Friday, August 21, 2009

Girl Power

I’ve been away from the internet (at least on a regular-use basis) this past few weeks as I’ve been working at the arts camp I’ve worked at the last five years. In brief, this is an arts-focused camp for more or less the same population of kids that I teach (in some cases, literally the exact same). Professional artists are brought in to teach various art classes (photography, film, theatre, poetry, sewing, drumming, and more), while other more camp-y stuff happens.

Anyway, I wrote a spoken-word piece addressing gender inequality* (specifically, media oppression of women and hip-hop misogyny) a while back, with the intention of sharing it (at least, an edited version) with my kids. And so, at camp, I performed it for the kids (the high school group).

And I can’t even begin to explain the reaction it got. All the girls in the audience left their seats, screaming and clapping, because it spoke to them. In appearance and attitude, I kind of represent a lot of stereotypical concepts of “masculinity” in this country, and so I think it shocked the Hell out of them to hear me speak out.

And it only got better – because, that night, when all the kids were getting ready for bed, meeting in their smaller groups for nightly check-out sessions, a number of the girls’ sessions revolved entirely around their reaction to my piece. Talking about how guys mistreat them, how they sometimes let that happen, what they can do about it, etc.

The following morning, camper after camper sought me out to request a copy of my poem to take home with them. And the best part? It wasn’t just the female campers. No – many of the male campers asked for a copy to take home, as well (and this was individually, with no females to see the request – they actually just wanted a copy).
By the end of that session, I had given almost every single camper (and the staff, as well) a copy of my poem.

But it didn’t end there. For the rest of the session, an implicit theme of “being a gentleman” began to trickle into camp – male counselors were teaching their groups how to be respectful to women and having them practice; male campers were asking female staff for tips on how to treat women right; female campers were talking to each other and the males about general respect and how to represent themselves.

And, as all this went down, I have never felt better about my work or what I do. Never. Not even close. This was my life’s work coming together so perfectly. Getting myself to a place where I could consider forms of oppression that I’m a part of; writing down my thoughts as a poem; performing it; and actually hitting my audience. Not just touching them and making them think for a moment – but hitting them in a way that moved them to want to do more (and actually following up).

And it was with kids. Girls/young women at a moment in their lives when they are choosing their paths – and may just be able to alter them a little bit to keep their heads above water in an oppressive world. Boys/young men in a position to either run with their privilege or change how they walk through the world.

And I don’t really expect that it’s going to alter their paths. Certainly not all of them. Probably not most of them. But – for a moment – it hit them. Hard. And maybe that will push them just enough to end up in a position to be hit again later on. And then maybe again. And with enough hits – paths really can change.

It’s like reverse-oppression: pile on enough POSITIVE situations and consciousness and you might just get the strength to blow through that pile of negative ones.

And I’m not writing this to brag – although I am, a little. Because I’m proud. I’ve worked my ass off to get to this point. Because, if I didn’t love those kids and put in the work to really know them and relate to them, they wouldn’t have listened. If I hadn’t earned their respect and kept my integrity, they wouldn’t believe in me. If I hadn’t put in the years of personal work and self-reflection, I never would have written this.

And so I’m proud of this one pay-off. Because there’s not a ton of pay-off (at least not on this type of level) in this line of work, and I think I’ve earned this one. And it inspires me. It gives me the fuel to see that I’m on the right path, myself. It hit me back, and helps me see what I want to be doing, how I want to do it, and that it can really work.

And that – that’s something.

• Here’s the (edited) piece that I shared with the kids (again, it's meant to be spoken, so there's power lost in the translation):

Male Privilege

This one’s for the women that have to deal with these guys
That don’t know how to treat ‘em, always feeding them lies
Brainwashed by the media, every female objectified
Ignore the patriarchy, cuz you’re doing just fine
Ignore the patriarchy, and you’ll do just fine

Easy to say, but harder to do when-
They say you’re too skinny, too fat, or the wrong complexion
Constant messaging starting to make you think that all of this oppression
Is truth – representing a man’s ideal of perfection
But you
Can’t do
Your life under faulty conventions
But don’t take this man’s word – just look in the mirror
And I know this world has tried to instill in you a fear of
Seeing yourself raw, stripped of all that you’ve been taught
By a man’s world, constantly trying to hide what you’ve got
Wouldn’t want you feeling confident enough to rely on your mind
Cuz then the job you rightfully got would likely be mine
Get you to compete with each other so you’re not competing with us
So when you catch your men cheating, you call the women the sluts
And that’s messed up – we’ve kept you down enough to fight with each other
While this brotherhood of men tries to forget the first mother
Cuz that’s the secret, you see
We keep you down out of jealousy
All the same abilities, but men have one piece missing
The act of creating life, God-like in a human form
Men feeling less-than because our only contribution is our sperm
7 minutes to your 9 months
Insignificant to creation once the mating is done
So we flip it – our insecurity makes you the objects
Increasing our own importance by taking away the meaning from sex
So come on ladies – don’t pander to your man
If he’s not treating you right, make him spend his nights with his hand
Cuz you’re the Gods on this Earth, creating life
While he’s just a sperm-donor that just happens to look like . . . a man

This one’s for the women that have to deal with these guys
That don’t know how to treat ‘em, always feeding them lies
Brainwashed by the media, every female objectified
Ignore the patriarchy, cuz you’re doing just fine
Ignore the patriarchy, and you’ll do just fine

If you can get some help . . .

Cuz to the rappers of color – what the Hell are we thinking?
We get ‘em saying “those people” say “those things” about “their own women”
And the messed up thing is that we let them
Misogyny’s the b, so let’s get it out of our system
These are our mothers, our sisters, and someday our wives
Ones who tried to raise us right and even gave us our live
Get over the creation-envy and stop oppressing our own
Cuz the oppression we dole out is the oppression we bring home
So it’s time we grow up and start acting like a father
Drop the macho act and raise every girl like a daughter
Cuz if they were our own, could we look them in the eyes
When they realized our lyrics held them objectified?
Talking about hos, degrading women in our videos
As if we don’t even know where all that money goes
Back in the pocket of the patriarchal regime
Who appreciate our part because it keeps their white gloves clean
Laughing at how we always do exactly as they want
Crushing our own to keep others happy at the top
So if we really want all of this oppression to stop
We should start with our own actions and words and turn our misogyny off
Start acting like real men and turn our misogyny off

This one’s for the women that have to deal with these guys
That don’t know how to treat ‘em, always feeding them lies
Brainwashed by the media, every female objectified
Ignore the patriarchy, cuz you’re doing just fine
Maybe if we restore the matriarchy, we could be just fine.


ansel said...


Maybe you could record yourself saying it using your computer? That was great but there's definitely something lost in just reading it on the screen.

uglyblackjohn said...

Great Post!

(I thought you had retired to China.)

Ms. Sis said...

you know i love this one and am so glad that you shared it at camp with the high schoolers. it makes such a huge difference when men who are "accepted" by "men" as being "real men" challenge what real manhood is- that is when men are more likely to be open and actually hear what is being said. And you know you have raised the bar for them as well as the young women, who will hopefully also take it to heart that they don't have to accept mediocrity and then we can all hold everyone up to a higher standard. Positive self-fulfilling prophecy.

I am also proud to see how your writing and performance continues to grow in depth and presentation.

Greg said...

Great piece -- no wonder the kids loved it. There are so many things I like about this story but what I like most is that you're teaching the value of empathy. Even more important, for the boys, you're teaching them to have empathy for out-group members. It's my impression that this sort of thing is very rare.

LisaMJ said...

Excellent! Kudos to you. I think it is so great how committed you are to the kids you work with and in getting them to think outside of the box on gender roles and race. Any kid who has you as a teacher is fortunate indeed.

Lisa J

CVT said...

Ansel - I've been working on getting audio into this blog for the last few months, and I still can't figure it out. I have a number of recordings of my pieces (some musical, some otherwise), but I just can't get anything to play them on this blog.

Any ideas?

Todd said...

Really good stuff, CVT.

a father of daughters

ansel said...

I haven't used Blogger in ages (if possible, I'd suggest switching to Wordpress).

But if you have an mp3 you should be able to upload to a free host ( and are good ones) and link directly to it from your post...

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