Spring 2017: “Peace,” A Letter from the Editors

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Dear Readers,

Welcome to our Spring 2017 issue of Voices & Visions, rooted in the theme of “Peace.” We are honored to present the works of twenty-one young women authors and artists who attend women’s high schools, colleges, and universities worldwide.

As editors, we were surprised to find that many contributions to this issue portray situations which are far from peaceful. Rather, the acts of seeking and grappling pervade. How to find internal peace amidst external tension? What is the delineation between peace and positivity? Do notions of peace exist only by contrast? Is peace an idea; a feeling; a mindset; a question? How might we practice peaceful resistance to affect change? This issue inspires us to ask such questions by providing a space in which women, often looked towards for making and maintaining peace, may shine a light on the nuances of the word– reminding us, perhaps, not to conflate peace with passivity.

Often found in the time-slowed moments which we call poems, or the meditative spaces of prose; the motions of drawing and painting, or the still-life subject of a photograph, peace– like art– is a product of creation. We would like to thank our authors and artists for adding depth to our perspectives and hope that you, readers, will start your own quests for peace here.

Sincerely,
The Voices & Visions Editorial Team

Her

By: Afor Foncham

Mary Baldwin University, Virginia, USA

Her by Afor Foncham
“I was born and raised in Cameroon and moved to the US at the age of 10. Because I’ve been judged so much because of how I look and being African in general, I thought taking pictures and recording videos [would] be the best way for me to express myself and my vision. The whole purpose behind this picture was to show how beautiful black is. It was all inspired by the things I see on social media and hear about black women being loud, ugly, etc. So I took it upon myself to do this shoot with one of my very good friends. I just wanted to capture the structure of her face and the even pigmentation, plus the little flaws about her complexion.” –Afor Foncham, photographer

A Letter from East Germany to West Germany

By: Mariah Lewis

Agnes Scott College, Georgia, USA

When we were torn apart,
twins once conjoined,
a wall rose between us.
We spoke through messengers,
red telephones and cold warriors.
I’ve never been scared of what I’ve done before.
I’ve never been scared of what you’d do.
I lose thoughts to you every day.
We built this together, brick by brick.
We let our differences divide us,
and now lie in pieces,
in the middle of a staring contest
between nations, a test of wills.
If I destroy you, annihilate you,
I annihilate myself.
This has nothing to do with love.
This has everything to do with love.

Tatanka Oyate

By: Maya Bailey-Clark

Simmons College, Massachusetts, USA

Inspired by the Dakota Access Pipeline protests, written in response to the following video: 


These animals heard blood rolling under the earth.
They came in wide swaths across the plains,
Great Buffalo with heads bent and hirsute
called to that spot in dreams,
a shadow passing through the canvas of the tent.

Thousands stopped to listen to the rumble of them,
to yip from the tops of trucks while the pump of bullets
popping rubber against skin made maps of their ribs,
dark purple budding in wide circles above cartilage.

Over here, the grasses turn brown and then black with
soot from the flames that sleep in the blades of them.
I see a woman pacing with her child at her breast,
his mouth open wide to the aftertaste of sacrifice.

He Watches Over Me

By: Faizah Aziz Aditya

Asian University for Women, Bangladesh

 

The Dampara highway was abuzz at peak hour with vehicles of all shapes and sizes. A cacophony of shrill horns began at 8 pm. With office-goers returning home, trucks leaving the city after a day of carrying and selling raw materials, and long route buses coming and leaving, everyone was rushing towards their destinations.

Amongst this chaos of life, no cars pausing for even a millisecond, let alone making way for pedestrians to cross, three friends were stuck. After a nice evening out, these friends found themselves on one side of this highway, but needing to cross to the other.

After fifteen minutes of futile attempts to bravely put one step forth, these friends decided to approach the traffic police, their last hope; otherwise, they would have to stand there and wait until peak hour was over, an hour and a half away.

The traffic policeman seemed dejected– tired from the heat, the dust in the air, and the constant discord unique to unrhythmic shrieks of honking from an assortment of vehicles on a Bangladeshi road – rickshaws, CNGs, taxis, cars, vans, minibuses, tempos, buses, trucks.

The traffic policeman looked incredulous as the three friends asked him for what seemed impossible – to cross the damn road. Nevertheless, he nodded bleakly, out of responsibility as a uniformed officer if nothing else. His attempts were halfhearted, though, and who could really blame him? The ferocity and velocity with which each vehicle passed was beyond the hands of a mere traffic officer to stop.

Another ten minutes trickled by painfully, frustratingly, and it was still impossible to cross. Prottasha, the protagonist of this short story, stomped her feet in irritation and then paused, closed her eyes, took a deep breath to calm her nerves, looked at the other two sharply and said, “Follow me!”

She grabbed the hand of one of her friends, who in turn grabbed the other’s; she looked right before confidently striding across the road, her free hand authoritatively held out at the oncoming vehicles. With her palm and fingers outstretched, she walked forth, an image of Prophet Moses crossing the Red Sea, seeming a miracle-worker to her friends as vehicles stopped short of hitting them as they crossed.

What went through Prottasha’s mind at that exact moment, nobody can tell, but her friends surely had gone into shock. They walked quietly behind her, their eyes wide with terror and disbelief, their mouths a little parted, words failing them as Prottasha guided them to the other side with the same confident long strides.  Her friends’ feet shuffled and marched behind her of their own volition.

As soon as they reached the other side and the whirl of movements resumed on the highway, as if someone had hit the pause button and now hit play again, the two friends finally snapped out of their trance of terror and stared at Prottasha for a whole minute before throwing a jumble of questions, accusations, and comments her way:

“Are you crazy?!”

“Why did you do that? What if we had gotten hit?!”

“Oh god, my heart is still hammering in my chest!”

“My whole body is trembling.”

“You are crazy!”

“It was sheer luck we made it through!”

“Who even taught you to cross the road like that?!”

It was that last question which produced a reaction from Prottasha, who so far had been silently looking at her friends and letting them rant. She said, indignantly and boldly, “My dad.”

The response immediately brought a cold chill and silence to the group, as the two friends looked ashamed and apologetic. They could only muster a soft, surprised “oh!” and a mumbled whisper of “I’m sorry” in answer.

“I’m sorry for making you cross the road like that. I understand it seemed completely reckless, but how long were we going to just stand there and wait? Someone had to take action; even the traffic police didn’t help!”

One of the friends answered meekly, “I’m sorry for the tone I used earlier, I did not mean any disrespect to your father, but you do realize that was no way of trying to solve the problem– it was very risky!” her voice getting stronger near the end.

“Did you have any better ideas? We couldn’t just wait an hour or two in the middle of nowhere, we were getting late!” Prottasha snapped back before taking a deep breath and sighing.

Her voice steadier now, she looked back at the whirlwind of life rushing past them at breakneck speed and said, “Dad taught me how to cross the road when I was really young. I don’t remember much about him anymore, just snippets– a dialogue here, a black and white picture there, buried somewhere deep in the recesses of my mind– I doubt how authentic they really are…” Distant longing tinged her voice as she looked back at her friends.

“But this one,” she continued, “I remember vividly! I was seven years old. There was a narrow street in front of our house where cars would come and go infrequently, and I would always be so scared of crossing it on my way to school. Usually, mom or dad would hold my hand and help me cross, but one day dad said he would teach me how to cross so that it wouldn’t be such a Herculean task for me anymore.”

“So he took my hand, and I remember him saying, ‘you first look right, and then left, and then right again, and slowly but confidently and steadily cross the road.’ Then he paused and said, ‘Also, remember that the cars in the roads of Bangladesh never stop for anyone, so if you keep waiting, you will never be able to cross.’ He held out his hand towards the traffic, looked at me and said, ‘just hold out your hand confidently like this and cross, the cars will see your hand and understand you want to cross and will stop!’ ‘And remember,’ he added, ‘never run. You run, and you will get run over for certain. Always walk with long strides, and you’ll see you have crossed the road in no time!’ And then he made me cross the road on our way back to make sure I had practiced my lesson.”

Prottasha paused for a moment, a soft smile playing on her lips now, and said, “After his death that year, I don’t remember ever being scared to cross the road again. I have crossed the road all by myself ever since, as mom got busy working to support our family, and there was no one to hold my hand anyway.”

As she started walking again towards home, indicating for them to follow, she said, “It sounds ironic, but every time I cross the road now, I feel like he is watching over me. It is only amidst this whirl and cacophony of rushing vehicles and shrill honks that I vividly remember him and the way he used to securely hold my hand and smile at me as we crossed the road together. It is only amidst this chaos that his words give me protection and his memory gives me peace.”

 

For Fellowship

By: Marci Batchelor

Hollins University, Virginia, USA

You are back & side & make a be space
out of silent patches on other side & going toward
the going there doing silver mix between silver
& silver of tinker, toy, & fix. How can I really
know you man by your shell shape & teeth smile
walk face; little do you do to say hi to weather news
the flowers pretty nice, maybe some same maybe some
different, & maybe you’re some caring & maybe
you’re some busy & maybe you’re some shy,
& maybe you too see me go & too think maybe of me
go too go, but most likely no, most likely yes, probably
maybe though, most likely you see lots of round
& square things, God’s things: zinnias, snails, apples,
& charcoal colored sparrows. Real things: shovels
& hammers. Probably you know how it is to fly passenger
in a 747, ride a flat-tired bike, how it is to know sharp things,
tired things, how it is to drop sighs & do harm, & I see you
an older neighbor man who means nothing at all to me
yet who may mean an ocean of bubbly emerald to another.

Learning to Drive on Lower Highland Lake

By: Brittany Collins

Smith College,  Massachusetts, USA

I’m sixteen and sunburned. To my right, there is a line of birch trees straight as tooth picks. They stand tall like candles on a birthday cake of shore. Somewhere, a baby laughs. A fire burns. All is relevant.

Months ago, I sat alone in our family car with the engine off. My legs stuck to the seat as I held the wheel and sang to the stereo, peering through my window at stratus clouds above.

What does it mean to steer?

“It’s not the time of day that makes a trout want to eat; it’s the water temperature.” *

Serenity is watching a salmon sky give way to stars and bat wings. It is knowing how to resist. Knowing to keep still. In a metal boat on Lower Highland Lake, water seeps through invisible cracks—just enough to cover my Converse, to remind me of temporality. My seat shifts as worms twist in a plastic bucket. Expectancy abounds.

“Early anglers in Hawaii would embark upon lengthy fishing trips in dugout canoes provisioned with bananas… The farther they went, the fewer the fish, causing some of them to mistake correlation for causation.” **

Seated behind me, oars in hand, is my second cousin and his wife, Joan. Together, they craft a balance of humility and strength—outwitting the perch, getting tricked by sunfish. My iPhone is wrapped in a plastic bag tossed deep into a vinyl pack. It does not beep. My line bends into a delicate parabola above the water, cast and waving fast in the wind as we wait.

In the car, in my drive, I knew not how I would meet the road; how I would learn to stall and stop, to do K-turns when no one was watching. Our mailbox was an iron wall, a thorny thicket that I could not surpass.

On the lake, however, I do not see roads. I do not hear music, save for the bobolink and sparrow gossiping overhead. Three people in a boat and nobody is talking, for we are learning the language of quiescence, its syllables punctuated by the plunk of stones and the bubbles of creatures stalling beneath us. They gasp; I gasp; we keep out of sight.

At last, a tug. My “clown pole,” orange, leans towards luck. It is the same pole that caught plastic fish in the backyard of my childhood, sturdy as I cast its hook into soil; the pole with which my five-year-old hands pierced gummy worms—the red and clear kind—at a local fishing derby, determined to win. I think for a moment how proud it must be—my lovely clown pole—bright against the muck, just trying to fit in.

And then a flopping tail breaks the water. It is a rainbow trout, a fighter. The sinews of my wrist strain against its pull. We are wary of each other. My cousins chant encouragement from behind, and it feels as though a bird is caught on my line, a confused lark that was always meant to fly. Now is its chance, as it is mine and the clown pole’s, the three of us caught in a triangle of hope.

My forearm interrupts the potentials of this scene, shaking as the fish flies towards our boat. I say “flies” because it’s nicer than dangles; hangs; suffocates; the truth of the matter.

The trout is heavy and jeweled. I cannot control its path. My cousin, equanimitous in a linen shirt, watches as its tail comes closerandcloserand

                                                          SMACK

                                                                  Into his face!

He spits a fishy spit and grins, unfazed, at my flurried apologies. The fish bangs beneath us, muscular, and I do not think of its babies, or its gills, or the stratus clouds of our faces peering down into its home. I do not think of Elizabeth Bishop, or tinfoil eyes, or scansion. I can’t.

Cousin Dave hands me the oars, and I begin a rick-rack path to shore, but we stop. He knows. We peer at our rainbow in a box. It’s OK, he tells me as we take the fish from its pile of ice cubes and toss it into the water. It was never meant to fly. Or, if it was, it is not my duty to say so. Who puts a rainbow in a box?

Sometimes I think
of how nice it must feel
to slide through the water unseen.
And sometimes I think
of the water itself, slick
and cool and constant.
Sometimes I feel
the copper sand
the mica and algae and gems of the deep
but then I remember
hooks hanging down
in all the nice places
with worms of temptation
a floor of skeletal crayfish cast
in a sepulcher of sand

and I suppose

that we aren’t so different
that fish and I
gliding and dodging
dangling perils
potentials for change

they gasp; I gasp; we keep out of sight

but sometimes I don’t want to think
about mortality
or morality
or mentality

I don’t want to feel
like an ogre of the deep
or a plankton, either
I just want to float
like a lily on its pad
to wait and wade
where there are no hooks,
no crayfish,

just
the trout
just
me

calm

but we must move on.

So.

I sit muddy on a park bench licking a spoon goopy with fudge. The outlines of my cousin’s eyes are cast against woodlands, dusky and deep. Joan tells me about Scrabble; the VHS tapes that she borrowed from the library; her blueberry pie. Dave razzes my unsteady hand as I suck a cherry from its fluorescent stem. An owl darts through fir trees.

I’m sixteen and sunburned and in need of someone who can teach me how to drive– who will exhale when I slam on the brake, nod when I say I knew better. Somewhere, a fish swims, scarred and smooth. The skeleton of a crayfish puffs against sand as a toddler jumps through the water, clumsy. A bobolink cries. It was not meant to swim.

A teacher appears with tackle and toolbox; he does not flinch at a fish to the face. “David,” says Joan, “you will have to teach Brittany to parallel park, to look over her shoulder as she changes lanes.”

Correlation. Gummy worms.

Causation. Iron.

Months later, on an autumn afternoon, I’m in a denim jacket and leather boots, copper leaves flying around me. “Ready for the crooked bridge?” David asks. A creek laughs below as I learn a new kind of trust. We are not on but above water, and something is cast within me. Deep and lingering, it pulls against the strain of what I used to know and what I am coming to know. David talks about Moby Dick and antique car shows as I clutch my wheel, cautious on this beaten path—all pothole and gravel.

“Ready.”

* J.D. Bingman, owner of Wild Trout Outfitters
** Brian McGeehan, owner of Montana Angler Fly Fishing

Elegy for Brown-Skinned Kin

By: Dariana Guerrero

Smith College, Massachusetts, USA

Mama died sometime in June.

That was the first time I saw my father really cry.
It was like he was losing a part of himself,
the part that was made from a ribcage
and banished from the island.

I read my father
a poem by some white lady
because I thought it would
make the hurting echo
to pinprick or goosebump
or something finite like
the flesh of an apple.

I Am Losing Everything

By: Sofia Kwon

Kent Place School, New Jersey, USA

I am losing everything, and I don’t know why, and it seems like I’m the only one who notices. I walk around, limbless and lifeless, and my mother says, “Good morning,” and pours me cereal. The breakfast table moans under the weight of my white bowl, and the chair creaks in sympathy, but these sounds are interrupted by a dissonant birdsong. I hear the bird shrilling away, boastful and arrogant, and I want to go outside and snap its neck until I know every little bone has broken. Either it dies or it loses its voice, and I don’t care which as long as I never have to hear it again.

It wasn’t always this way. When I was little, I used to love birds. In fact, I used to love all animals. I watched rabbits on green, sloping hills of grass and weeds and flowers. I watched mice nibble cheese and squirrels scale a mountain of bark. I watched the neighbors’ domestic cats cross the street, bored and yawning lazily, but I loved birds most of all. I used binoculars to spot them perched on branches, hiding in the green, sleeping in a nest or moving their wings frantically to keep afloat. I devoured book after book about them. When I turned eight years old, I was given an encyclopedia about birds, and I turned page after page to see an owl with unblinking, yellow eyes surrounded by the cold and the white, or an ostrich, a clumsy majesty running in orange dust.

Now I am done with birds and animals and silly little things. I am standing in tight shorts and an oversized T-shirt that soaks up underarm sweat like a sponge in a bath. My legs are exposed, which means everybody knows that I haven’t shaved in a week. There is hair all over me in a tangled jungle.

“You’re a young adult now,” my mother told me when I turned thirteen. “It is time to be done with childish games.” She began teaching me how to play the piano, how to study, how to cook noodles. Yet she never prepared me for this: standing in a musty old gym in ratty sneakers surrounded by a bunch of bored, hormonal kids slouched against the wall, waiting to see me run against another girl—a girl more graceful than I. Chelsea is soft yet sharp, full of angles and curves. I am smudged, undefined, too hard for my own liking. She is blonde and tall and athletic, rosy-cheeked and bright-eyed. She puts her thick hair into a ponytail and smiles at her friends.

“It smells awful in here,” someone says.

I sigh. I wish Coach Bell would just blow the whistle already so I could get this over with. The more I stand here, the more I feel like I’m naked. I just want to run and then sit down and forget it all ever happened. And yet I don’t want to run ever, and I hope his whistle suddenly breaks. I hope that the whistle’s sound is replaced by a larger, more ringing noise—the sound of the bell signaling the end of class.

But the bell doesn’t ring and the whistle doesn’t break. Coach Bell blows it hard and suddenly I am pumping my legs as hard as I can and yet it isn’t enough. I feel like I haven’t moved. Meanwhile, Chelsea is far ahead of me. She touches a point on the gym floor to show that she’s done with her first lap. By the time Chelsea runs back to the start, I’ve barely touched that same point. I wish I could stop and take a breath. My lungs feel like they’re on fire. Suddenly my legs feel like they’re made of bricks, not bones. My breath comes out in shallow gasps. I feel the heat of everyone’s stares on me and there are tears in my eyes. I beg myself not to cry as I run back to the starting point, but the tears are blurring my vision and I’ve realized that my shoe is untied, but it’s too late because I am falling, I am falling, I am losing everything, I am falling—

BAM. I hit the floor.

Chelsea watches from the bench, where she has sat for a comfortable minute. I am on the floor. My face stings from the impact. I hear someone snigger, “Are you okay?”

Coach Bell blows his whistle again. It feels is if time was severely altered. I can only move sluggishly. Everything seems like it’s in slow motion. I cough and jog back to the starting point, and it seems like an eternity before I’m there. I tell myself, “Only ten more seconds ’til you’re there. Nine, eight, seven, and then you’re there. Six, five, four, three, two…”

I don’t realize the tears streaming down my cheeks until I’m back at the bench. People stare at me but say nothing; they just look away. One boy rolls his eyes.

Later, after the run, I will crawl into the corner of a bathroom stall and sit and wait for a while. I will wait until there are no more people in the locker room, until I hear no more laughter or chatter, until I’m alone and watched by no one. And then I will sit and think about how my mother told me that I have to grow up. I will wonder what she would tell me to do right now. And then I will stop thinking about my mother, and I will stop thinking about how I am losing everything, and instead I will think about birds. I will think about how they sing. I will wonder if they are at peace. I will wonder if they are happy.

Say Something

By: Bria Robinson

Agnes Scott College, Georgia, USA

So, another trip to Mississippi.

Let’s push past the flurry of award stares—   because I’m really…

an extension of my Momma’s long standing family fame

and standing in the frame of her shadow does not hide me from these vaguely familiar faces

Who just know I   owe them a hug

But

When nighttime hits

All these formalities fade fast

cause Mississippi nighttime frees up enough space in this increasingly small trailer

So I can saaaayy…

Something that I shouldn’t— something that shouldn’t come out my mouth

So “Kids go to bed!”

Cause adults want to save You from gettn’ popped in the mouth

Cause its Mississippi Nighttime

And I just remembered I’m in the

Backroom Bunkbed Social Hour

Me against 3

Me against three

I redeem my special Mississippi moment by staring out the window instead of…

Staring into the dark

for their faces

Cause Somebody, somebodies are going to say:

“Bria you know you wouldn’t look so bad if…

You didn’t look like a Cow”

Now I would’ve retaliated quickly to choke out the

Laughter

before it had a chance to overwhelm me but I was distracted by the unsettling sound

   Mhhmmmm

I’m not even fat… why would                          Mhmmmmmm

                                                        There it goes again

In a lighter tone

Is it my face?                                                    Mhhmmmmmmm… and again interrupting me

Maybe   well               Mhmmmmm

I’m…

Mhmmmmm

                                                         And I was the last to agree before we went to sleep

Why Do We Need Women’s Empowerment? A Personal Manifesto

By: Farida Naz

Asian University for Women, Chittagong, Bangladesh

Many people believe that women’s empowerment is a fancy term for feminism. Regardless of the good that feminist movements have achieved, many people don’t want to identify as feminists because of negative connotations associated with the word. Some people argue that there is nothing left for women’s empowerment because women already have equal rights in society. Yes, women do have more social, political, and economic rights than ever before. However, on a global level, women are still suffering from gender inequality and struggling with basic human rights like honor killings; child marriages; female genital mutilation; street harassment; rape; pay inequality; educational inequity, and more. In the modern world, women also have to deal with body-shaming, slut-shaming, and victim-blaming on a daily basis. Those who claim that women have equal rights fail to recognize this troubling global picture; they ignore the inequalities that accompany assigned gender roles and limit the abilities of both men and women.

We need women’s empowerment because the honor killing epidemic needs to be addressed. According to survey data, around 2,000 women in India and Pakistan are killed by family members every year in an effort to “restore the family’s honor.” This crisis violates the right to life and is motivated by cultural norms. In both countries, the actual rates of honor killings are much higher than the survey reports; most of the time, family members commit the killings, thus there is no one to report the case on behalf of the victim. In Pakistan, in July 2016, the social media star Qandeel Baloch was killed by her brother in the supposed name of family honor. Her brother’s explanation for the murder was that “girls are born to stay home.” In a press conference, he announced: “I am proud of what I did… I drugged her first, and then I killed her. She was bringing dishonor to our family.” Police investigations later revealed that her brother was a drug addict with a history of theft. He is now a murderer. This is the situation in male-dominant societies like Pakistan; if a male is a thief, drug addict, and even a murderer, that doesn’t bring shame to the family. On the other hand, if a female becomes famous because of her hard-work and talent, that brings shame to the family because “girls are born to stay home.”

We need women’s empowerment because, daily, nearly 40,000 girls are wed before 18. In 36% of cases, the girls are younger than fifteen. Child marriages take away the childhoods of little girls and push them into the responsibilities of married life. These young brides cannot continue their education, they cannot enjoy their childhood, and they have more health complications and high maternal mortality during childbirth. According to a report by the organization “Because I am a Girl,” a girl under the age of eighteen is wed every two seconds. If this issue is not addressed, more than one hundred and forty million girls will become child brides by the year 2020. Early marriages are forced marriages. Most common in South Asia and Africa, they are often motivated by the perceived obedience of younger wives. In patriarchal societies, men still want to dominate their partners. They don’t want a significant half; rather, they want a submissive sex slave and a servant to meet their needs. Parents wed their daughters early to protect girls from sexual violence. However, ironically, child marriages hold a larger risk of sexual abuse and domestic violence than adult marriages.

We need women’s empowerment because Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), procedures that intentionally alter or cause injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons, is happening in twenty-nine countries and is practiced on girls as young as five months old. FGM prevents girls from having pleasurable sex and is viewed as protection against promiscuity. More than two-hundred-million girls and women alive today have been cut in thirty countries between Africa, the Middle East, and Asia. FGM has many short and long term health effects; the procedure may cause excessive bleeding, problems with urination, vaginal infection, sexual difficulty, and a high risk of mortality during childbirth. FGM, a very brutal act, is done to girls only because they are female. We need women’s empowerment to educate others about such deadly societal norms, to safeguard human rights, because FGM is not a “women’s problem,” it is the violation of human rights.

We need women’s empowerment because girls have fewer opportunities to receive an education in developing countries due to limited resources and gender parity. Providing education to girls will help to end vicious cycles of poverty. Education is a fundamental human right, but, sadly, women comprise two thirds of all the illiterate adults worldwide, as well as 60 percent of the world’s poorest people. Pakistani activist for female education and the youngest-ever Nobel Prize laureate, Malala Yousafzai, was shot to death because she stood up for girls’ education. In conservative societies, we need more people like Malala. We need more empowered women who can stand up for our rights.

We need women’s empowerment because women experience terror when walking alone under the moon and, in some places, even under the sun. Street harassment is a major problem faced by women, including myself, on daily basis. The Stop Street Harassment study, “Statistics– The Prevalence of Street Harassment,” reveals other staggering data. Public violence and street harassment are serious problems for:

79% of women living in the cities of India

86%  in Thailand

89% in Brazil

75% in London

These high rates of street harassment prove that women are treated as inferior. Women face serious insults in the streets every day. In addition to street harassment, sexual harassment is a grave problem.

The worst kind of street harassment is rape. Sadly, we are living in societies where rape is a common problem. Women are the major victims. The United States, the “superpower” of the world, holds the first position in rape cases. We are living in a rape culture where women are blamed for having been raped. Women are “slut-shamed” for provoking ever-innocent men. Instead of asking men to stop dehumanizing others, to stop snatching their rights, women are asked to wear proper clothes, to behave properly in order to avoid rape.

We need women’s empowerment because women are still defined by their looks. Women are pressured by media and the beauty industry to have skinny bodies and flawless faces. The beauty standards of mass media are one of the main reasons behind the bullying of young girls in high schools. Such harassments have devastating effects: depression, low self-esteem, anti-social behavior, seclusion, and even suicide. If women are obese, they may face problems in their marriage and personal life. Studies even show that obese women tend to make lower wages than other women. Due to such pressures from society, some women have potentially fatal surgeries if they can afford them, while others face social stigmatization and “fat-shaming.” Today, women across the globe are struggling with severe eating disorders like anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, binge eating disorder, among others. According to one study, every 62 minutes at least one person dies as a direct result from an eating disorder. Women form the majority of people who suffer from eating disorders, and a major reason for such disorders is the standard of beauty given to us by the media. Healthy women are rarely happy with their bodies due to thin models whose beauty is manipulated in TV ads. Dark-skinned women are subjected to the pressure to look paler and pale-skinned women are lying under the sun for hours to get tan, no matter that overexposure to ultraviolet rays is known to cause skin cancer. The media is successful in making us all uncomfortable with our skin and our body types.  Competitions such as Miss Universe, Miss World, and other beauty contests make women self-conscious about their looks; beauty contests say that they judge participants on the basis of “knowledge, sensitivity, social commitment and intelligence,”  but I wonder: what does physicality have to do with intelligence and knowledge? If competitions seek to test social commitment, then why are the participants almost nude on the stage and catwalk? If these are the standards for testing intelligence, then why aren’t men asked to do ramp walks in underwear to demonstrate their knowledge? We need empowered women to stop the beauty propaganda on TV advertisements, to make people comfortable with their bodies, to stop judging people on the basis of their looks.

Women’s empowerment is a belief that women should be treated the same as men, not because women are better than men, but because women are also human beings and they have the same human rights as men in any society, in any time period. Men don’t have joyful lives in many societies due to gender parity. We need empowered women to ensure equal rights for all and for equal division of labor in society. Men are often considered money makers and providers for the family. Even if the women in a family have equal or more income than the men, men are still expected to bring more money to the family and to take care of family’s financial needs. One common expectation of men is that they be physically powerful: big, strong, muscular, and not vulnerable to any challenge. Men are expected to not express their emotions publicly. A common phrase in our society is “Men don’t cry.” Gender roles are holding society back. According to a study published on the Change Our World website, boys, due to gender parity, are twice as likely as girls to be diagnosed with a learning disorder. Thirty percent of boys are more likely than girls to drop out of school, they report. Tragically, they grow up into men who are also more likely to binge drink and around four times more likely than females to commit suicide. Gender roles limit the abilities of individuals and reinforce stereotypes about gender in society. It is time to appreciate the abilities of individuals for what they are regardless of their gender and sex.

I want to be an empowered woman because I don’t believe in a narrow definition of masculinity or femininity. I agree with British actress and activist Emma Watson who said, “Both men and women should feel free to be sensitive, both men and women should feel free to be strong.”

Black Friday

By: Beth Derr

Smith College, Massachusetts, USA

Grandmother. We, your oldest and youngest
granddaughters (two of twenty)
make our pilgrimage to your ashes
this rainy day after subdued Thanksgiving
to break our ten-year silence.

Forgive our wandering path toward you;
the roads in this cemetery caress the hills,
but you rest in a valley, we think.
We fan out and read the names of the dead
until my boots, wet with morning rain,
face your plain square headstone.

We clear the lichen from your name;
we set the record straight.
Your stone will be the most pristine,
most recently loved,
despite no flowers withering there –
we know you wouldn’t want them.

“How hard it was to live,” my cousin says
while scraping a twig against stone.
You lost the love of your life in a boxing match
married my grandfather within six months
then lost him to the Spanish flu.

Seventeen years and six children
four still here and stubborn as ever
two lost early and buried up the hill.
We cleaned their stone too, Grandmother.

We place two smooth acorns atop your shared grave
and clear the shards that the squirrels have left.
Did you live so nobly only to be a perch, Grandmother?
Outlasting your husband by forty years
governing children and property
Did his death set you free, or drown you?

We have cleaned your tomb, Grandmother.
We have taken our pictures
and though we never met
I feel you would be proud –
I wear a Smith hat, just like you.

Factory Traditions

By: Daania Tahir

Laurel School, Ohio, USA

 

My name is Gem

I am 11 years old

I have no family

I was born to work

These are the thoughts that I wake up to, that pound in my head like a marching rhythm as I make my rounds at the mill, the weight of each barrel threatening to collapse my body at any minute. It took some time for me to be able to strip myself down to these four sentences, but it wasn’t long ’til I realized that they’re all I am anymore. The bags under my eyes are embedded in my skin, are just another feature of my face that reminds me of my duties. The sunken cheekbones, hunched spine, splintered hands— all just symptoms of a factory worker, of a sickness that plagues us all day and night, a sickness that can’t be cured. My mother passed away a year ago, so I was shipped off to the factory to spend the rest of my days making a meager amount of money that’s of no use when you live in an alleyway. A few pennies doesn’t do much when you fall asleep next to rubbish and wake up to rodents scurrying past and envy their energy. The walk is far too long— three or four miles off— but I learned to stop my fussing long ago. Complaining lost its zeal. We work bare, no trousers or shoes, vulnerable to the bone and susceptible to salacious stares from the men. I’ve learned to avert my eyes and ignore their lewd smirks, but I still quiver. Newcomers often wail, their agony echoing for days until it fades away and joins the rest of our beaten souls. The strenuous labor takes a toll on our fragile bodies, but we are compelled to work no matter the loss of our youth. If we do not, we are whipped; slashed until our skin is numb; shaken and scourged until we are slapped back into the fine, working machines we are supposed to be. We are not allowed to break. My mother told me that she named me Gem because I was one. “Bright and intuitive,” she’d say, “clever and gifted, flames and embers roaring inside.”  She said my spirit was too radiant for the insipid factory to dampen it.

But it was enough. The harrowing labor silenced my roaring flames to a dull ache. The screams of anguish painted over my vibrant spirit to match the grey monotone of the factory. My heart was scratched and shredded until all that was left were a few tattered remains:

My name is Gem

I am 11 years old

I have no family

I am born to work

A Good Man and The Gorge

By: Lauren Calderella

Simmons College, Massachusetts, USA

 

By my third holiday with Jane’s family, Oregon wasn’t verdant anymore, but it was green. I remember how it felt to see Oregon for the first time. I went out to visit my aunt in Northeast Portland and watched the sun set over the ocean rather than rise, stood under evergreens that towered over me like giants from a storybook. When we hiked through Multnomah, I took a drink from a spring that trickled down the mountain. Later, driving along the gorge to her home, I sat in the backseat and stared at the green mountains reaching into the sky, sweeping down to the edge of the Columbia River.  I determined, in that moment,  that this land was the most beautiful I had ever seen, and I took pictures with my digital camera because I thought I’d never see it again. When I returned to the East Coast, I saw the world as a verdant place, full of growth and meaning.

I was twenty when I met Jane. She said that she was from Oregon, and I told her that I’d been there two or three times to visit family, so we had something in common right away. We were soon going together, and I was spending part of the holidays with her family each winter. Though I didn’t know it at the time, I became a part of something larger than anything I had known before.

I never thought that I’d lose the image of Oregon as a flourishing, prosperous place. I didn’t account for the possibility that my perception of the Pacific Northwest would continue to change in drastic ways, shifting each time I flew out for the holidays, or for the reality that Jane’s father, Richard, would soon lose his battle with esophageal cancer. When Richard was first diagnosed, the doctors didn’t give him a number, but they soon gave him a mere six months and, during the final winter, seven days.

Jane and I were visiting for the holidays. Like every other winter, we fell into a routine. In the mornings, or by noon at the latest, we got into the car. Sometimes we knew where we were going, other times we didn’t, but we drove all the same because we had to. If we stayed home, we would spend the day wishing that there was something we could do to stop Richard’s decline. There wasn’t anything to do except drive, so we backed out of the driveway each day, and that’s when Jane would start smoking, and I would start drinking, and we’d go along like that, in between and underneath the trees tall and dark. Jane would then remind me that her town is in a valley, that the mountains were all around us.

“It doesn’t feel like a valley,” I’d say. And she’d reply, “That’s because we’re in it.”

“Elizabeth, honey, you just make yourself at home,” Irene said one afternoon during my stay.

“Thank you.”

“This is your home too, you know.”

“Thank you,” I said, grinning this time because I hadn’t the first.

We were seated on the couch. Jane lifted her hand and set it on my thigh, her eyes still on the TV screen. Richard was asleep on a bed in the living room. His hospice nurses had set up the space a week before. Every so often, when Irene said something loudly, he would startle a little and scan the room weakly before drifting off. His hands, gaunt and blackened, were limp at his sides. The blotches of discoloration that covered his body looked like bruises, blood blisters, or something that I’d never seen before. His jeans hung loosely on his legs, their waistline crunched together like an accordion with an old belt that someone had stabbed extra holes into.

“Well, I’ll let you girls be,” Irene said.

She turned and started out of the room, then stopped in the doorway to face us again.

“Are you girls comfortable here? Has the bed been alright?”

“It’s great,” I said. Irene bent over and poked her head out toward us.

“Are you sure?” Her southern voice elongated her final word.

“Yes,” I said.

She looked at us narrowly for a moment, then straightened up and said, “Well, alright, you just let me know.”

Jane and I smiled. I looked at Richard on the other side of the room.

“Hey, how about some chicken for dinner?” Irene said. “Elizabeth, I got the best recipe. Richard used to love it.”

“We’re going to make something later,” Jane said.

“Alright, well just let me know if you change your mind.” Irene walked over to Richard’s bedside and positioned herself in the line of our vision.

“You need anything, Papa?”

Richard groaned faintly.

“The nurse said we can do another dose of morphine at five. Just a little while longer.” She looked down at Richard, who was quiet, “It’s almost four now.”

Jane peered around her mother like a child. My heart quickened, stomach tightened, and the room grew hot. After a few minutes at his side, Irene left and let Richard rest.

I put my hand on Jane’s, which was still resting on my thigh, and she turned her gaze towards mine. She wasn’t looking at me, though— her eyes were merely open. Tracing the shape of her hand to hold her attention, I sent a message to Jane with my eyes. It went unreceived. Jane looked through me, through the wall behind me, and into the other side of reality. Her mouth and eyes were open and unmoving. Tears fell slowly over the edges of her eyelids, but her face remained frozen. I shook her arm gently, and she blinked for the first time in minutes, then nestled her head into my arm.

Trudi, Jane’s sister, walked out of her room and into the kitchen. She looked at Jane as she passed. For a moment, I thought that she was going to speak, but she instead continued on, her presence undetected by Jane and altogether unbeknownst to Richard who was asleep across the room.

It was good to be alone with Jane, but the silence that ensued when everyone retired made it hard for us to run from reality. Nights were still and dark, lacking the noises of day that helped to keep the truth concealed. We held each other and spoke very little.

Later that night, Jane and I still seated on the couch, I gestured toward the door with my eyebrows raised. Jane nodded. Closing the door gently behind us, we carried our things outside and got into Jane’s car, though it was hidden underneath a thick layer of snow. As the engine started, music resumed playing— a half-finished song on an old CD that we only listened to while in Oregon. Jane leaned back in the driver’s seat and shut her eyes. A blanket of snow blocked the glow of streetlights and kept her car perfectly dark. We sat there with the music playing, unable to see through the windows or into anything else.

“I feel like we’re in a submarine,” I said. Jane smiled, her eyes still closed, then sat up and looked at me.

“I like it,” she said.

I finished swallowing, then handed her the bottle. I watched Jane as the music played. “Sweet little baby in a world full of pain. I’d like to be proud, but somehow, I’m ashamed.”

The orange flicker of a lighter illuminated Jane’s face for a couple of seconds. She looked vibrant and beautiful, but then it went dark. In our submarine, Jane handed me a blunt. It sizzled as it pulled, and when I handed it back to Jane, I found her staring out the window at our wall of snow.

“I just remembered,” she said. “We still have that champagne leftover from New Year’s.” She reached into the backseat and moved things around, revealing an open bottle of rosé Mumm Napa.

“It’s so cold,” she said between sips.

My world was spinning. I listened to the sound of the champagne splashing back to the bottom of its bottle as Jane set it down. We switched back and forth as the song sang “Mama, there is only so much I can do. Tough for you to witness, but it was for me too.”

“I can’t remember which way the car is facing.”

“Me neither,” she said, handing me the champagne.

“What are we celebrating?”

“Life,” she said. She was holding in smoke, and her voice sounded funny. As she exhaled, she looked directly at me with bloodshot eyes. Minutes went by. She continued to stare at me through the darkness of the car, and I watched as her eyes glazed over.

“Jane,” I whispered. She was looking straight through me. “Jane,” I said.

 

* * *

 

Jane’s face glowed green as we laid on the air mattress in the middle of her room, shelves of servers and routers and monitors blinking around us.

“What did he do with all of this stuff?”

“I don’t know,” she said. “When I was in high school, I always saw him playing with his computers and gadgets, but I never knew what he was doing.”

We looked up at the machines.

“A lot of these are just spare parts from Intel,” she said. “My mom will probably donate them.”

“You should save them,” I said.

“And do what?”

“I don’t know,” I said after a moment. Jane laughed, and then I laughed too. She rolled over and rested her head against my chest. We closed our eyes and listened to the hum of the machines as they worked relentlessly into the night. Defeated, we fell into a heavy sleep.

In the morning, I asked Jane to take me to the gorge.

“Make sure they’re not calling for fog,” she said.

“It won’t be foggy.”

“Can you just check?” Jane said.

They were calling for some fog—an unsurprising prediction given that clear days are few and far between in the Pacific Northwest.

“It’ll be clear,” I called from the other room as I got my things together. I hoped that once we got to Vista Place we would see far down the river to the jutting cliffs. Most of all, I hoped that the height would allow things to seem better than they did on the ground.

The car was quiet as we drove along the highway. It was daytime, but we spoke very little. Jane and I passed a blunt back and forth, and I tried to think of something to say that would make things better, but instead I said nothing. Jane took a pull from the blunt as she looked ahead at the road, and the burning end glowed. Along the highway, the evergreens wept under heavy, wet snow. The wind whooshed past the body of the car and made its way through the cracks of the doors. As Jane accelerated, the wind grew louder, concealing the fact that neither of us had said a word in over an hour. We were heading so fast down the edge of the water that it felt as if we were in a speedboat ripping through waves, going straight out to sea.

From Vista Place, we watched the waves in the gorge crash violently. Amid the choppy water, the whitecaps were still visible, and as I looked down at them from the top of the mountain, it felt like I was in the middle of the river, struggling to keep from going under.

“That’s Washington,” Jane said.

“Right there?”

“Yes.”

“It’s like the inlet,” I said. She laughed.

“I guess that’s what they ought to call it.”

“I just mean it’s like the inlet in Point,” I said. “Point’s on one side and Squan is on the other.”

Jane looked out over the gorge.

“It’s like a big inlet,” I said after a moment, and she agreed.

We sat in the car, which shook powerfully from the wind, looking ahead to the split in the earth that separated one state from another. The winding turquoise water shimmered brilliantly with the image of the afternoon sky, and we could see cliffs jutting out into the river for miles. The sun shone brightly, and the undulating earth made me feel small.

Jane and I watched as a man walked forcefully against the wind and up to the ledge that overlooked the water. The wind swept his cap right off his head and into the gorge.

“It’s a long way down,” I said.

 

* * *

 

Later, on Jane’s couch, it felt as if we hadn’t gone up to Vista Place at all. From behind us, her mother walked out.

“What did you girls do today?”

“We went to the gorge,” Jane said.

“Oh, Jane,” Irene said. “Did you take her to see the waterfalls?”

“No.”

“You didn’t take her to the waterfalls?” she asked.

“No. I forgot. We’d already gone up to the mountain anyway.”

“Oh Jane, it had to have been just a little bit further.”

Jane said nothing.

“We went to Vista Place,” I said. “It was beautiful.”

Her mother turned around and started back into the kitchen.

“What’d you have to go and do that for?”

“What?” Jane said.

“Forget it. But you couldn’t have taken me?”

“I didn’t know you’d want to go,” she said.

“I didn’t know they existed until a second ago.”

Jane looked out at me quietly. As I studied the sloping shape of her eyes, I knew that the gorge hadn’t changed anything and that the waterfalls wouldn’t either. But maybe they would, I thought.

“Have you seen the waterfalls before?”

“Yes,” she said.

“What were they like?”

“Like Wahkeena and Latourell and all the other ones I’ve taken you to.”

I looked off to the side, blinking rapidly, thinking back to all of the beauty Jane and I had experienced together over time, in the Pacific Northwest, but in other places too.

“Next time,” Jane said. “I promise.”

“I don’t care if we go anymore.”

“My mom will be mad if we don’t,” she said after a moment, and we both laughed.

 

That night, I came out to find Jane in the living room kneeling at Richard’s side, her hand across his stomach and her head on his chest, saying something softly which I could not hear. I stood there for a moment, then backed out of the room and sat down on Jane’s bed, my feet on the ground, my head heavy in my palms.

“Let’s get a drink somewhere,” Jane said in the doorway. I agreed, and she began to collect her things.

“He’s a good man, Jane. But he’s suffering so much,” I said.

Jane looked up as she slid her arm into her coat and looked carefully at me before speaking.

“I know,” she said.

On the outskirts of Portland, we approached a stone building with a sign outside that read “Joe’s Cellar” in block, capital letters, and I asked Jane to pull in.

“Let me take you somewhere nicer,” she said.

“This looks nice enough.”

Inside, after we’d settled at the bar, a man asked what we would like.

“Two Glenlivets,” I said.

“We’re out of Glenlivet right now.”

“Glenfiddich?”

“That we do have.”

The man turned to the counter behind him, looking up at the high shelves.

“We have twelve and eighteen,” he said.

“Twelve, please.”

“Ice okay?”

I nodded. Jane looked around the bar at the photographs hanging on the walls. The man set two glasses down in front of us, filled them halfway with ice using a small, silver shovel, and poured Glenfiddich, not Glenlivet, into each one.

“Is there anywhere else you’d like to go tonight?”

“No,” she said, swinging her legs back around. “I don’t think so.”

Jane and I sat in silence with our arms on the counter, looking ahead. The scotch was both warm and very cold.

“We’re going to spread his ashes over the gorge,” Jane said without turning to face me.

“Why the gorge?”
“I don’t know. Is there a reason to anything anymore?” She took a long sip from her glass, and I looked down at mine, a shimmery mirage of melting ice forming swirls in the scotch. I shook my head, which hung heavily over my glass, and I shook it still, having not replied, as Jane swallowed the last of her scotch and looked ahead with her eyes merely open.