The New York Review of Books published an essay by Jian Ghomeshi in October entitled, Reflections from a Hashtag. Ghomeshi is a Canadian celeb who has been tried for violent sexual assaults, (there is no rape law in Canada) and he was found not guilty. Twenty plus women came forth to accuse him, but apparently it wasn’t enough to convict him. Jian himself in the essay acknowledges his wrong doing. That the NYRB published his snarky essay in which there is no apology for his actions, rather he casts himself as victimized by the attacks in the public sphere. This was offensive to enough people that they wrote in and filled 4 pages of responses to the publication castigating them for giving Jian, a brutal man, a platform. The New Yorker also weighed in, stating that Jian and his ilk of recently accused seem to believe that “the abuse of women is not the problem—naming it, and giving it consequences, is the problem.” Feminism, womanhood is taking quite a lashing these days from all sides including their own. As for myself . . .
When did I as a woman become aware of the power dynamics between the sexes? I was married when I was very young, just turned 17. We both lived in untenable situations and striking out on our own seemed a good idea. We were the children of a patriarchal culture and our life together was similar to our families. I was my husband’s servant. I worked a full-time job outside my home, was responsible for all household duties, I cooked, maintained a vegetable garden, canning its produce, I sewed, made clothes, drapes, cushions, I embroidered, made bread. I bought the car learned to drive, became the chauffeur. And my husband, who would go for months without talking to me, spent his time in his upstairs studio drawing. This went on for many years. I don’t blame my husband, we knew no different.
Henry David Thoreau’s book, Walden Pond is what caused my enlightenment. This man had a life, a real life. He was ethical and lived his beliefs! Where was I? Nowhere! I was an automaton going through the motions, and unhappy. During this time, I had such severe heartburn that I would double over in pain. Then I got mad. At some point, I remember my husband saying, Why are you mad, so mad all the time? I enrolled at the university and shortly we divorced. Below is a poem I wrote at the time:
Let me tell you about the men I share this ground with.
They have long angular bodies and big hands
that overreach and overwhelm.
And when men speak with heavy voices,
we all turn to listen. What is it they say?
We want everything.
David slew Goliath and went on his way.
Never having to live with the giant
he wasn't compromised by those big hands.
It was a simple matter, kill the motherfucker.
But what of us who live in the shadows?
I guess we all ignore it till it festers inside.
We smile and flirt and curse till we have jelly in the brain.
And then one day we open the empty refrigerator
and the light comes on . . .
I carry a sharp stone now and I live day by day.
I was now a free woman. What did that mean? I had no idea. What I knew was that men had power naturally given to them by the genitals in their pants. I was a pretty woman who men wanted to bed. That was going to change. Men had power to seduce women, why not seduce men, be the wolf. So a series of one-night stands, and it did help me to acknowledge myself as a sexual being with appetite. My husband and I had not had sex in many years.
The women’s movement was in full swing at the time. I remember an afternoon with the radio on and someone reading an essay by Betty Friedan. The cellar was flooded with two feet of water and the sump pump was not kicking in. I had to walk over to it and figure out what was needed, a pretty scary situation of standing in water half way up my calves while messing with an electric motor. Betty Friedan going on about women’s oppression upstairs did not pass by me without the thought that Betty might think otherwise in my situation with the possibility of being electrocuted. A foolish woman, is what I thought.
But, I did become director of the University Women’s Forum in college. Was I a feminist? My group of women and I were having a meeting in the office one day when my then lover unaware a meeting was taking place walking in and shamefacedly backed out. I became aware that the women’s estimation of me went up considerably when they saw my lover was the lawyer and campaign manager of the candidate running for governor. I was still being identified and valued for the man I was bedding, and what’s more somehow proud of it. But it didn’t fool me.
We all looked to men to validate us. That could not continue. If I was to be my own person I had first to care for women, to acknowledge their attributes, to love them, not something women are noted for. Primarily, we are competitors. I did not see women’s worth, dignity, their true beauty as I did men. The solution was to take on a lesbian relationship. Again a series of one-night stands, one failed relationship. Didn’t work, they were worse than men in their possessiveness and downright nastiness.
The famous lesbian and feminist, Kate Millett who wrote the book Sexual Politics took me under her wing and invited me to her women’s art colony. She became a dear friend and mentor, a serious woman and a beautiful writer that I greatly admired, respected and learned from. She was generous, she was crazy, energetic, domineering, demanding, a bitch on wheels, and above all totally dedicated to her art, to her writing, to her feminist colony. Kate was a true friend.
I became an independent woman by walking into a poetry class one day, an idea that at the time I thought to be frivolous, but maybe fun. It was the Stonecoast Writers’ Conference and it’s creator, Ken Rosen was the prof whose class I was taking. He was explaining one of Shakespeare’s sonnets, writing on the board when it came to me how the poem was created and its import. We were assigned to write a poem for the next day’s class. I didn’t sleep all night. After class the next day Ken invited me to his office and marveled at my poem and encouraged me to continue writing. But I already knew. It came to me the day before when I saw the words on the chalkboard that I had found my home.
Identity, personhood is the gift we give to the world, not the other way around. Am I a feminist? I am a woman. My label? Lorraine Saint Pierre.