Tuesday, April 3, 2018

More Than a Moment, a Movement in Verse—#MeToo

If the young people are impassioned and determined  about #NeverAgain like the student  we heard from yesterday,  women are outraged and relentless after seizing the so-call #MeToo moment and turning it into a worldwide movement that in a few short months has challenged our culture, laid low the mighty and the creep in the next cubicle alike, and shaken patriarchy as never before.  And they show no sign of letting up anytime soon.  Buckle up!
That anger and determination has been displayed in many ways including knee-buckling poetry.  Here are just three powerful examples. 
Singer/Songwriter Halsey, a cutting edge 23-year old Techno-pop sensation, who may have been off the radar of most older folks, went viral with a video of a gut-wrenching autobiographical poem she read at the 2018 Women’s March in New York City. The artist whose real name is Ashley Nicolette Frangipane, recited A Story Like Mine in lieu of a traditional speech at the rally.  You will be as stunned as the marchers in the Big Apple and the millions who found it via social media.
Here is the text that she shared with her Twitter followers the day of the March.

Halsey performing her poem A Story Like Mine at the 2018 Women's March in New York City.
A Story Like Mine
It’s 2009 and I’m 14 and I’m crying
Not really sure where I am but I’m holding the hand of my best friend Sam
In the waiting room of a Planned Parenthood
The air is sterile and clean, and the walls are that not grey, but green
And the lights are so bright they could burn a whole through the seam of my jeans
My phone is buzzing in the pocket
My mom is asking me if I remembered my keys ‘cause she’s closing the door and she needs to lock it
But I can’t tell my mom where I’ve gone
I can’t tell anyone at all
You see, my best friend Sam was raped by a man that we knew ‘cause he worked in the after-school program
And he held her down with her textbook beside her
And he covered her mouth and he came inside her
So now I’m with Sam, at the place with a plan, waiting for the results of a medical exam
And she’s praying she doesn’t need an abortion, she couldn’t afford it
And her parents would, like, totally kill her

It’s 2002 and my family just moved and the only people I know are my mom’s friends, too, and her son
He’s got a case of Matchbox cars and he says that he’ll teach me to play the guitar if I just keep quiet
And the stairwell beside apartment 1245 will haunt me in my sleep for as long as I am alive
And I’m too young to know why it aches in my thighs, but I must lie, I must lie

It's 2012 and I’m dating a guy and I sleep in his bed and I just learned how to drive
And he's older than me and he drinks whiskey neat and he’s paying for everything
This adult thing is not cheap
We’ve been fighting a lot, almost 10 times a week
And he wants to have sex, and I just want to sleep
He says I can’t say no to him
This much I owe to him
He buys my dinner, so I have to blow him
He’s taken to forcing me down on my knees
And I’m confused ‘cause he's hurting me while he says please
And he’s only a man, and these things he just needs
He’s my boyfriend, so why am I filled with unease?

It’s 2017 and I live like a queen
And I've followed damn near every one of my dreams
I’m invincible and I’m so fucking naive
I believe I’m protected ‘cause I live on a screen
Nobody would dare act that way around me
I’ve earned my protection, eternally clean
Until a man that I trust gets his hands in my pants
But I don’t want none of that, I just wanted to dance
And I wake up the next morning like I’m in a trance and there’s blood
Is that my blood?
Hold on a minute

You see ‘worked every day since I was 18
I’ve toured everywhere from Japan to Mar-a-Lago
I even went on stage that night in Chicago when I was having a miscarriage
I mean, I pied the piper, I put on a diaper
And sang out my spleen to a room full of teens
What do you mean this happened to me?
You can’t put your hands on me
You don’t know what my body has been through
I’m supposed to be safe now
I earned it

It’s 2018 and I’ve realized nobody is safe long as she is alive
And every friend that I know has a story like mine
And the world tells me we should take it as a compliment
But then heroes like Ashley and Simone and Gabby, McKayla and Gaga, Rosario, Aly
Remind me this is the beginning, it is not the finale
And that’s why we’re here
And that's why we rally
It’s Olympians and a medical resident and not one fucking word from the man who is President
It’s about closed doors and secrets and legs and stilettos from the Hollywood hills to the projects in ghettos
When babies are ripped from the arms of teen mothers and child brides cry globally under the covers
Who don’t have a voice on the magazine covers
They tell us take cover

But we are not free until all of us are free
So love your neighbor, please treat her kindly
Ask her story and then shut up and listen
Black, Asian, poor, wealthy, trans, cis, Muslim, Christian
Listen, listen and then yell at the top of your lungs
Be a voice for all those who have prisoner tongues
For the people who had to grow up way too young
There is work to be done
There are songs to be sung
Lord knows there's a war to be won.


Amy Ferris is an author, screenwriter, editor and playwright a generation or so older than Halsey.  Her memoir, Marrying George Clooney: Confessions From A Midlife Crisis became a successful Off-Broadway play in 2012.  A woman-centric writer, Pennsylvanian Ferris’s work has been described as “poignant, free-wheeling, cranky and funny.”  She makes a defiant declaration.

Amy Ferris.
This is What I Know this Morning
this is what i know this morning
post coffee
pre wine

On a dime.
It all changes on a dime.

Don’t waste a fucking moment caring what someone else—or anyone else—thinks about you. Don’t waste your time seeking approval or permission or validation. Don’t waste your time chasing down love; the wrong guy, the wrong girl, the wrong human. Don’t waste your time waiting for the phone to ring. Don’t waste your time going after something or someone that you know—you     know—will  not make you happy, not one bit. Don’t waste your time turning back the clock. Don’t waste your time carrying around a shame that isn’t even yours to begin with. Don’t waste your time in woulda-shoulda-couldaVille. Fuck that shit. Don’t waste your time on anyone who doesn’t deserve you, doesn’t deserve the privilege & beauty of you. Don’t waste one fucking moment begging for someone to notice you, pay attention to you, want you. Don’t waste your time giving away the goods. Don’t waste your time saying yes when every fiber in your being is screaming no.


Be good to yourself. Go after your dreams. Let someone love you. Let someone take care of you. Listen to the beat of your own iPod. Bet on your own life. Create magic. Do good. Do kind. Do love. Do generous. Stop giving a shit what someone else thinks of you & start giving a shit what you think of you. Fall in love with you. Fall crazy-ass fucking nuts in love with you. Wear your imperfections with pride. Show off your courage. Stand in your brave. Climb the fucking mountain in high heels. Skydive. Write the book. Sign up for yoga. Twist the night away. Start a company. Make ice-cream. Quit the bad fucking awful job that makes you miserable & pays you nothing because psssst: you are worth more. So much more. Find your joy. Live your joy. Walk away from bad & mean & toxic knowing—knowing—you  deserve better, bigger, kinder, safer, more. You deserve more.


On a dime.
On a fucking dime it all changes.
Don’t waste one moment wishing & hoping & praying you could’ve done it different.

Do it different.

We are not here to master suffering.
We are not here to win best in hell.
We are not here to take crumbs.
We are not here to eat crow.

We are not hand-me-downs, or afterthoughts, or maybe's.

We are here to show the world what we’re made of.
We are here to fucking shine.


Please, oh please, shine up.
The world desperately needs you.

—Amy Ferris

Although #MeToo became a social media sensation after actresses Ashly Judd and Rose McGowan outed predatory movie mogul Harvey Weinstein and Alyssa Milano urged her twitter followers to use the hashtag to share their own stories, it dates back ten years to when activist Tarana Burke started a movement to support abused and exploited young women of color in 2017.  Although even then Burke was a prominent Black Feminist, major media barely acknowledged her efforts and the heart wrenching stories that were shared because of it.  Yet when Time made The Silence Breakers of the #MeToo movement their Persons of the Year the cover featured glamourous accusers Ashly Judd and Taylor Swift with other women.  Burke was acknowledged in the accompanying article which also featured stories of women of color and working class women.
But many Black women felt left out of the #MeToo movement as it unfolded.  Burke herself said that “I felt a sense of dread, because something that was part of my life’s work was going to be co-opted and taken from me and used for a purpose that I hadn’t originally intended.”  But after speaking with Milano and considering the outpouring of support and stories she said, “It is bigger than me and bigger than Alyssa Milano. Neither one of us should be centered in this work. This is about survivors.”
Other Black women were in a less forgiving mood.  There were several different articles or social media posts saying that they were sitting out the movement because White feminists had long ignored or marginalized women of color whose degree of vulnerability and risk was often even greater and who had unique struggles within the Black community itself.  Several Black poets spoke out.
But one of the most widely circulated works on social media in the wake of the #MeToo movement was actually performance by two college women, Crystal Valentine and Aaliyah Jihad at the 2015 College Unions Poetry Slam International.  Here is a transcript of the bold work.

Crystal Valentine and Aaliyah Jihad at the 2015 College Unions Poetry Slam International.
To Be Black and Woman and Alive
Crystal Valentine: I’m just sayin’ if she ain’t got a booty, I ain’t tryna hit it.

Aaliyah Jihad: You know a nigga’s biggest weakness is a White girl with a fat ass.

Crystal Valentine: These Black girls need to watch out

Both: ‘cause White girls is winnin’.

Aaliyah Jihad: Nah, I like a foreign bitch, you know, that Spanish, that Latin type?

Crystal Valentine: Nah, nah, nah, like that Asian type.

Aaliyah Jihad: Yeah, like a Oriental, mixed bitch.

Crystal Valentine: Daddy from the Philippines, Mama from Atlantic, Mama from Africa.

Aaliyah Jihad: Mama from sugarcane and segregation, from too much pride and not enough perm.

Crystal Valentine: Mama from the gutter, from Section 8.

Both: From hoodrat Black belly.

But she don’t look like her Mama, though.

I don’t fuck with Black girls.

Aaliyah Jihad: I know four brands of hydrocortisone by heart. I have a pinterest board dedicated to lemon juice recipes for lightening skin.

Crystal Valentine: “No, too dark” is the answer to a question I’ve given up asking.

Aaliyah Jihad: Puerto Rican.

Crystal Valentine: Italian.

Aaliyah Jihad: Beigian.

Crystal Valentine: Thai.

Aaliyah Jihad: I know they want me to be everything I’m not.

Both: I need a girl who knows her place.

I don’t like that “Black power” shit! That nappy afro shit! That walk out your house like your mama ain’t teach you how to look presentable shit!

Crystal Valentine: To be woman and Black is to be born knowing your beauty does not belong to you.

Aaliyah Jihad: Is to be the first and last person to love yourself.

Crystal Valentine: Is to know you’re not desirable to your own kind.

Aaliyah Jihad: I grew up learning how to protect men who hate me.

Crystal Valentine: Learned how to be the silencer to their pistol.

Aaliyah Jihad: Learned how to be the revolution spit-shining their spines.

Behind every great man is the woman who taught him how to load the ammunition.

Crystal Valentine: Behind every great man is the woman who pulled the trigger. Behind every great man is a chorus of voices buried beneath the gunfire.

Both: I want an educated woman. I’m not talkin’ book smart, I’m talkin’ sheet smart. A woman who understands the actual purpose of her mouth.

Crystal Valentine: In college, a boy said he didn’t date Black girls.

Aaliyah Jihad: Like his mama wasn’t a Black girl.

Crystal Valentine: Like his sister wasn’t a Black girl.

Like he ain’t drink milk and fat off a Black nipple.

Aaliyah Jihad: Like he wasn’t birthed from a Black womb.

Crystal Valentine: Like a Black woman’s body ain’t bend for him.

Aaliyah Jihad: Ain’t spill herself to make room for him.

Crystal Valentine: Like exiting a Black woman’s body ain’t a blessing disguised as a shadow.

Aaliyah Jihad: Like Black ain’t beautiful unless it’s mixed.

Crystal Valentine: To be woman and Black is to be magic.

Aaliyah Jihad: Is to be the witch that wouldn’t burn.

Crystal Valentine: Is to survive the White man with their needles and nooses.

Aaliyah Jihad: And the Black men with their hearts in their knuckles.

Both: To be Black, and woman, and alive is to be resilient! My very existence is defiance!

But they want a good woman.

Crystal Valentine: A silk-skinned woman soft enough to break.

Aaliyah Jihad: A woman whose vein is blue enough to get into the club, who knows her way around the inside of the washing machine.

Crystal Valentine: Who’s the color of happily ever after.

Both: A woman who knows how to burn off her skin without screaming, without making a sound.

—Crystal Valentine and Aaliyah Jihad
One last, sad note.  In researching #MeToo poetry on Google I found screen after screen filled with commentary and reaction to a barely coherent poem that actor Sean Penn, a noted narcissist appended to the end of his equally unnecessary novel, Bob Honey Who Just Do Stuff.  I won’t quote it at length, but it includes gems like these lines:

And what’s with this ‘Me Too’?
This infantilizing term of the day…
Is this a toddler’s crusade?

It’s a dreadful verse but because a white male celebrity, you should excuse the expression, penned it has been getting attention that swamps women’s voices.  It doesn’t matter that 80% of the articles and comments ridicule or demolish Penn and his privileged ramblings, the dude still dominate

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