Yesterday, in honor of International Women's Day, one of my favorite grad school professors posted this picture with this Facebook post: ""To the Women of the Confederacy' erected 1909-11 on the SC statehouse grounds. "They were steadfast and unafraid," proclaims the pedestal. This century old monument to female strength was inspired, in part, by Jim Crow era myth-making."
I wrote: "Even though I knew its troubled history, and I knew all the ways that the idea of Southern womanhood had been used to oppress all sorts of people, I still found it a comfort--I would walk to the State House grounds and remind myself that any grad school tribulations I might have had did not compare to life during war time." Then I remembered a poem that I wrote long ago that was published in an online journal Clapboard House, which is sadly no longer online. Of course, I still have a copy of the poem: Progress
The statue, a tribute to Confederate Womanhood, keeps her bronze eyes fixed on the statehouse, while her metal children clutch her skirts. Inside, women throng into the chambers, this once male bastion of legislative power. The current law states a husband cannot be charged with the rape of his wife; a wife is property, to do with as a man pleases. Females of all ages bear witness, testify to the violated sanctity of home and hearth. Only one senator remains unswayed by their pleas for a twentieth century view. He doesn’t approve of racial integration either.
This morning, when I was looking for it, I came across the version that I had written as a sonnet:
Inflamed by laws we deem unfair, we approach the leaders of our state. In this chamber, men stop to stare, and ask if women deserve their fate.
The current law has stated a husband cannot be charged with rape. This issue engenders hatred on both sides of the political tape.
Females of all ages testify to the harm of violation. Only one senator remains mystified. He still does not approve of integration.
The law is changed and we rejoice. We tell our daughters of the power of the human voice.
And yes, it's based on a true incident. Until 1989 or so, it was legal in South Carolina for a man to rape his wife. I was part of a campaign to change that law. I remember heading over to the State House after my graduate school classes at USC (an easy walk) and watching the proceedings. I didn't testify, since I had no horrifying stories, but I like to think that the fact that so many women jammed the meeting halls led to the change in that law.
And yes, some of the legislators really did look puzzled and/or annoyed that so many women were there, back in the days of very few women legislators anywhere.
I like to think we've made progress, but when I look at pictures of state houses and federal buildings, I still see a lot of old, white, male faces. But there are female faces and minority faces and younger faces. We are making progress--it's just taking longer than my grad school self would have believed.
A poet, a scholar, an administrator, a wanna-be mystic--always wrestling with the temptation to run away to join an intentional community--but would it be contemplative? social justice oriented? creative? in the mountains? in the inner city?--may as well stay planted and wrestle with these tensions and contradictions here, at the edge of America.