about the world and the human heart. And I look forward to every opportunity to share what I've learned with others. I'm sorry for your frustration, Stephanie, and I consider it an honor to follow your journey as a fellow feminist.

creatingmelanie said...

Oh goodness. I painted a painting (ha) entitled "At the Table" that addresses this exact mentality. I have sold it since then, but if you'd like to see a photo of it, I can email a link to you.

That being said, good writing and everything art related comes from not being afraid to "say what you mean and mean what you say." You also have to add a hefty dose of know-thyself and courage. I think you've got all of the above. Don't let people get you down for being honest with yourself and so open about it with others.

@Tristin: Thanks for your words. It's nice to know that empathy is alive and well.

Mel said...

Oh, and I meant to post under "Mel" instead of "creatingmelanie" but obviously, I'm having issues. Carry On!

Nama said...

This post is wonderfully beautiful, powerful, raw, and kick ass, Stephanie. Let's all sit down at that table and feast.

Miri said...

Amen.

MamaBear said...

You say what is in my heart so much better than I can. I am jealous of your eloquence and love that we do have so much of the same feelings.

I am currently studying social justice, and it takes an extreme point of view sometimes, to the degree that it made me feel the message was "white = racist," and I simply won't accept that. I have many valid reasons for doing so. However, I have become more aware of what IS going on around me as a result, so even the negative experience has some positive effect.

Someday I'll be able to explain that clearly and eloquently. So far, the teacher thinks I'm nuts. ;)

Kathy Gambles said...

First time I have read your blog (lucky me). Your insights and clear words are a gift. Thank you.
As I read your words I thot of a Mary Ann Hoperman poem:
"You and I
Only one I in the whole wide world
And millions and millions of you,
But every you is an I to itself
And I am a you to you, too!

But if I am a you and you are an I
And the opposite also is true,
It makes us both the same somehow
Yet splits us each in two.

It's more and more mysterious,
The more I think it through:
Every you everywhere in the world is an I;
Every I in the world is a you!"

A table of connected I's . . .that sounds nice.
Kathy

mere said...

I'm in awe of your writing. Such beautiful words to explain such painful experiences. And Langston! Oh gosh, the best...

MJ said...

Stephanie, I just went thru the comments of the last post. I didn't comment, but I totally agree. I have thankfully only experienced the best of patriarchy, and it still wasn't good-whenever there is a disagreement between the man and his wife, the man has the final say. It makes for good, strong women to be labeled as trouble makers or misguided, and there is much lamenting in the walls of the temples for the "lost". I've heard the crying, and wanted to cry myself, because that "lost daughter" wasn't lost at all, she just disagreed and wasn't willing to back down.

S said...

Amen and amen!

Melody said...

Well writ, Stephanie. I just found you and I'm impressed with your clarity and passion. Keep up the good work! I'll look forward to visiting again.

I also read your prior post (and as many of the comments as I could get through in my post-Sunday-nap haze.) Wow. Nice responses on your part. And I agree with you about the pitfalls of patriarchy. Yet, here we are in the pit. I look forward to better days ahead in the decades and centuries to come. And I am a believing, faithful Latter-day Saint.

P.S. Here's my contribution to the conversation about your previous post: The "manure/pig" meme is sexist at best. At worst, it's a glaring example of how our culture accepts the idea that a woman is at fault for her own victimization or for "attracting pigs" with all that implies. It is offensive in every possible way -- to women and to men. If religious teachers use that analogy, well, they are full of pig manure.

Have a nice day.

The Dominos said...

I always love your poetry posts. This one has really got me thinking a lot about what kind of a world I want my daughter to be a part of, and what i can do to change it. If I can't sit at the table now, I will fight so one day she can. Thank you for your voice!

Brien said...

I admire anyone willing to speak out in support of social justice, especially when it is done as eloquently as you do it. One of the things that scares me very much in the Christian religious culture is the disdain and mockery for the term "social justice" and everything it stands for (or for which it stands - I forgot I'm writing to an English teacher ;) I have had family and friends insult me for caring about the "silliness" that is social justice.

Also, I'm borrowing the basis of this post (Hughes' poem) for a post of my own. I hope that's okay with you.

And finally...thanks for teaching me the term "mansplaining" in your previous post.

Lisset said...

Stephanie, bravo! I feel ever so lucky to be able to rub shoulders with intelligent and articulate women such as yourself. Keep it up!

Gretta Whalen said...

Like.

Risa said...

I loved this post. It is perfection. I fell in love with Hughes' poems in college.

I couldn't even read through all the comments on your last post, some of them were so vitriolic. But you know you've spoken the truth there are so many people coming out of the woodwork to tell you how wrong you are. Who knew pointing out that something is sexist would be so threatening?

Lowe Family said...

This is wonderful. I love the table analogy, but sometimes wonder about the empty seats. I still feel like the chairs for women and others haven't even been considered and there are no empty seats. We'll have to bring our own and we need a bigger table.

lifeofdi said...

"Maybe there is no sexism at your table because there are no women there to be sexist against? Or maybe, like so many, you just don’t see the empty seats.

I do not believe that all men are inherently sexist, or all leaders in patriarchal institutions are evil."

Yes, yes and yes. (Side note, are you pro or con Oxford comma?) Patriarchy does not automatically mean men hate women, however some men, particularly in patriarchal institutions, do not realize their privilege and have a hard time understanding that even if they are kind to women it does not mean they are treating women as equals with important contributions.

Suze said...

I think this is great and true. I am glad you have a voice and are using it so eloquently.

I have commented a couple times about having been a convert. As a woman, convert whose husband did not join the Church, I was literally nothing. I had no say, no role. No place at the table. Sometimes my home teacher would invite me to things because I literally did not even know what was happening in the church half the time because women have a supporting role- supporting the men they live with and serve. I've been told by women in my ward exactly how I should act because I wasn't acting "right."

You are strong and I hope you won't defend yourself to the dissenters because your opinion has a place at the table.

Suze said...

I think this is great and true. I am glad you have a voice and are using it so eloquently.

I have commented a couple times about having been a convert. As a woman, convert whose husband did not join the Church, I was literally nothing. I had no say, no role. No place at the table. Sometimes my home teacher would invite me to things because I literally did not even know what was happening in the church half the time because women have a supporting role- supporting the men they live with and serve. I've been told by women in my ward exactly how I should act because I wasn't acting "right."

You are strong and I hope you won't defend yourself to the dissenters because your opinion has a place at the table.

Suze said...

I think this is great and true. I am glad you have a voice and are using it so eloquently.

I have commented a couple times about having been a convert. As a woman, convert whose husband did not join the Church, I was literally nothing. I had no say, no role. No place at the table. Sometimes my home teacher would invite me to things because I literally did not even know what was happening in the church half the time because women have a supporting role- supporting the men they live with and serve. I've been told by women in my ward exactly how I should act because I wasn't acting "right."

You are strong and I hope you won't defend yourself to the dissenters because your opinion has a place at the table.

Mrs. Clark said...

Stephanie, this is a brilliant post, and I get what you are trying to say. But I must add that I have never felt this way. Perhaps that is because I am a convert, living far away from Utah, and married to a convert.

I feel that I have just as much a place at the table as any of the men sitting there, and with rare exception, I have felt welcomed and respected.

Yes, I have been the victim of misogyny and the occasional douchebag Mormon man has treated me as second-class, but fortunately, never someone with priesthood authority over me.

I appreciate your willingness to provoke a dialogue about these things. Thank you!

LC said...

This post reminds me of a date I went on in college. The guy I was with was imparting his wisdom to me and explained that when he got married, he "expected his wife to to what he said, when he said it, because he's the man and holds the Priesthood."

(I really thought I was going to be kicked out of the car after I clarified a few things for him.)

I think it's so important that we remember to live worthily of the authority Heavenly Father gives each of us, and use it wisely. Divine Nature may be a Young Women's value, but it's something we all have, even if we're prone to forget that.

Katherine Of It All said...

Never stop, Stephanie. Never. You're fighting this fight for all of us. And we're fighting with you. Patriarchalism hurts us all. Bless you!

Wendy said...

Wonderfully said.

Humans have so much trouble achieving equality. I remember when I first learned about social dominance theory - essentially that those on top have trouble seeing their privileges, and even when they do feel it is justified for whatever reason. Meanwhile, those on the bottom see a wide chasm that is unjustifiable. And when power shifts toward equality even a little bit, those on top feel their loss of power and react to that loss even as they continue to have disproportionate power.

Keep writing, please. It's hard to be the person that protests.

Shelley said...

I disagree with you on a lot of things, but I keep coming back to your blog because you always make me think. Thank you for another interesting post!