i found a rainbow, baby

cw: sexual assualt

On the morning of Friday the 13th, I woke up to the Internet. This is a bad idea on a good day, but, on this particular day, it was poison. I am surrounded by some pretty decent people, blokes included, so I will forget, sometimes, the nasty thoughts people hold in their hearts.

What I watched was a video of American Indian women talking about their experiences with rape and sexual assault. What I read were the comments. All of them. Every single one, even the threads that had replies in the hundreds. It was like falling down the stairs in the dark. Suddenly the floor disappears beneath your feet. As you tumble into the void, each step rears up and beats your body. You cannot stop it, and the end comes just as unexpectedly as the beginning. You sit at the bottom, bruised and throbbing, wondering how you got there, knowing there is no good reason; and, yet, here you are…

Man after man (and yes, men, this is endemic in your gender–don’t blind yourself with #NotAllMen–do something about it) questioned their stories, suggested the women should have murdered the perps, placed blame on “illegals,” argued against the statistics, wondered if they had been asking for it, demanded to know why they hadn’t reported the crimes immediately, &c., &c.

This frequent digest is not new for me. Over the years, I have sought out and processed dozens of narratives of assault (not least because they have come up so frequently in the recent news). The truth is, I have been struggling to come to terms with events that happened to me years ago–struggling to define it, to contextualize it, to put a name to it and move on. I remember every single detail, and, yet, I still grapple with the question: What actually happened?

Was it assault? No. Yes. Maybe. I don’t think so. Probably not. 

Was it nothing? No. Yes. Maybe. I don’t think so. Probably not.

Should I tell people? No. Yes. Maybe. I don’t think so. Probably not.

The statute of limitations for feeling bad about this is up.

– Christina Tesoro, “Not So Bad”: On Consent, Non-Consent, and Trauma, The Toast

After unsuccessfully relating these experiences to two friends–coincidentally (or not) these friends were both men–I decided to wait to speak up again until I knew the answers, until I could look back and be sure. Rather than talk it out with other people, I scanned article after article, my face a bright moon in the dark of my apartment, reflecting the blue light of my computer screen. Some of these articles were written by people I knew. Still, I lurked, always silent. I did not want to cheapen their narratives with my not knowing.

It has been exactly four years and five days since the first incident. I still haven’t found the right words, but I did find a very unexpected rainbow amidst the bewilderment and confusion.

I don’t remember when, exactly, I stumbled across Kesha’s story. I never downloaded or streamed any of her music. It was fun to bop around to in the bowling alley or processing film in the darkroom, but I preferred tunes of the acoustic variety. I sought lyrics that told stories and used words like “gloaming.” I was neither hot nor dangerous. I was, honestly, quite dowdy and very safe. The wildest thing I ever did in college was steal toilet paper and pizza from the dining hall.

That said, I noticed her absence.

When I learned that she was embroiled in a legal battle against her producer, Dr. Luke, over alleged sexual assault and verbal abuse, that she had sought treatment for an eating disorder, I immediately felt connected to her. I read article after article about power dynamics in the entertainment industry, the gaslighting and shaming of strong and vibrant women. I devoured any new information about the case that leaked. I cried (softly, briefly) alone when she lost.

The first single from Kesha’s new album dropped a few months ago, and I hesitated to click. While I had identified strongly with her struggle, I wasn’t so sure I’d be able to say the same about her music. Weeks went by before I finally took the plunge.

I was at my parents’ house. It was late and everyone had already gone to bed. I was reveling in the experience of surfing the net from the comforts of home. I clicked. I listened. Time stopped.

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Praying is not just a song. It is a powerful declaration of agency in the midst of uncertainty, an unequivocal proclamation of self. Stripped of the usual, often robotic trappings of pop music, Kesha belts out her strength and endurance in such a raw and human way that I was taken off guard. My eyes watered as she quietly sang of pride; a chill shot down my spine when she screamed the high note at the dramatic climax of the ballad; but my favorite moment by far was the sigh at the very end, so soft yet alive. I heard that sigh, and I felt relief.

If the morning of Friday the 13th started badly, it ended sweetly.

I had purchased tickets to see Kesha in Lakewood because I wanted to support her attempts to reinvent herself after her trial. When I received a complimentary copy of her new album, Rainbow, in the mail, I was even more jazzed to see her live. Unlike many young artists who transform their image, Kesha does not throw herself fully into a sober, white-clad purity. While she experiments with new sounds on the album, she doesn’t abandon the poppy beats that defined her earlier career. Rainbow confronts some heavy topics, but it is also infused with joy, irony, and reckless abandon. It is a very human album that deals as much with love, lust, and levity as it does with pain and redemption.

What I’m trying to say, I suppose, is that Rainbow belies the typical narrative we demand of women who experience trauma. A woman should not have to bear the burden of perpetual seriousness to prove themselves. Having been hurt does not mean a woman can’t still boogie.

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I arrived at the concert venue by bike, as I had planned to do ever since I purchased my ticket. As I stood in line, sandwiched between a group of chatty highschoolers in matching white bandeaus and men with more glitter in their beards than beard hairs, I realized that I may be the only person in the entire auditorium that was new to this. Unlike everyone else, I didn’t know the lyrics to the Kesha classics. I could sort of fumble my way through Tik Tok, but Take it Off was beyond my capabilities. None of that mattered. I could have arrived in a business suit and still have fit in. Everyone came dressed as themselves. That was the magic of it.

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Sadly, some people were not as generous as others. The opening band was objectively terrible, but having to hear the kids behind me complaining about it for an hour and booing loudly was really not cool. When, halfway through their set, the audience began chanting for Kesha to come on, I had to wonder if anyone in the building had ever been to a concert before. It’s one thing to be excited to see your pop idol perform live. It’s another to let that enthusiasm crush the spirit of someone else. Unfortunately, I witnessed this a million times over as the teenagers behind me disparaged the woman next to me for screaming too loudly, and the woman retaliated by calling them bitches (rinse and repeat the entire concert–Kesha’s urging us to love one another was clearly lost on them).

Despite the pettiness of my particular row, the concert was amazing. Held in the auditorium of a high school, all the proceeds from the concessions went to benefit the school’s arts program. There was no alcohol served, and I was the most sober I’d ever been for live music. The backdrop was simple–a rainbow curtain and two large, glittering gold stars, accented at various moments by showers of glitter and confetti, and–to Kesha’s teary-eyed surprise–a sea of paper-cut hearts held up at just the right moment. Exactly like the album, the concert was the perfect mix of revelry and realness.

I loved it.

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While I was standing in the audience, a glitterless void, I questioned why I had come. Was I a real fan if I didn’t like her older music? Did my understated outfit and serious demeanor preclude me from the ranks of her dedicated fanbase? I was on the verge of having no fun at all when I realized that it didn’t matter when her music had touched me. Regardless of when it first happened, everyone in the audience was there, like me, because Kesha had empowered them, had offered them a safe place to belong. Whether it was in 2010 or 2017, for all of us, Kesha had been a rainbow during dark times. We were all there to thank her.

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As I biked home, the headlamp attached to my handlebars lighting my way, I let myself coast downhill. For the first time in a while, I waited to use my breaks and let my speed lift my hair from the back of my neck as cool air filled my lungs. When the road finally leveled and my bike slowed to a stop, I sighed, so softly it was barely audible.

The world is a tough place, but some things, many things, are a-okay.

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mind of a model

Almost four years ago, I entered a quiet studio in the back of an old, brick schoolhouse. I laid a blanket on a small upholstered couch, removed my glasses, stripped off my clothes, and stood naked in the middle of the room, surrounded by faces behind easels.

I wasn’t just standing, though. My right leg, which bore my weight in a bent knee, was in front of my body. My left leg stretched out to the side, and I could feel the pose pulling the muscles in my thigh. My toes gripped the paint-spattered wooden floor as my legs began to shake. Even for just two minutes, I realized, this pose had been ambitious.

Nevertheless, I was stubborn. I had bristled at the artists’ shock and gentle advice to try something easier to start. I was a dancer. I could do this, I assured them, and so I would.

When I tell people I am an art model, it is usually in coded, business-approved language. To those familiar with the art world, figure drawing is just as good as “I stand naked in a room full of strangers for three hours.” To the uninitiated masses, figure drawing is vague enough that they can imagine me sitting demurely in a chair, fully clothed. If, by chance, an acquaintance ventures to inquire further, I will respond honestly.

It’s a hobby not many understand. Thanks to that meme-famous scene in Titanic, people’s first thought is of plump lips, arched backs, and furtive, lamp-lit glances in lavish surroundings. I can almost see the scene playing in the back of their brain as their faces arrange themselves into a reaction. French girls, French girls, French girls… I can hear that iconic line echoing in their ears as their mouths form around a response.

“So…like Titanic?” they’ll inevitably ask, either fearfully or excitedly, depending on the person.

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And, here’s the thing: it’s nothing like Titanic.

To help dispel a few stereotypes about my little hobby, here are a few things that cross my mind when I pose. It may surprise you to learn that it is neither sexy nor scary to stand naked in a room full of artists. As with anything (talking to your cat like a human, watching Netflix in your underwear, accidentally grabbing the barista’s hand instead of your coffee mug), it just is what it is.

Posing. One of the most important jobs I have as a model is to come up with an interesting pose that can be held for the intended amount of time. I cannot simply plant my feet squarely on the floor with my arms at my side and stare at the wall. The artists want a challenge; they want to be pushed to practice difficult skills like foreshortening. I have to assemble myself in some attempt at contrapposto (pointing my knees in one direction and my nose in the other, subtly lifting one shoulder to lean against the back of a chair, an outstretched arm or a bent leg), while also acknowledging the limits of my body (where are my pressure points, how long can I stand upright, if my leg falls asleep up to the knee will I be able to walk afterwards), while also appearing believable. It does nothing to splay myself out like an octopus in a desert. Instead, I think: what do I look like when I’m tying my shoes? How does my back bend right before I stand up? Sometimes I do alright. Other times I forget what real people do with their bodies, and I come out looking a little like this:

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Bodily Functions. It makes sense that most people think the most awkward thing about art modeling is the nudity. We consider our bodies private often because we are programmed to think of them in sexual or shameful terms. I have my own qualms about my body, which I have written about before, but that’s not the point of modeling. It’s not about how you compare to imaginary French girls. It’s about how the shadows fall on your flexing muscles, how your bones support your flesh.

However, that doesn’t mean there aren’t concerns. A prick in the back of my nose becomes an overwhelming need to sneeze, the deep breath of a yawn threatens to pry my jaws open, my armpits grow sticky from sweat with no fabric to absorb it. I am always wondering how to avoid these things while keeping my face schooled and holding steady. Bodily functions, embarrassing bodily functions, dominate a solid portion of my modeling experience. One, in particular, is the most menacing: the dreaded fart.

It’s hard to fart in public when you’re wearing clothes and can easily distance yourself from the scene of the crime. Farting while naked is a whole different animal. If you try to hold it in, there is the worry that the artists will notice the sudden clench in your muscles. If you try to ease it out, there is always the chance that it will be like a trumpet heralding the arrival of a king, or that it will hang on the air like an unwelcome guest. Before releasing my captive flatulence, I must consider what I ate for lunch, the draftiness of the studio, the texture of the surface below my bottom.

There is a strategic approach to every aspect leading up to the final moment. Passing gas while naked is like going to war.

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Passing time. Poses can vary from two minutes to two hours, and, while my face must remain passive, my mind has permission to wander. There are sessions when my gears are turning remarkably well. I plan my week, I make personal resolutions, I consider the issues of the world. It can be extremely meditative and helpful to engage in an activity that requires I step away from a screen and just think. Other times, it can be a chore to occupy myself as I sit in silence save for the soft whispers of charcoal on paper.

Without my glasses, the world becomes a blur, so distracting myself with my surroundings is a fruitless task. Instead, I’ll throw it back to grade school with an old-fashioned times table test. Often, simple counting exercises are not enough to fill the entire period, and so I am forced to get creative. The list of mundane mental acrobatics I can conjure for my brain is extensive. I’ll say the alphabet backwards and forwards, then I’ll try to find a word in German to represent each letter. I’ll quiz myself on all the Presidents, and then I’ll go back to the beginning to list the Presidents and one event during their term in order. I’ll try to name as many of my teachers I can remember, from kindergarten to college. I even, sometimes, recall enough about Supreme Court cases to spend time listing their various stats and outcomes.

I like to think this keeps me sharp. If nothing else, it keeps me awake.

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Once the drawing session has ended, I’ll walk around and peek at the artists’ work. It’s pretty neat to see the different styles that have blossomed out of your poses, to see how different people translate your features to paper. Occasionally, an artist will gift me one of their sketches, and I’ll tuck it proudly away, sheepishly pleased by my own image. Sometimes I look like a goddess on a mountain. Other times, I appear gracefully pensive. I do not have a mirror at home, and so these sketches are a welcome glimpse, a precious reminder, of the body that carries my overactive mind.

Art modeling is a hobby, a skill I enjoy perfecting. It is my chance to engage in the creative world, despite having nothing but thumbs attached to my hands. It is a challenge and a joy, and sometimes ridiculously hilarious. So, the next time you meet an art model, I hope you imagine a well lit, cheery studio full of artists who care more about lines and shadows than the zit on the model’s elbow. I hope the last thing on your mind is James Cameron’s Titanic, unless, of course, you are watching James Cameron’s Titanic together.

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my harry potter

It was a Monday evening, and I was settling into bed. It wasn’t early enough to be falling asleep, but I knew I wanted to be under the covers, and I knew I wanted to take my glasses off. There’s not much I can do after that. Removing the wire frames from my nose after a long day allows me to sink comfortably into a pillow, but disqualifies me from watching TV, scrolling through my phone, and pretty much anything else you want to be doing with your head half-buried in down…but not reading. Thank goodness I can still read lying sideways.

On this particular Monday, I found myself with a familiar book in hand. For all intents and purposes, I could describe this as an ordinary book and, here, my story would be done. But, to me, this book is far from ordinary.

The book is paperback, and its corners have long since been worn and rounded from use. The spine is covered in wrinkles, each crease a faint reminder of when I let pasta boil over, or forgot I was filling the bath, and had to quickly lay the book on its face to avert disaster. Its pages are soft and easily torn. On the cover, though faded by the sun when I left it on the front seat of my car for a week, are a pair of hands, cupping a mysterious, round stone.

This is not the first time I’ve read this book.

This is The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner. This is my Harry Potter.

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We were driving to Florida, and I was bored. I was nine years old, so I was young enough to have no patience, and old enough to know I shouldn’t make a game of kicking the seat in front of me.

“Here,” my mom probably said with a hint of annoyance as she dug through a green, canvas bag that was full of library books. “Shut up and read this.”

I didn’t shut up. I sighed audibly and grabbed the book out of her hands. It was wrapped, like so many library books, in a sheet of plastic grown opaque with overuse. I pulled open the cover, and I started to read in an obnoxious voice…

I didn’t know how long I had been in the king’s prison. The days were all the same, except that as each one passed, I was dirtier than before…

At some point, my petty, preteen revenge dissolved into genuine interest. I quit reading out loud and dove head first into a narrative that took me someplace unexpected. I was an avid reader long before that moment, and so I thought I had it all figured out. I’d read Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, Narnia, and a fair number of Tamora Pierce and Anne McCaffrey books as well.

Something about this book–don’t ask me what–felt different.

Perhaps I enjoyed the scrappy inner monologue of anti-hero Eugenides. As a nine-year-old know-it-all, I certainly identified with his haughty, unbridled sarcasm that had not yet sharpened into wit. I liked his gruff, obtrusive presence, his loud, open-mouthed chewing. I imagined he was my age (although, I revise this opinion with each rereading), and it excited me that he seemed smarter than all the adults. This is, of course, what any smartass tween aspires to be.

But there’s also the landscape. The world of The Queen’s Thief is small, but brilliantly laid out, from seas of olive trees, to wide, fertile floodplains, to barren wastelands. Pieces of scenery don’t exist purely for show. They don’t disappear after the author has flexed her muscles and displayed her descriptive prowess. If you’ve seen the Hephestial Mountains once, you can be certain they will be important later. The country the characters traverse throughout the course of the story becomes almost a character itself.

The Thief is a little, winding adventure that feels big because of the power of its author’s pen. It is a down-to-earth fantasy, populated with scholars, ambassadors, and thieves. It reads like a history, with just enough myth and magic to keep you on your toes. It was not recommended to me by a friend, nor was it one of those milestone books every young person is expected to read. It came to me as fatefully as things appear and disappear in the series, so quietly I did not recognize it for what it was.

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I was much older–newly twenty and studying abroad in Ireland–when I learned The Thief was actually book one in a series. I found my current copy of The Thief in a little shop in Galway called Charlie Bryne’s, next to two others with the same cover theme. I honestly could have cried, kneeling there in front of a bookshelf full of teen fiction. Galway did not yet feel like home, and so to see a story so special to me in an unfamiliar place was like a balm to a bout of homesickness I had not expected to feel. Was this fate again? (If you have read the series, you will know the workings of its gods/goddesses and understand why I wonder…) I bought all three books and carried them with me as I gradually became more comfortable in my temporary home.

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I cracked open the series again when I moved to Cleveland. I had just learned there was a fourth book released, and I decided to start from the beginning. I was bored and lonely, and desperate for a distraction. I devoured the stories, as usual. When I had finished all there was to read, I found myself online, hungry, searching for more. It was then that I read Megan Whalen Turner’s biography:

My local bookstores right now are Loganberry Books in Cleveland and MacsBacks in Cleveland Heights, Ohio.

What.

What.

Whaaaaaaat?!

I almost died right then and there. It was that same feeling you get when you’ve been dreaming of someone and you run into them in line at Starbuck’s. Megan Whalen Turner, who I had idolized and attempted to emulate since I was nine years old, had a home base right here in Cleveland, Ohio! Maybe it wasn’t so bad here! Maybe I would finally write the novel I’d been dreaming of and be just like her.

(As amazing as the revelation was at the time, I forget this fact frequently, and have missed every single promotion she has done in the area. Have the gods deserted me?)

Thick as Thieves is the most recent addition to the Queen’s Thief Series. Seven years separate its release from the last book, and I can say it was a worthy wait. I checked it out from the library and finished it in less than 24 hours, sacrificing sleep for wide-eyed wonder. (I still read by flashlight under the blankets. I find it keeps me young.) It is a testament to Megan Whalen Turner’s narrative abilities that, despite zero inclusion of my favorite characters, Thick as Thieves did not leave me disappointed. My only complaint is as cliche as they come: I want more.

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I call these books my Harry Potter because they enchant me time and time again. My books are the first thing I unpack in any move, and this series is always the first to go on the shelf. Always. They may not have inspired generations of kids to love to read, and I have missed every single release date (probably because there are no news stories or lines that stretch around city blocks), but they are beautifully written all the same. The Queen’s Thief series is a hidden gem, as quiet and mysterious as the plots it contains. It dazzles, despite (and, perhaps in someways, due to) its lack of fame. The characters are strong, and Turner maintains a solid grasp of the plot throughout her stories. I would highly recommend this to any lover of young adult fiction.

for the soul is dead that slumbers

“did you make it?” my friend texted.

i was sitting in my car, seats still full with boxes leftover from my recent move. there was a paper on my lap with the numbers of different campgrounds in the area. i’d called down the list. every single plot was occupied.

“yeah,” i typed. the cold, black letters conveyed none of my anxiety, said nothing of the pit in my stomach. “i made it.”

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-_-_-_-_-

i used to think i was a traveler, that i was bold enough, savvy enough, to get myself anywhere in the world no matter what. i took my first solo trip when i was eighteen. i used my first official paycheck to settle the plane tickets. the change in my pocket and human kindness covered the rest. i spent my time in free museums, farmers’ markets, public squares, and cemeteries. it certainly wasn’t sustainable, but, for a week, i remember thinking: this is living.

since then i’ve crossed oceans.

it never occurred to me that the borders of my home would one day grow to be insurmountable. strolling through dresden or sipping a pint in galway, the thought never crossed my mind that i would fall into a stationary life. i had no children to worry over, no lover to abandon. my family, whenever i told them i was leaving, said, “go! live!”

but somehow i stopped anyway.

being stuck is different than standing still.

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-_-_-_-_-

“welcome to michigan,” the robot on my phone intoned as i passed a small, blue sign proclaiming some invisible line had been crossed. i smiled. come what may. this was my rubicon.

only a few days before my trip, the thought of driving my fourteen-year-old car eight hours to a place i barely even knew existed was as invigorating as it was intimidating. i’d already decided i wanted to spend my birthday in the woods, but i could have settled for an ordinary run through a park. until i merged onto the turnpike headed west, i wasn’t certain i would follow through.

“this is irresponsible,” said my brain. “it won’t be worth it. you have too much to do at home. you’re being reckless.”

i turned up the radio and rolled the windows down.

i don’t care.

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-_-_-_-_-

love at first sight. that’s how i’d describe my crush in sixth grade, being served a waffle for breakfast, and walking up to lake michigan at sunset.

perhaps the struggle is what made the lake so memorable. the long stretch of unfamiliar road, the disappointment of not securing a campsite, the unexpected two mile trek over sand, the fear of being alone in the dark. when i crested the last hill and was greeted by silence save the gentle wash of water, my heart surged with happiness. i sat down in the sand, cracked open my journal, and i wrote.

i may never be this happy again.

i remained on the beach for an hour, enjoying the dramatic splashes of color as they spread across the sky. pinks melted into oranges and slowly turned to purple as the night rolled in. i hiked back to my car in the dark, without a flashlight. i did not want to blind myself to the full experience of the woods at night. my senses flared. every sound made me flinch. i was alive.

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-_-_-_-_-

there are very few advantages to sleeping in the backseat of a sedan. the air is stale. your muscles stiffen. you wake up more exhausted than before. still, insomnia has its benefits.

the night i turned twenty-seven was a sleepless one. if i managed to get comfortable, my slumber was derailed by fear that a park ranger would discover me. as soon as i breathed easy, my back would demand a new position. driven to madness by this cycle, i stepped out for some fresh air.

it was two in the morning. the moon, which only hours before had washed out all the constellations, had set below the horizon. as i looked up into the sky, it seemed all the secrets of the universe were laid bare to me. i held my breath. even the sounds of my lungs working seemed too loud.

in the dark, my bare feet found the wooden planks of the dock near where i’d parked my car for the night. it was a long, narrow dock that went almost to the middle of the small, still lake. the water, which had been crystal blue when i’d arrived, was now a dark abyss, dotted with stars, seemingly without end.

i laid down on the dock, the milky way both above and below me, and felt my spirit dissolve.

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-_-_-_-_-

i was in sleeping bear dunes national park for two and a half days, but it was exactly where i needed to be. i hiked miles over sandy, unending dunes. i chased majestic eagles and tiny piping plovers. i saw rainbows and wildflowers. i was kissed by the sun and reborn in the sparkling, clear waters of the lake.

i am twenty seven.

i am a traveler.

i do not sit still.

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feminism is not your bandwagon (or: ads that make me cry also make me uncomfortable)

Growing up, I was in love with advertising. No cable meant that, oftentimes, the best thing on TV were the commercials. Sunday mornings and sick days spent on the couch were prime times for catching up on the world of consumerism. I’d spend entire mornings watching infomercials, imagining what life would be like if my family had a blender that could blend roof shingles, or a special pan that doubled as a panini press. Pretty much everything I know about classic rock has come from the ten-second clips of concerts they’d play on those hour-long ads for CD box sets. While most kids were memorizing Pokemon stats and *NSYNC lyrics, I was memorizing prescription drug names and fast food jingles.

Some of my fondest childhood memories are of evenings spent with my little brother after school, flipping channels to get to the commercial breaks. We’d make a game of it. Sometimes we’d play The Price is Right, trying to guess the number and price of payment installments for an item, or the value of the special gift that you’d get if you’d call in the next 12 hours. We’d keep a running tally of who could name each brand before the logo or tagline appeared on the screen. We were pretty good at it, too. We were like little Tai Fraisers, singing along to the Mentos commercial in Clueless. We knew that Lunesta moth like we knew the Cialis bathtubs.

I stopped watching commercials for fun when I moved out of my parents house. I haven’t owned a television since, and most online streaming services have either eliminated advertising or offer an option to skip them after a mere few seconds. When I do turn on a TV, I barely register the ads. I’m usually vaguely shocked when I discover that what I knew as a fibromyalgia treatment is now used as an asthma drug, but otherwise I’m more focused on where my show left off. Still, every once in a while, a commercial will cross my path that completely diverts my attention. These are usually posted by a friend on social media or mixed in with movie trailers before the feature film. More often than not, they’re pushing some form of “female empowerment.”

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#LikeAGirl by Always

Recently, I was sitting alone in a dark theater, waiting with a greasy bag of popcorn for the previews to start so I could see Moana. The lights dimmed, the “silence your cell phones” message faded to black, and then it happened. The ad opened with a flood of daylight and the pounding of pink sneakers on pavement. As the camera zoomed out, it captured women putting their bodies to work, running up and down streets, jumping rope, punching stuff. The constant beat of footsteps set the rhythm for a female voice, reciting a poem of strength. The overall message, “I am woman; hear me roar,” was impossible to miss.

By the end of the 60-second spot, my mascara was already running.

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Real Beauty by Dove

This was not the first time an advertisement had made me cry, nor would it be the last. Dove, with their commercials featuring women feeling confident in their bodies, has brought me to tears for over a decade. Those Pampers commercials about motherhood around the world are worse than onions, and the Like A Girl campaign by Always just plain squeezes my heart to the point of bursting. A few years ago, Pantene released an ad in Korea about perceived female bossiness that required at least a dozen tissues. The list is infinite.

Besides making me snot all over my shirt sleeves, all of these commercials lit a fire in my belly. They made me want to stand up, and cry out, and put my foot down, and… and… and… and… and what?

Buy stuff?

That’s when I realized that commercials that make me cry also make me uncomfortable.

Never underestimate the power of woman, says another ad. But that power was, and is, underestimated in America. Or, rather, it is only estimated in terms that can be manipulated at the point of purchase

– Betty Friedan, The Feminine Mystique

I came across this quote yesterday as I was finishing a chapter in Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique on the role of advertising in pushing young women towards suburban housewifery. The chapter, called “The Sexual Sell,” features numerous interviews with advertising consultants about the process of identifying the struggles and afflictions of American women, and how they spun brands as panaceas for the “problem that has no name.”

Ironically, advertisers seemed generally to recognize that women’s emptiness had to do with the boredom and meaningless of housework; yet, instead of imagining a world where a woman could be more than a wife and mother, they concocted a narrative in which housewife was the most honorable, most creative role a woman need ever fill. This new cleaning product makes mom a scientist, picking new wallpaper makes her an artist, working a fancy, electric appliance makes her an engineer… The more glamour that was attached to a housewife’s role, the more hollow women felt at home…and the emptier a woman felt, the more likely she was to buy silverware or baking mix or a new sofa to satisfy the innate human need to create.

(As an added layer, the ads were also spun to capitalize on a woman’s guilt, making the product about the good of the family, so that women need not feel selfish for buying a thing to fill the void…)

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A Man’s a Boss, A Woman is Bossy by Pantene

As I finished the chapter, I began thinking about all those advertisements that have made me cry. We’ve certainly come a long way from the 1950s, but is advertising a different game? What are these companies saying when they tell me to stop apologizing, when they tell me to love the skin I’m in? Is the message about my confidence or selling a product? Has feminism finally won over advertising? Or has advertising hijacked the female empowerment bandwagon as a way to, again, make consumerism a point of superficial prestige in a society that has, in many ways, moved beyond the feminine mystique of an earlier age?

If I want to love my body, will buying a certain brand of soap make that easier, or will it simply fill a fleeting role in sating my psyche? Once the soap is gone, will I have changed, or will I need to buy more to prove that I am as empowered and body positive as I want myself to be?

Do these commercials solve anything or are they a part of the problem?

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Always a Bridesmaid by Listerine

I don’t know the answers to these questions. For every Miki Agrawal there is also a Janet Champ. All I know for sure is that advertisements are, at the most basic, atomic level, about pushing a product. Shinier hair alone won’t change the discrimination women face at work. Buying stuff isn’t the only way to feel empowered or to show yourself love. But I also know that advertisements are powerful vehicles of societal messages, and it’s likely a good shift that so many companies are chasing down the bandwagon. So, I suppose I’ll just have to go on crying with a critical eye when tampons tell me to love my period and sneakers tell me I’m a goddess.

I suppose I can live with that.

get yourself back // five years later

so before you start talkin’ ’bout the wonders of the world again
the taj mahal, the great wall, the places that i’ve never been
take a little drive, take a little trip to heaven
and wonder for a while if it’s paradise or [oberlin]

– josh ritter, cumberland

i struggle to take pictures when i’m in the company of other people. i think it stems from a deep-seated worry that my eagerness to capture a moment will stand out awkwardly against the chill atmosphere of a group hang, that the people i’m with will somehow take offense in my desire to preserve the candidness of the soft light of evening on their cheeks… in the end, i either wimp out completely, or snap a photo so quickly the result is a blurry mess.

i guess what i’m trying to say is that if i’m going to remember anything about my five year college reunion, i’m going to have to step up my descriptive writing skills. as such, i apologize in advance for the length of this post, and for the poor quality of the few images that will accompany it. i will do my best to limit myself, but make no promises.  my senior thesis, after all, was pushing 100 pages…

-xXx-

i combined all of the giant, dark-haired, smartphone power goddesses into one woman called “hot rebecca.”

– leslie knope

the weeks leading up to the reunion were fraught with restless anxiety. it began, on a very basic level, with a fear of seeing a handful of individuals, all of them, embarrassingly, male. i didn’t want to see the wives i’d imagined for them, or be reminded of their happy lives without me. i wasn’t convinced i’d have the energy to look perfect, speak graciously, and not fart in their presence. i was deeply afraid of the possibility that they had moved on easily, without the tears and heartache that would make our dalliance memorable. i was terrified of being forgotten.

ironically, those feelings soon evolved into a desperate hope that i could forget. oberlin college was a place of astounding intellectual discovery for me, but it was also the center of life-altering pain. a close friend of mine died in the middle of my freshman year, and the depression that followed made me mean. i was slow to make friends, and i was difficult and demanding towards those few i had. i often felt isolated and abandoned. by the end of my senior year, the control i exercised over my body (a control i could not exercise in my personal relationships) had turned into the beginnings of body dysmorphia. the two people i kissed that year both left me heartbroken, and shortly after graduation, i had my first non-consensual experience.

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i hate this picture. i posted it before reunion weekend because it so perfectly illustrated my feelings towards going back to oberlin and remembering college. it was taken during senior year finals on the porch of keep co-op. i look happy because i had slept in a boy’s room the night before and had just slayed a five mile run in ninety degree weather. both of those memories have since turned sour and can derail any positive developments if they catch me off guard. i have moved on…but only just.

i love oberlin. i go back all the time, and i talk about it nonstop. but i love it as a place i lived, not as a place i went to college. i’ve left behind a lot of the hurt i felt (and caused) as a student, and i have reclaimed the spaces i love in my consciousness through hard work and with the help of supportive friends. my biggest fear about the reunion, it turns out, was not running into old flames and their imaginary new lovers. my biggest fear was exactly what everyone was returning to do. my biggest fear was to remember.

-xXx-

i arrived in oberlin on friday around 11am full of trepidation. i was already in a bad mood, because some aggressive jersey driver had cut me off on rt. 20 for no reason. i was going 80 mph. there was no one else on the road. i followed that car, seething, all the way to alumni registration.

i hadn’t even opened my event folder when my friend dashed out of slow train and pulled me inside. he had been living in oberlin the entire year, and sitting with him, chatting about our day-to-day lives was comfortingly normal. the only difference i noticed from the countless other times i’d visited the town were the amount of people in line and the number of vaguely familiar faces, glancing furtively around the room in search of old friends to hug.

i, too, was looking around but chose not to greet the acquaintances i noticed. i saw no need to catch their eyes, and, oddly, i felt no guilt about this. the energy wasn’t right. i saw no benefit to forcing what little conversation could come from friendships long since passed into the mist. i was comfortable where i was. why change that? i wondered briefly if this meant i was getting wiser or lazier and came to no conclusion.

-xXx-

“i’m trying my best to step back and let people feel nostalgic without being a total dick.”

– me, at the feve

i’ll preface my next statement with the fact that i visit the feve a lot, and for good reason. it is a special place. i’ve shared a lot of happy memories there since graduation, and anticipation of a good night does make me smile like a nerd when i walk up the stairs.

still, i could not achieve the same starry-eyed wonder at being there that my friends were feeling. there’s a real difference between the magic of knowing a place so well the bartenders recognize you on the street and the magic of passing through the door into a place you haven’t seen for five years. i couldn’t help but feel my experience at that moment was somehow missing everyone else’s mark. there was some happiness there i just couldn’t access, and old anxieties tickled at the edge of my brain. i took a few deep breaths and reminded myself that difference does not signify inferiority.

it was a reminder i needed the remainder of the night, as dinner at the feve dissolved into drinks at the sco, oberlin’s student union dance hall. as a student, sweatily grinding against total strangers late at night was, frankly, the last thing i wanted. i was consistently in bed by 11pm, and awake by 7am. there was no room for sticky floors covered in beer and bass lines resonating in my rib cage. i barely spent fifteen minutes there as an undergrad, but there i was…five years later…nervously biting my lip at the fringe of a crowd way more enthusiastic than me.

quite unexpectedly, i was not left alone to meekly bob my head on the periphery. countless people found me isolating myself and pulled me into the fray. it didn’t matter that i dance to pop music like a peacock spider entrancing a mate. it didn’t matter that all the words i was shout-singing were wrong. i had no idea people would be as eager to see me as i was nervous to see them. i felt included in ways that i rarely did in school.

“what’s that in your bag?” one of my friends asked as i tried to keep my heavy purse from bouncing too much.

“oh, i don’t actually know,” i said, peeking inside. “i thought i took everything out.”

laughing, i reached inside and pulled out betty friedan’s the feminine mystique.

of course.

only in oberlin…

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-xXx-

i learned a lot about being tolerant of other peoples’ feelings over the course of the weekend. the nostalgic excitement my friends were feeling had somehow transformed into nostalgic exhaustion overnight, while i was curled up next to my cat in cleveland. i drove into oberlin prepared for more of the day before, but was met with lots of overwhelmed people who texted that they needed space, or who weren’t ready for a one-on-one conversation with someone they hadn’t seen in five years.

i took a beat and tried not to be offended. these were more feelings i couldn’t quite access. oberlin was like a second home to me. i even wrote a blog post about how the town was the closest thing i’d had to a serious relationship. i’d had five years to come to terms with the emotions certain corners had the power to conjure. most of the friends i longed to see only had this one weekend. that’s no easy feat.

instead of forcing people to come out and play with me, i found meet-ups that sprung up organically. running into old friends in line at the co-op picnic, sunny walks in the arb, joint trips to the free store, bowling at the best lanes in the whole wide world…these things happened as i was just wandering aimlessly, which i am wont to do in oberlin. i was never alone for long.

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-xXx-

one regret i felt deep in my bones was my inability to share what i consider my singular accomplishment with everyone i loved. our class sponsored an ignite session, where we could share short presentations about what we’ve been up to since graduation, but i thought it was lame. for a brief moment, i considered trolling the session with a five minute performance art piece of me sobbing violently into a pizza while i projected images of old flings stolen from their facebook pages. but that was a joke that never grew wings.

i was so focused on how i could thumb my nose at people who cared about things that i overlooked all the things i cared about and actually wanted to share. thankfully, the project i loved the most was already in the program. the oberlin heritage center was gracious enough to run the women’s history tour i had written during my americorps service. they had even credited me in the schedule booklet as the author of the tour, which made my heart swell with pride.

that said, for various reasons, only one friend was able to attend one of my tours during the weekend. it was early in the morning. it was raining. it was too overwhelming. grad students want to have fun, they don’t want to be lectured. it all made sense, but i still felt anonymous, invisible, and sad. as i sat alone on a bench later, i tried to hold on to the positives. the oberlin heritage center, an organization that had taught me so much about local history, respects my work as a historian. that one friend that showed up unexpectedly made me feel special. i got to meet a woman who had inaugurated the women’s studies program at oberlin, and she said my tour was wonderful.

all good things.

but, if i could do it over again, i would have done an ignite presentation or an open mic night. if there’s anything i love, it’s being recognized.

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-xXx-

despite being the grinch when it came to nostalgia, there were a few moments that i, too, got swept up in the memories. the first wave of bittersweet emotion came when i experienced the stellar customer service of the current student union information desk attendants. i was cutting through wilder to get somewhere else, when one of the deskers looked up and smiled warmly at me.

i don’t know what it was about that particular moment, but what i did next defies my misanthropic nature. i walked over to the desk and struck up a conversation. before i knew it, i was regaling them with stories from my time as a wilder employee. i showed them pictures of us playing connect four, ravishing leftover pizzas, and hosting tea parties with little finger sandwiches. after a while, they invited me behind the desk, and we clicked through pictures on the computer (still the same old mac desktop from 2012) until we got to my senior year.

everything was still there.

as we flipped back from the most recent pics, i was struck by how constant the wilder family has been. the close friendships i formed there aren’t unique. students now are forming those same tight bonds with their co-workers. i realized as they took my picture for their @wilderdesk instragram account that wilder is such a magical place, not because of the physical building, but because of the people our boss, tom reid, welcomes into the family.

(and, speaking of tom reid, he let me peek into the bookkeeping room, that beloved, claustrophobic closet full of metal safes where i spent a majority of mornings in college pretending i was a pirate as i organized bank deposits. i’m not ashamed to admit that i teared up.)

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the second wave of nostalgia came in mudd library, in my special little corner where i would often retire for a study break or a peaceful moment alone. tucked away, against a nondescript wall in the library commons, is a file cabinet full of boxes of microflim, which contain entire editions of the oberlin review and the oberlin news tribune, beginning in the 1890s.

i learned how to work the machines early on in my college career, as the study of oberlin’s local history became my main motivation for not transferring to a different school. the familiar, warm glow of the screen and the hum of the motor were often my companions on friday nights before walking to my shift at the college observatory. mostly, it was an aesthetics thing. if i saw an advertisement or a front page that i liked, i would print it off and hang it in my dorm. occasionally, i impressed a professor by using articles in my research projects.

i still maintain those machines are some of the best kept secrets at oberlin.

i hadn’t visited the library for over three years when i sat down at the machine on saturday, but i found that loading the roll was part of my muscle memory as much as the dance steps i learned in elementary school. i was alone at that moment, but i was so inexplicably happy as the scans appeared on the screen. i showed my print-out to almost every familiar face i passed as i walked to my next destination, but no one seemed particularly impressed by my mastery of an outdated technology.

kids these days, i suppose…

the third nostalgic moment occurred in the bowling alley, but i have already waxed poetic over the importance of the lanes on my mental health and how much i love bowling at oberlin, so i will spare you (get it?) more of the same. however, i should say this: i am never more confident and at home than i am at college lanes. there’s no room for anger or sadness there. it’s just you, the pins, and some excellent student-selected tunes. i am so grateful i had friends who were willing to relive the lanes with me twice over the weekend.

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i once got drunk on wine with a guy in this old, rarely-used women’s locker room while waiting for a bowling lane to open up, and this remains one of my favorite memories

-xXx-

it has now been almost a week since the first day of the reunion weekend, and i’ve only just now found the time and energy to think extensively about the experience. if you would have asked me last thursday if i was excited to go back to oberlin, i would have given you a really long, round-about answer about anxiety and introvertedness. today, i’ll tell you simply that i’m glad i went.

there were moments of loneliness and places of discomfort. there were periods of disappointment and feelings of inadequacy. but…overall, i felt good. my friendship was reciprocated in surprising ways. i was not only seeking; i was also sought after. i did not see everyone, and i made out with no one, but i realized how much i’ve grown since i was a student.

so, thank you to all the people who came and hung out with me (but especially to all those old hook-ups who didn’t). thank you to the staff of the college and the student workers who spent the weekend helping us old losers reminisce. thank you to the employees of the bars and restaurants who kept us fed and watered.

in spite of myself, i had a good time.

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The Wooing of Lucy Stone

Now Harry, I have been all my life alone. I have planned and executed, without counsel, and without control. I have shared thought, and feeling, and life, with myself alone. I have made a path for my feet which I know is very useful…and it seems to me, I cannot risk it by any change… I have lived alone, happily and well, and can still do it… My life has never seemed to me, a baffled one, only in hours that now and then come, when my love-life is consciously unshared. But such hours are only as the drop to the ocean.

– Lucy Stone to Henry Blackwell, 1854

The first time I used an online dating site was in high school. In one of the cruelest teenaged acts I would commit, I created a fake profile so that I could join a few of my peers in mocking a young teacher behind his back. He was 24; we were 16. We thought we were so clever, revealing the latent desperation in his swagger. We thought he was such a dweeb. We did not yet recognize the crystal ball of his profile for what it was.

It was almost a decade before I would log onto OkCupid again. I had just moved to Cleveland. I was sitting alone in the dark, absently clicking through pictures on Facebook, looking for a me that didn’t exist–perfect hair, decade-appropriate outfit, cool background. For the benefit of virtual strangers, I spun half-truths like an expert. “I’m great at being silly and tripping over air,” I typed. “I love Game of Thrones,” and, “Everything goes better with beer.” To the casual browser, I appeared charmingly vacuous. Harmless. I got a lot of messages. Most of them just said, “Hey.”

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“Hey.”

Three years, two platforms, and some choice unsolicited pics later, I have finally lost my mind. It happened a few days ago, after I had a surprisingly sustained conversation with a man about his new tank top. “What color is it?” I asked. “Green,” he replied. A few minutes later, he sent me a picture, mostly of his flexed arms, with just enough of the shirt visible that vanity could be denied. “Yup,” I responded, obstinately refusing to acknowledge the elephant biceps in the room. “That’s definitely green.”

And then I threw my phone to the foot of my bed and silently screamed for ten whole minutes.

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I often turn to history to help contextualize the present–“a sister’s hand may wrest a female pen”–but I had never before thought to apply such a panacea to my love life. After all, what could a Victorian lady have to say about the ennui of modern dating culture? As it turns out, I have more to learn from my historical heroes than how to weather politics. Enter: Loving Warriors: Selected Letters of Lucy Stone and Henry B. Blackwell, 1853-1893.

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When Lucy Stone met Henry Blackwell, she was 31 and building a solid career of speaking for abolition and women’s rights. In an Antebellum twist on an unfortunately persistent trope in every woman’s life, her critics anxiously awaited the day when “a wedding kiss” would “shut up the mouth of Lucy Stone.” She had been skeptical of husbands since she was a teenager, and marriage was the last thing on her mind when she entered a hardware shop in Cincinnati, Ohio, looking for supplies.

Henry Blackwell was 24 years old at the time, a businessman like his brothers, but desperately seeking to reconcile his desire to leave a financial legacy with his reform-minded soul. He had five sisters, most famously Elizabeth Blackwell, the first woman to receive a medical degree in the U.S. He was immediately smitten with Lucy Stone, and seeing her speak a few years later in New York solidified his affection. “I decidedly prefer her to any lady I have ever met,” he wrote to his brother, “always excepting the Bloomer dress which I dont like practically, tho theoretically I believe in it with my whole soul.”

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Bloomers, a radical (though much maligned) sartorial choice

He immediately started writing to her, with her consent, about every aspect of his daily life. He opened most letters with a description of his surroundings, coolly segued into a discussion of civil rights, and then closed with an apology for writing so much to such a busy person. Her responses, though less prolific, followed a similar pattern. He carried her letters with him when he traveled until they practically disintegrated in his hands. Lucy, while “generally thankful for pen & ink,” admitted that she hated them in her current separation from Henry.

Their strong personalities shine in their letters. Lucy–strong-willed and frank–kept her missives short and to the point. Very rarely do her lines stray towards poetry or romance, and her love caused her to hold him, perhaps, to a higher standard than most. “With much love,” she closed one [adoringly] chastising letter, “and the hope that, as we know that we are not perfect, we must strive to become so.”

For his part, he was so full of passion, humor, and eloquence that no amount of paper could possibly contain it all. This dearth of space did not hinder his pen. He simply turned the paper from portrait to landscape and wrote over what he had already written. It is incredibly annoying, and I am unbelievably grateful to the tortured grad student that transcribed this madness:

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Fig. 1: A Researcher’s Hell

But I digress. Very early on, Henry Blackwell began describing to Lucy Stone his idea of marriage, in the hopes that she someday might amend her revulsion towards the practice, if not for his sake, then for her own.

My idea of the relation involves no sacrifice of individuality but its perfection–no limitation of the career of one, or both but its extension. I would not have my wife drudge…while I found nothing to do but dig ditches. I would not even consent that my wife should stay at home to rock the baby when she ought to be off addressing a meeting… Perfect equality in this relationship…I would have–but it should be the equality of Progress, of Development, not of Decay. If both parties cannot study more, think more, feel more, talk more & work more than they could alone, I will remain an old bachelor & adopt a Newfoundland dog or a terrier as an object of affection.

– Henry Blackwell to Lucy Stone, 1853

Knowing that she felt more comfortable conversing in person, he made every effort to meet her on her speaking tours. Their first “date” occurred after he discovered she would be passing through Niagara Falls to attend a women’s rights convention in Cleveland–a manageable trip from his home in Cincinnati. Eagerly, he penned her a request to meet her in Niagara and then accompany her to the convention. Her response was painfully lukewarm, but Henry still raced to Niagara and had the time of his life, even speaking publicly on women’s rights for the first time.

I…am very willing that you should be there too… I think you know me well enough to put the right construction upon my consent to meet you at Niagara. I am glad of the friendship of the good whether they be men or women… But believe me Mr. Henry Blackwell when I say, (and Heaven is my witness that I mean what I say) that, in the circumstances I have not the remotest desire of assuming any other relations than those I now sustain. I would incur my own heavy censure, if by fault of mine, you did not understand this.

– Lucy Stone to Henry Blackwell, 1853

Though we may never know what passed between them in Cleveland, the tone of their letters shifted almost immediately from friendly to intimate. She wrote very little of “Mr. Blackwell” to her mother, but she began addressing him as “Harry” in their personal correspondence. As for Henry Blackwell, one need only look to his reminiscence of the event one year later. “I was with you at Cleveland,” he wrote. “I stood with you in the dark cool night overlooking the Lake–with Charles Burleigh & Antoinette–your hand in mind & the great roar of the waves coming up & the winds sweeping over us–& Charles quoting poetry–while I was living it.”

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At this point, I was screaming into the book for Lucy to just accept him already because my heart couldn’t take it anymore! But, of course, she didn’t. As their attraction grew more obvious, Lucy grew more distant. She even went so far as to claim that she “instinctively recoil[ed]” from the thought of marrying him. The fear of losing the happy life she had built for herself seemed too great to overcome. It’s heartbreaking the abuse he took in pursuit of her affection, but nothing she wrote could deter him.

I know that the argument is not necessarily that you should marry me. That is again another question. You say you do not love me enough to do so. Then I say–wait until you do. But do not resolve beforehand against marrying me. See me & think of me & give me a fair chance of being loved by you. You cannot love by your simple will any more than you can see. But you can let yourself love or prevent yourself from loving just as you can open, or shut your eyes. Dear Lucy, love me if you can. I will endeavor to give you no cause ever to regret having ever done so…

– Henry Blackwell to Lucy Stone, 1854

It took two years of constant correspondence before Lucy Stone finally consented to marry Henry Blackwell. Excitedly, he wrote her asking if they might set the date his 30th birthday, but also expressed his wish to defer to her on every point in planning their upcoming nuptials. “I do not want you to fetter yourself one particle for my sake,” he wrote, fearing she might get cold feet. “I do not want you to forgo one sentiment of independence, nor one attribute of personality.” He knew what pain it brought her, even without reading the wedding invitation Lucy sent to Antoinette Brown to “help in so cruel an operation as putting Lucy Stone to death.”

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Dear Lucy–we know each other & we know that we are one. It was not for nothing that my heart leaped towards you & yearned for you when I first saw you in our store six years ago…but dear Lucy I am not at all anxious that you shd promise to love, honor & cherish me, for I know your heart. I have no preference for any particular form, or place. My home is in you–my marriage is already solemnised.

– Henry Blackwell to Lucy Stone, 1855

As for the ceremony, it was a small affair on May 1, 1855, undertaken in protest against “such of the present laws of marriage, as refuse to recognize the wife as an independent, rational being, while they confer upon the husband an injurious and unnatural superiority, investing him with legal powers which no honorable man would exercise, and which no man should possess.” Henry Blackwell married his true love; her identity remained in tact. When they retired to their room (an event she feared almost as much as the wedding itself), Henry slipped quietly into bed without waking her.

Throughout their lives, he proved true to his lofty sentiments. The first time Lucy wished to attend a conference as a married woman, she asked for his permission. He said he could not give it, and advised her to ask Lucy Stone instead. “I cannot get him to govern me!” she wrote Susan B. Anthony, happily. Together they raised one daughter, Alice, who grew to be just as strong-willed as her mother. They lived happily for almost forty years, separated only by Lucy’s death in 1893.

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Draft of their marriage protest, 1855 (Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, Harvard University)

So…what? When I look at my love life up to this point, I cannot help but feel discouraged. Yet, I have begun to find hope in darker moments. Superficiality breeds superficiality. If I’m done appealing to boys who only want a girl to ooh and ahh over their work at the gym, then I need to let my feminist flag fly. No more the meek woman who lets a man call her a communist for thinking health care is a universal right. No more the bland statue who spends more time taking selfies for boys than discussing sexism and white privilege. If a man doesn’t love me for my brain and my passion, then that man doesn’t love me at all. I’m sick of changing myself, diluting myself, for the fleeting gratification of simply anyone telling me I’m attractive.

Someday, I will meet my Henry Blackwell, my perfect person who will find themselves as enriched by my light as I am by theirs, someone who can be patient despite my reluctance, whom I will love (as Lucy did) with “the capacity of 20 women.” Until then, don’t look for me on Tinder. You won’t catch me preening over flirty chats. I’ll be in the library, nose buried in a book, reassembling my dignity.

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