CONFRONTING SOME OBJECTIONS TO THE #METOO MOVEMENT
Since the acceptance and publication of “The Discontinuity at the Waistline: My #MeToo Poems” I’ve gotten into conversations with several people who also say #MeToo, I’ve also encountered a number of people who have reservations about, or downright objections to, the #MeToo movement. Here are some examples, as well as examples of my “objections to the objections”:
- In my course, Societal Issues on the College Campus, which I just finished teaching at Drexel University’s Honors College, we had occasion to talk about #MeToo. In his homework one of the students honestly expressed his puzzlement with the movement, what the point of it was. He seemed to be uncertain as to whether the movement consisted of women “coming forward”. I wrote on his paper that that was NOT what the movement consisted of; the point of the movement is, in my view, admitting to ONESELF any past negative sexual experiences, including but not limited to rape and assault. “Coming forward” both enhances and advances the movement. But, as I wrote on my student’s homework paper, many women who do NOT “come forward” are still part of #MeToo, as are people like me who have nothing overt to “come forward” about.
- One of my sons feels uncomfortable with the movement because he feels that it excludes men, that things happen to men, too, and men aren’t being responded to within the movement in the same way that women are. My answer to that is, the people that I know do acknowledge that men have often been sexually wronged. And that this IS acknowledged with the movement, or in my view the better part of it. In fact, one poem in “My #MeToo Poems” is a piece of flash nonfiction about the mother of a male child who has been molested.
- Another poem in that book deals with another objection to the #MeToo movement. In that poem (titled “Statements, 2019), I describe how a friend of mine, whom I called Mary, believes that “too much is being made about #MeToo”. The women should get over it, she says. They’ve been helicopter-parented, over-protected, raised to be fragile, weak, underpowered. “Get over it,” she keeps saying. In the poem (titled “Statements, 2019”) I say that “I’m someone who gets over things (such as the death of my third baby at two days, and my first husband’s multiple sclerosis, the 26-year odyssey of caregiving, verbally and financial abuse, and a different sort of grief from the sudden loss of Kerin). I get over things, move on, in the sense that these things didn’t ruin my life. But “I bemoan how society views sex. We’re a rape culture, assault culture, seduction culture, harassment culture, sexist culture, oversexed culture.” And that shouldn’t be. Women and men shouldn’t have to “get over it”; it should be there for us to have to get over.
- Another friend, over lunch, shared her #MeToo thoughts. She didn’t identify, e.g., with the woman who appeared on “Rachel”, who at the age of 14 was seduced in spending time, which involved nakedness and touching, with Jeffrey Epstein and was eventually, age 15, raped by him. My friend didn’t understand how or why she spent time at his place. I also don’t completely identify. I would never have been alone in a room with Epstein. However, in my poem “13 on the Bus”, I wrote about how I (aged 13, on the bus ride to my music and arts high school, allowed an old man whom I perceived to be lonely and sensitive, to hold my hand. But I never, at any age, felt tempted in any way to have naked physical contact with anybody whom I didn’t love in that way. I was and am afraid of sex with anybody I don’t know, love, and trust. I was good at saying no, or the equivalent. And I might not have had the same personality or background as Epstein’s rape victim. Nor was I a “horny virgin”. Still, I can still identify with her in SOME ways — MANY ways. Those ways, or many of them, are depicted in “My #MeToo Poems”. Mainly, I have, along with most people, experienced unwanted sexual activity, in its subtle and not so subtle forms. That’s why I echo “#MeToo”. That’s why I wrote the book.
ONE MOTHER-WRITER, ONE ODYSSEY
When I first began to identify as a writer, in my early 30s, I took Barbara Ruth’s writing workshop at what was then the Penn Free Women’s School. In that workshop I wrote a lot about motherhood. Much of what I wrote was what I called, and was later called by feminists, “the politics of motherhood”. I was, at the time, madly in love with my then-two children, Marielle aged six and Arin aged two, while at the same time feeling, strongly, that mothers constitute an oppressed class. Part of my theory included the credo, “but that’s not a reason for a woman to decide to not become a mother.” I wrote about the societal symptoms/examples of this oppression, much of it subtle. One of my pieces, e.g., was titled “People Who Just Love Kids” (the conclusion: many such people “just hate mothers”). Another was “What Do the Babysitters Think of the Mothers?”, which had a related conclusion.
And when Kerin, my third baby, was born with complications leading to her death at the age of two days, I wrote what I think I can claim was part of the pioneering literature of such loss. I wrote, first, a piece for Hera, our local radical-feminist newspaper at that time (the 70s) about the plights of both mothers and “womanbabies”. I also wrote “Kerin-poems”, which were shared with my babyloss support group, eventually published in MOTHERING and soon other journals, both mother-oriented, loss-oriented, and literary. I placed the poetry chapbook “She Was Born She Died”, a trilogy diary about the loss, subsequent pregnancy, and life with the subsequent baby, and an anthology of babyloss poems. Every time something happens to me, I seem to write several books about it!
Back to Barbara’s Ruth poetry workshop for women, several women in the workshop were quite interested in what I had to say about motherhood, and it was in this workshop that I realized that the writing I’d been doing since babyhood was not only not-crazy, not only too private, but also something that could actually be helpful to others. I realized that my writings didn’t apply only to me. I had not, of course, written about motherhood when I was a child/teenager, but it was the motherhood writings that got me going as a writer seeking publication.
Now, some males disdain/disrespect women, and some males disdain/disrespect mothers – in particular, writer-mothers. And some people, women included, might believe that it’s easy to write about motherhood, anybody can do it, or at any rate any mother. As though, somehow, writing about motherhood is cheating. (As though, perhaps, writing about things that a writer cares about is cheating.)
And so it got back to me that an unidentified male poet had said about me, “All Marion Cohen writes about is dead babies”. Well, not only did I feel there was nothing bad about that, but also I had already proved him wrong via my math Ph.D. and my book of “math poetry”. And over the decades – four decades, to be more explicit – I’ve proved him wrong via, e.g., my other book of math poetry and becoming a pioneer among “math poets” – the first, e.g., to contribute, to Bridges Math/Art annual conferences, literary rather than visual art. I’ve also proved him wrong via my chapbooks of thrift-store poetry, solipsist poems, and poems about the interaction in the course I developed and teach, Mathematics in Literature. I’ve proved him wrong in many ways and no, proving him wrong hasn’t been the main thrust, or any thrust at all, of my life. Still, remembering what he said angers me.
I have also, over the decades, written about motherhood as often and as fervently as I damn please. Mostly, I incorporate these writings, including further Kerin-poems, into my other books. Also, my essay “On Not Teaching Addition: A Homeschooling Parent Teaches and Researches Math”, is about to appear in the January 2020 issue of The Humanistic Mathematics Journal. I have definitely been mother-identified. I am not trying to pass for non-mother.
And so I have not given up on seeing, between covers, my “Devin poems”.
Devin was my fifth and last baby, and in some ways, with him, he was the one I was best in parenting, in particular at experiencing parenting. The Devin- pregnancy/birth/post-partum period was special in several ways. Devin was my second subsequent baby after the devastating loss of Kerin. Devin was also born when I was two weeks shy of 43, and the mother of 16-year-old Marielle. Also, between Devin and the first subsequent baby, I had had four miscarriages. And finally, Devin’s father was eight years into his multiple sclerosis diagnosis, and a wheelchair-user since before Devin’s conception. I loved and felt pride in the specialness of these circumstances. However, I didn’t give them even a mention in my “Devin poems” because what I felt while writing those poems was simply the joys and Angsts of this stage in this woman’s life.
Over the almost 34 years since the writing of those poems, many of them appeared in literary and motherhood journals. But they didn’t appear as a book because, for whatever reason, I didn’t send out that book-length manuscript, although it had a title, “The Fuss and the Fury”. I’m not sure why I didn’t send it out as a book. Possibly one reason was, I was busy sending out my other book-length manuscripts, among them my caregiving memoirs and a collection of “politics of motherhood” essays (some of those manuscripts have since been published, and some haven’t.). One thing I’m sure of: I did not feel that I’d published “enough motherhood stuff”. Nor did I feel that the Devin poems were too private.
I did, however, sometimes read over those poems. And every time I did, I’d tear up, in remembrance and reconstruction of how I felt during those wonderful approximately-seven years. About a month ago, exploring the internet for small press book and chapbook publishers for my approximately-ten unpublished book- and chapbook-length manuscripts, I found a publisher that – lo and behold! – doesn’t charge submission fees, and whom I knew hadn’t folded since he’d very recently published a poetry book or two. I decided that I very definitely had to send them something. At the same time, though, I realized that I had already submitted all my unpublished manuscripts.
All except for “The Fuss and the Fury”. And it turned out the guy’s wife was seven months’ pregnant! And no, his press didn’t charge any other kind of fees or “contributions”. Nor did they require their authors to buy any particular number of their own books. AND he’s been the fastest publisher this side of the sun! His acceptance email came a day after my submission email, the contract came that evening, the following day the galley proofs. In the next few days I emailed him high-resolution images of none other than Devin’s artwork, for the cover, and he emailed me back the actual cover image, plus corrected proofs, ISBN number, and so on. The book was on Amazon a week later, and soon my ten writer-discounted (HEAVILY discounted) physical copies arrived in the postal mail.
This is my 29th book (not bragging; I’ve been a writer for something like 45 years). One way in which books are like babies (and for me, there are plenty of ways in which they’re not) is, I’m always as excited about each one as about the first one. Plus, I always refrain from counting those chickens before they hatch, meaning I don’t consider them published until I receive the physical copies. This time I had thought things like “Maybe I misread the contract; maybe it’s an Ebook he’s planning to publish”. And when I first looked through the pages, I thought “Why’s the writing so big? Maybe it’s not all in there.” But then I saw that it was, indeed, all in there, and the writing was precisely as big as I like it (I can read it without reading glasses…). It was, in other words, a REAL book, as real as the ones that I’d waited, in some instances, two years for the publishers to produce.
So now I’m a “motherhood writer” again! I’m having fun googling mothering journals in which to try to promote this book. At the latest poetry reading which had an “open” after the scheduled readers, I read a poem from “The Fuss and the Fury”, and introduced that poem by saying some of the things I’ve just written in this essay about my history of writing “motherhood stuff”. The day after receiving the copies in the mail, I took one along on the bus ride to my Sunday Goodwill shopping (it’s dollar day for two colors of tickets). As I read through the book, I wondered whether the actual published “version” would tear me up. It did. The tears were not tears of sadness; they were tears of joy and, perhaps, disbelief. Tears, like poetry publishers, aren’t very easy to come by. And these were the kind of tears I loved taking with me into Goodwill.