Perhaps the most surprising fact about the recent Women’s Marches is not that they have become an annual event, or that these marches sprung forth all over the globe from Washington, D.C. to Paradise Bay, Antarctica. No, if an alarm should be raised, it’s due to the non-committal response of the patriarchy: a grunt from the woods.
Male liberal politicians have offered lip service but spent little political capital pushing comprehensive legislation to eliminate the problems that bedevil women’s lives: domestic violence, insufficient health care, and unequal pay. Male conservative operators have predictably been dismissive or patronizing. Media coverage of the marches has consisted of male commentators talking while women are trapped in a small box at the corner of the screen, silenced.
In 2011, the writer Yiyun Li and I were both asked to judge a fiction contest for the Asian American Writers’ Workshop. I panicked, that certain swoon-panic of the fellow author who is a fan, at her name next to mine. I was enamored of all her abilities, from mechanical to aesthetic—a certain gelid elegance, sharpness in syntax and diction, fluidity of theme in dark and light with such self-possessed strokes. And I—in my head and sometimes truly with my pen, an impulsive maximalist-stylist, always straddling rough and rougher—studied her register but found it impossible to emulate. So when we judged that contest together, I tried to calmly and coolly interact with her without a stutter. We both had agreed on the same winner almost instantly. I completely agree with you, Porochista. It’s my favorite too, so let’s go ahead with it? she wrote, words I held on to for months. Eventually I realized we had even more in common than I dared suspect: her East Asian immigrant to my West Asian immigrant, English as a second language, nuclear physicist fathers, and California as home.
The storm landed on August 29, 2005, right as winds mercifully dropped to 125 miles an hour, down from 175. But the real horror came afterward, in the wake of fifty-three levee breaches that caused New Orleans to fill up like a bathtub. When the air [...]
We are at Cape Coast Castle, and Callie refuses to be held. She won’t let me carry her in my arms. She won’t let me put her in the cloth carrier on my back. She won’t ride on her father’s shoulders. She won’t sit astride my hip. She wants to be in charge of exactly where her body goes. She wants both feet on the ground.
As a beginning writer I had a typically naïve conception of style as something added to a finished piece, as if the content is water and style the vase you pour it in—a vase that shapes and decorates but doesn’t alter the chemistry of the water. But this understanding flattens style into its least dynamic, least magical aspect.
Lou Marie, my grandmother, is telling this story. It is a story about before, before she was old, before she became the drawl, the accent, the presence behind the white door in her own daughter’s house, with only her hair to keep her from looking like a heap of almost defeated life, long ebony hair styled by her own hands to look like Veronica Lake’s.