Telling the Truth

connecting the dots of my life

Tag: Female Bodies

The Watchers

Uninvited and hovering
Spirits of the living dead
Fill air space
Drowning me in female shame
For this my body

In vain I cover my face
Hide from myself
And this present moment
Made mad by
Prying eyes and ears
Of a thousand intrusions
On this my body broken –
Now gasping for air

The feeling of being watched was more than a feeling when I was growing up. It was the norm. When I married and moved with D to our first home, I didn’t have a clue how much baggage I brought to our marriage.

Some of my baggage was easily dumped. No problem! Glad to be rid of it.

And yet…other things had taken root in me. Especially those intrusive, internalized, incessant monitors making sure I didn’t do anything a Good Girl wouldn’t do. Or worse, the feeling of being watched by intruders no matter what I was doing.

I don’t know how to talk about this publicly. I do, however, know many of us struggle with internal feelings and habits we never chose to internalize. Things we thought we could leave behind when we left home.

D and I have now renovated/reclaimed five major areas in our current home. Our bedroom is next, thanks to our leaking waterbed. It’s high time. In fact, I have the great leak to thank for prompting me to rethink what’s happening with Our Bedroom. Which, just to be clear, belongs to Us, not to Them.

Happy Monday, and Happy Reclamation Projects!
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 12 August 2019
Found at medium.com/@emilykoziura9

I’m not my mother

I’m not my mother
Or the young girl
She wanted me to be
Surrounded by friends
Pretty with curls in my hair
Dressed in cheery colors
Enjoying a childhood
Unlike hers lived in fear
Of gossip and taunts
From girls going nowhere
Despite their self-assured
Superiority unknown
In my mother’s world

I fought against my mother. Refused her regular advice about clothes and colors. Felt ashamed of her outgoing ways and her polio-scarred body; her face devoid of make-up. Nothing could hide the tremor on the left side of her face. Or the sight of her estranged mother arriving at grade school, dressed like a diva bearing gifts to her royal daughter.

I endured with chagrin and barely suppressed anger her attempts to make my straight thin hair curly and fulsome, like her beautiful auburn hair.

And…she taught me to play the piano. Cook. Clean. Starch and iron clothes. Make beds. Fold towels and sheets. Organize drawers and cupboards. Things her absent mother never taught her.

There’s a saying I remember from my growing-up years. I didn’t care for it; my mother did. Her kitchen wall hanging proclaimed it boldly: “Bloom where you’re planted.” I couldn’t; neither could she.

Two lost souls thrown together. One extroverted, the other introverted. Both lonely; intelligent; eldest daughters; desperate to be loved and heard; musicians from the inside out. Overshadowed and dominated by a world of men. Unable to play and sing our songs freely without fear of having our wings clipped.

And yet…every time I read My mother’s body, I feel a tug at my heart. Pulling me back toward her. Not out of pity, but with understanding that’s still taking root in me. Softening me toward her and toward myself. Especially when I’m playing the piano, and feel some of her musicality playing through me.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 1 February 2019
Photo of winter snowdrops found at pinterest.com

The Ring of Truth

Yesterday morning I brainstormed themes and titles for a post—all over the page of my spiral notebook. The page got more crowded by the minute. So I gave up, and began writing my Memo to White Women in the USA.

Today our national controversy is even greater than it was yesterday. For some it’s all about party politics and the next Supreme Court Justice.

For others, it’s about the need to take seriously what Dr. Anita Hill and Dr. Christine Ford talked about. Right now, everyday women and their supporters are coming out of the woodwork. Galvanized. Ready to insist on truth no matter how much it may cost them personally.

So I’m back to my page of unused themes and titles. But first I have a challenge. If you’ve never written out your story, at least for yourself, I challenge you to do that now, not later. Not just what happened to you, but how it made you feel.

There’s power in the act of writing your story down. Making it visible. Word by word. Line upon line. As it comes out, unedited and raw. It doesn’t matter whether it’s poetry or prose. Just so it rings true to you. You don’t have to show it to anyone at all. Especially if they’re people you don’t trust.

I wept gallons working on what became some of my early posts. I also had a trusted professional who worked with me when my writing raised things I had to deal with. Sometimes they were about unfinished business. Other times they were about how to take care of myself. I highly recommend seeking trustworthy professional help. Especially when past experiences keep spilling over into the present.

So here are several titles without stories. Maybe they’ll get you thinking, or coming up with your own better titles for your story. They might even prompt you to begin a list of things you remember and wish you could forget.

The Ring of Truth
Against All Odds
Marked for Life
Strength in Weakness
This Woman’s Burden
Broken not Bent
No Prize for a Good Performance
I Dared Say No
At Great Cost
Free at Last
Daddy’s Little Girl
I Married a Predator
I Thought He Loved Me

Perhaps you don’t think this is all that important. Well….You’re important, and that’s enough all by itself.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 29 September 2018
Image found at India.com

Somewhere she waits

Surfacing above deep waters
Her body a hieroglyphic vision
Of life’s subterranean journey
Through unseen landscapes
Sacred and scarred
Inspected and celebrated
Not for character or fame
But for enduring and surviving
An endangered relic
Visited periodically
In a backwater museum
Somewhere she waits

For all senior citizens periodically celebrated for living yet another year. Keepers of wisdom and history, we’ll never know them unless we ask and listen with our hearts and minds wide open. No matter how foreign, slow or garbled the language. Old age doesn’t automatically confer wisdom. It is, nonetheless, an often ignored tablet of history that shaped, blessed and haunts us.

I wrote the poem after looking at a recent photo of my Aunt’s 91st birthday party. She has multiple daughters and sons who care for her. Not all are so blessed. Though even when blessed, it’s painfully possible to be seen without being heard.

©Elouise Renich Fraser, 1 April 2018
Ukrainian Black Ink Drawing found at 123rf.com

Whose body is it anyway?

Several days ago I posted the poem below. It came to mind this week when I thought about the way women’s bodies are shamed and punished. Sometimes to such an extent that we don’t recognize our bodies anymore as gifts. And many of us haven’t learned to be their vociferous, ferocious and loving advocates.

This body
Like my heart
A house of Your creation
Stands ready to greet the stranger
Whose form and visage
Isn’t as expected
Lost
Dust of the earth
Sorrowful yet not without hope
She stands
Waiting

Who is this stranger who stands waiting? I think I’m the stranger. Alienated from my female body even though I call it ‘my’ body. Part of this is a hangover from childhood and youth. The consequences of being directly and indirectly abused in my female body.

It seems my body keeps trying to get my attention,. It’s tired of hanging around waiting to do my bidding, or carrying me here and there no matter how it feels.

Instead, it wants me to stand up for it and stop forcing it to keep going. Or hoping someone else will save the day, like Prince Charming.

Several evenings ago at the end of an unusually busy day, I stood at the kitchen sink slogging through a pile of dirty dishes. It was late. My feet and back were screaming for mercy.

All I wanted to do was lie down and go to sleep. That, or be rescued by a prince who would gallop into the kitchen and do for me what I refused to do for myself—take care of my weary body.

It struck me as odd if not self-defeating that I wanted help from someone else. There I was, supposedly a grown-up woman with a mind of her own, unable to do what I needed to do. Stop. No matter what happened or didn’t happen to the dirty dishes.

My body works and waits every day, hoping against hope. Have I forgotten how to take the initiative? How to sit down and give it a rest, fuss over it in a kindly way, and thank it for the ways it helps me get through each day?

As a child, it sometimes seemed other people owned my body. They did not. God owns it, and has given me the privilege and responsibility of being in charge of it.

It’s as though God said to me,

Here. Take this body. I created it just for you. It’s the only body you’ll have in this life. Treat it as an ever-present stranger you’ll want to get to know at least a thousand times over. Someday I’ll come knocking at your door, eager to see how you’ve treated it and what you’ve learned from its wisdom.

Women’s bodies are demeaned and pushed beyond their limits every day. Sadly, I can’t put an end to all of it. I can, however, actively love and care for my body. Which strikes me as more than enough. Upstairs attic, here I come! Though Crater Lake would be nice, too.

©Elouise Renich Fraser, 11 June 2018
Photo taken by DAFraser at Crater Lake, Oregon, 2015

Shaming and Punishing Women

One of my longtime followers, Fran Macilvey, left the following request in response to my recent post, Voices long silent.

I’d like to hear more about your view on “….shaming rituals and periodic public displays of what happens to strong women…” because I’m sure it doesn’t just happen to women, and I’m curious to consider why we do it. What are we frightened of? Disapproval??

I don’t pretend to have all the answers, especially about how things like this happen to men. At the same time, from my childhood on it seemed women and girls had to be kept in their places. My personal fear wasn’t disapproval. It was harsh punishment. Not just as a child, but even as a professional. It was important to ‘walk the line’ and remember that I was not in charge. Today I might simply walk out. But that freedom didn’t happen overnight.

In a recent telephone conversation with one of my sisters, we talked about ways young boys shamed us at school when we were in the 5th grade. Our father also shamed us at home every time one of us was beaten. I was the prime example of what would happen to my three younger sisters if they dared to live ‘outside’ the lines of what my father considered proper behavior for females.

So we shared our experiences in the 5th grade. Both involved shaming by a male classmate. There was no one safe to talk with us. Not at school, and not at home. Each of us lived with the burden of believing we were the problem. The truth, however, is that our young, developing female bodies were the problem. Not to us, but to the boys who tormented us.

Silence about things like this, when carried for decades and magnified by repeated body shaming is like carrying a dead weight in one’s body and soul. Still, the only safe way to get through was to keep our young mouths shut and just keep going.

I can’t begin to describe the feeling of release I felt because my sister and I had finally dared tell each other about this insult to our souls and bodies.

Then there’s the companion side of this dilemma. Often when women stand up and report harassing behavior, they become the subject of investigation. Maybe it was your clothes, your tone of voice, the look in your eyes, the perfume you wore to work today. Hence the silence of women afraid to report abuse of any kind on the job, at home, in schools and universities, in churches, or even in friendship circles.

I’m not saying all women are as pure as the driven snow. Instead, I’m saying that experiences like this need to be unpacked. Perhaps we can change our behavior. Not because what we’re doing is ‘wrong,’ but because it isn’t putting our own safety first. Often we need trusted friends and qualified psychotherapists to walk with us.

Reading books about how to survive various forms of shaming or PTSD isn’t a bad thing to do. We can learn a lot. Yet there’s that internal stuff that isn’t going to go away because we read a book. Sometimes we need a safe person to hear us out and help us examine our feelings and behaviors without blame or judgment.

©Elouise Renich Fraser, 9 June 2018

grim and determined

grim and determined
she waits outside the closed door
peering straight ahead
and leaning on her walker
hands wrapped in weathered gloves

~~observed this morning in a waiting room

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 20 March 2018

misaligned | Int’l Women’s Day

Claude Monet, Poppy Fields near Argenteuil

in the waiting room
perfectly aligned paintings
greet the misaligned

I’m back at the physical therapy center, sitting in the waiting room. Directly across from me, above a row of chairs, hang two huge paintings. Doubtless chosen for their ability to calm and reassure patients bearing all kinds of physical misalignments. Most are women.

The paintings are meticulously hung and feature lovely outdoor scenes. Expansive, bucolic and natural without being overly sentimental. Unobstrusive  gentle colors and bright sunshiny days.

Nothing to rattle our nerves or make us wonder about untold stories or what might happen next. No storms brewing in the background. No signs of aging structures or broken-down bridges. All is serene.

The haiku, written several weeks ago, came to mind this morning as I scrolled through photos celebrating International Women’s Day. If even a few of these photos were hung on walls in our public spaces, what would happen? Here are three that caught my eye.

Bhubaneswar, India – Sand Sculpture by Manas Sahoo

Thane, India – Fashion Show by Acid Attack Survivors

Dhaka, Bangladesh – March in support of Int’l Women’s Day 

Never underestimate the power of women. Especially when we’re in one accord on just one thing we all know we need. Equal status as human beings.

This means equal status in a society that honors each woman and girl as a full human being, regardless of color, country of origin, economic or social class, religion, or marital status. Not a fraction of a human being, but 100 percent human. Welcomed into every room in the house without having to wear masks, special clothes, smiles or makeup on our faces, or anything that signals we are less valued than men or boys.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 8 March 2018
Monet painting found at quadrosetelas.com.br
International Women’s Day photos found at Getty Images

Playing my card – a poem

,

Is being born female a scar?
A blemish a blot an
unfortunate role of the dice?
Something to disguise or
hope might fade over time?

Mind your scar dear
You wouldn’t want to be
laughed at, jeered at, taken
for granted or trashed

Here love let me help you make
the most of your scar perhaps
then they won’t notice it so much

Who knows
you might even win adulation
and a real man if you play
your scar card just right

Remember you’re in this
for the long haul so buck up
and smile like a million dollars
someday you’ll be rewarded for
your dumbed down version of
the woman every man wants

Not to worry there’s still plenty
of time to make your mark you
just need to keep at it no cracks
in the façade

Don’t get me wrong dear I’m not
saying you haven’t been doing it
the right way

It’s just that the cracks in your
scar are showing and we wouldn’t
want you to bleed all over the place
and your clothes

So you’ll just have to stop picking
at it and let it heal the way it’s
supposed to heal all flat and flawless and
invisible just like you

This is my attempt to capture the ethos that informed my growing-up years, as seen today through my adult eyes. I would be less than truthful if I said this kind of approach wasn’t also part of my professional life. It was. Gratefully, by then I had a company of women and some men who helped me make it through. Not as a scar on the face of humanity, and not all flat, flawless and invisible.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 5 January 2018
Photo taken by my father in 1947 — Seattle, Washington, with Daughter #2 (of 4) and a young friend

yesterday’s ghosts

yesterday’s ghosts
stir in their graves
dismembered

They want to shame and blame me. Turn me into the problem I am not. Make it my fault. Or the fault of my overactive emotions or hormones run wild.

And the tears. If I would just stop getting all emotional about it. It’s over and done with, Sister. Get used to it. This is the way of the world. If you don’t like the heat, don’t stand so close to the fire.

I’m proud to be a thriving survivor. Like other women and men, I’ve been sexually harassed, humiliated and punished physically, verbally and emotionally. Sadly, the patterns of my childhood and youth didn’t stop when I became an adult woman — a supposedly mature, thoughtful, educated, gifted, responsible, compassionate, dependable, reliable woman, true to her word.

My recent nightmare with its scoffer’s row of men intent on intimidating me brought it all back. As did my recent review of private journal entries from my years as a seminary professor and dean. To say nothing of public figures coming forward to talk about their experiences.

Where will this lead? Is it simply the media event of the year? I pray it is not.

My father set the stage early in my life. He was the boss. I was not. He wore his medals proudly: Male, Ordained, Father, The Boss.

Instead of learning to stand on my own two feet without apology, I was subjected to formation in unquestioning submission to men (unless they were obviously ‘bad’ men), submission to my teachers, submission to my employers, submission to the governing powers, and submission to God as a disobedient, rebellious, stubborn and angry little girl.

My father also formed me in the sick opposites of these submissions. These included lack of respect for my female body, female voice, thoughts, instincts, intuitions, emotions, and my identity as God’s beloved daughter child. They also included formation in going along to get along.

  • Smiling whether I wanted to or not
  • Being polite instead of truthful
  • Not hurting other people’s feelings
  • Not embarrassing myself or others in public
  • Doing as I was told, without asking questions or grimacing

Today I’m holding out for women and men who won’t allow their ghosts to rest in peace until justice is done. Not for us, but for all the children of this world, especially those without safe allies. Otherwise, this will indeed become a passing fad–for all but the powerful few.

I’m in this  for the long haul. How about you?

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 7 December 2017
Image found at raisingintuitivechildren.com

%d bloggers like this: