Brandi Homan is the author of Hard Reds (Shearsman, 2008) and Bobcat Country (Shearsman, forthcoming 2010). Her chapbook, Two Kinds of Arson, is available from dancing girl press. She is editor-in-chief of Switchback Books.
I sat down to write about how my identification as a feminist does not affect my own personal poetics, except for a project explicitly designed to give a platform to narratives from specific women. As soon as I put pen to paper, however, I realized that this assertion was unarguably false. This could be because, up until now, exactly as I’m writing this sentence, I’ve only identified as a feminist publicly, have never internalized it or embraced it as part of my true identity—the part of yourself that you keep just for yourself, the part others can’t touch. Writing this essay has changed that.
A bit of background—I came to feminism relatively late compared with a lot of my peers. Although within my circles of fairly conservative early adulthood friends I was labeled a “Feminazi,” I was (and still am, actually) far from thoroughly educated on feminist issues, theory, and frankly, terminology from both the second and third waves. I never read Bitch or Bust or knew any riot grrls or had even heard of Bikini Kill or Kathleen Hanna until around three years ago. I didn’t know what a zine was or understand the fuss around Lilith Fair. In many ways, I was raised in a 1950s-style environment except my mother also worked in addition to raising the kids and running the household. Where I come from, and, I imagine, in similar places, the “problem that has no name” (American women are kept from growing to their full human capacities—and yes, I did have to look that up on Google) is, by and large, still a real issue.
The actual nuts and bolts issues of what I associate with second-wave feminism—gender equality in the workplace (and for my purposes here, also in the arts) and economic parity—are directly tied to what I see/have seen with my own eyes, what I have lived/am living. It is these life experiences that have directed me toward feminism—hell, toward poetry—and, by default, to feminism in my poetry. It feels like some feminists are so ready to push past second-wave (and third-wave?) feminism into other ideals that the messages associated with the second wave are being overlooked or taken for granted by women and men alike as already established or “solved.” It feels like the rhetoric surrounding these issues has changed but the problems haven’t, although yes, significant progress has been made.
This disparity between rhetoric and reality seems almost characteristic of Generation X and those that follow—mainly, I was (we were?) raised to think that, as a woman, I could “do anything,” which is obviously much more progressive than my mother’s generation. And yet, at 32, I still struggle with thinking that there is something wrong with me because I am not married and have no children. The responses I get from mainstream society feel like, yes, I can “do anything,” as long as that anything still includes a husband and family.
Another example would be the workplace/arts communities. I still work in a Corporate America largely run by white males. I still exist in a city where five of six full-length poetry presses are run by white males. I still see the majority of my female poet friends reluctant to submit their work or promote themselves. And I definitely exist among male peers who see no difference in my decision to exercise my voice or publish other female voices versus their decisions to use/support theirs. We’re equal now, don’t you know?
I want to use the small ways of my life to address these outstanding issues. I can’t write like a Rachel DuPlessis, an Erica Kaufman, or a Lara Glenum, but I can speak and write like my mother, my sister, my female friends and relatives who are still trying to fit into a fairly homogenous, oppressed space. I have seen and heard things, and this hearing and seeing comprises the space from which I now write. From this space, I am writing myself into an identity different than the one prescribed me, while gleefully respecting the varying notions of gender associated with the third wave (in addition to other third-wave ideals) and gratefully acknowledging the work of the second-wavers who have made it much, much easier for me to do so.