author – activist – faculty – mom
This is the final day of my 17 days of blogging in support of Shailja Patel, the Kenyan writer who was allegedly sexually assaulted at an international gathering of poets only 17 days after returning home to her native Kenya.
As I’ve said before, there’s no bright side, no silver lining to sexual assault. And yet it has been powerful to stand in support of my sister, to use my words to bring attention to her experience. It has also been a profound daily meditation on grief, outrage, upset, and commitment to change.
It’s also been a wake up call. As I’ve said in recent posts, I have expected that, as I got older and my resume got longer, I would be liberated from certain forms of sexism, or at least become a less likely target–particularly sexual assault. This has reminded me that I can’t age or accomplish my way out of sexism.
As one of my mentors and leaders, Dr. Diane Balser of Boston University Women’s Studies explained at a recent conference, there’s a temptation for feminists to accept individual achievement and accolades instead of fighting for liberation for all. This can be particularly confusing if the individual victory does represent shattering a glass ceiling or breaking into a male-dominated institution or bringing feminism to a new outlet. These things are worthy of celebration, but cannot be mistaken for sweeping victories for all women.
In my own life, as I have gotten a literary agent and hope to soon be navigating the publishing industry, it’s easy to settle into the fantasy that the fulfillment of this long held dream of being a novelist is the end game. But no one gets liberated from certain forms of sexism. Liberation is the wrong verb. We have narrow escapes and close calls. We try to accumulate a few privileges that will spare us from the most brutal parts of the oppression. But if all women aren’t spared, then it’s not liberation. My learning is to not settle, never settle for personal exemption from oppression.
My sister Shailja is halfway around the world. She is a renowned poet, acclaimed writer, longtime activist for progressive change in her native Kenya. If she cannot decide whose hands will land upon her body–in the very country whose liberation she fights for–then the epicenter of the fight for liberation must change to focus on the sovereignty of her body. The fight against colonization must come all the way home. For all women. #MyBodyMyHome
You can find all my posts and all the other writings in support of Shailja at www.mybodymyhome.wordpress.com